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The Prodigal Sun

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The Prodigal Sun-


Growing up in Granite was similar to any other hometown.  As kids, we played outside, joined sports teams, had hangouts and attended school and church.  We did this in the shadows of smoke stacks and the magnificent sound of the steel mill’s “hot as the Sun” blast furnace opening to fill the night air with a roaring grumble. The event interrupts the evening dark with a temporary glow of a man-made dawn. That sun, we kept in a box, seemed to both bewilder and comfort us with its deep majestic sigh.  

Economic cycles tend to drive Granite’s solar movement.  The better the economy the more manufactured dawns we experience. On occasion, our “sun” falls silent and the nights seem to last too long and are filled with unease.  However, just as our planet Sol disappears and reemerges so does the work at our mill and with the work comes new dawns.

When seen from afar, “Planet Granite”, is imagined as one thing but when you look closer it is something completely different.  Granite City’s terrain is flat near the river and was formed when ancient glaciers receded cutting and smoothing the hills that allowed the Mississippi River to meander.  Our geological characteristics were perfect for prehistoric cultures to live and much later allowed for railways and ferries to advance the expansion west and factories followed, ours included.  Granite City, 1959’s All-American City is famous for the blue and white speckled enameled cooking pots but has also contributing to history with visits by presidents and to popular culture as a literary subject, a place featured in a Bill Murray movie and has had several citizens becoming professional baseball, football and soccer players, and even a UFC champion.  One could say we are like the face on Mars.

One of the most famous images of Mars is the photo “Face on Mars”. This photo of a Martian mountain looks like a human face.  From a distance, we filled the face with meaning and what we imagined because that’s what we do.  Some saw it as a sculpted monument by an ancient alien civilization. Now after a 3D scan of the surface, it turns out to be something more common, a mountain formed by time and nature. 

This exhibition includes recent work about time and those things we have in common.  Shared human historical accomplishments, myths and religions, legends and conspiracy, popular culture and scientific laws are layers and superimposed to suggest looking through events up or down a timeline.  Like the face on Mars, consider the paintings as topographical views of 2D maps. The 2D maps, in this case, are superimposed layered images of random but important information. These combinations were scanned and cut 3D using a CNC router. I then painted them according to the original information. ​Like the Face on Mars we can see a truer since of those timeline moments as complex locations or simply enjoy them as the abstracted aesthetic result of the random. 

Showing at GCADD provides me with an opportunity to celebrate my hometown after ten years away in North Carolina.  This return has brought me full circle, showing in a gallery I could only imagine when I chaired the committee that initiated Granite City’s new Arts district over 15 years ago.  Once a dream on paper, the new arts compound and surrounding creative community have caused a seismic shift in the cultural and historical landscape of Granite City.  It is one more layer in the cities ever-lasting history and ever-changing identity, all while under the smoke stacks and warm growling glow of our sun in the box.


Ron Laboray

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