Flat Time Blue: Buddy Bunting at Prole Drift

The centerpiece of Buddy Bunting’s Flat Time Blue at Prole Drift (on view through May 27th) is a panoramic watercolor and flashe painting that stretches twelve feet across the wall. The painting depicts a prison washed out and warmed up with scalding bright yellow sun, its structural starkness rendered sheer and almost weightless. It’s the tenth in a series Bunting has been developing since 2004. In this piece, as well as in the smaller sketches hung in Prole Drift’s back room, Bunting transforms the sterile architecture of correctional facilities and American industrial sprawl into visionary landscapes where the political and social narratives nested within the physicality of buildings meld with a sense of the imaginary. - Amanda Manitach, Seattle Contributor

Buddy Bunting | Idaho Correctional Center, Kuna, Idaho, 2011-12, watercolor, flashe and pencil on paper, 52 x 145 in.
Image courtesy of Prole Drift.

Amanda Manitach: Tell me about the large piece first (Idaho Correctional Center, Kuna, Idaho). You're known for these large-scale, panoramic images of correctional facilities. 

Buddy Bunting: Kuna is a suburb on the outskirts of Boise. I first visited in the summer of 2003 to draw and take photographs of several prisons there. I was interested in this prison because it was the first privately owned and operated for profit prison to open in Idaho in 2000, and because of that was somewhat controversial. The first time I saw ICC, I thought it was a community college or industrial park until I saw the fence. ICC has since been in the news for being called the “gladiator school” because of incidents involving open fighting among inmates allowed by the guards on duty. I wanted to create an unobstructed view of the entire facility that accurately represented what it felt like to stand in front of it.  But in the painting, the prison is viewed from multiple angles and compressed a bit, the piece would be about twice as long if it were exactly to scale.

Buddy Bunting | Idaho Correctional Center, Kuna, Idaho (detail), 2011-12, watercolor, flashe and pencil on paper, 52 x 145 in.

AM: How do you acquire the source material for the images? Do you spend a lot of time around or in the prisons?

BB: I don’t go inside the prisons I make paintings of, though I tried to do that in the beginning.  Generally speaking, prisons don’t encourage people to spend long periods of time around them, but there are ways to get around that. I’ve used many tactics to get the source material I need to make a painting. From small ink sketches, to photographs and video, I always use my own source material created on site. It depends on the location of the facility as to how much time I can comfortably spend in the vicinity, but typically I make several quick visits over the course of several days or even years, and I usually work from a car.

Bunting’s studio | Image courtesy of the artist.

AM: How much does your fascination with these buildings have to do with the people inside and their stories?

BB: As I make the paintings I’m conscious that they are real places, and that behind each slotted window is a cell containing one or more people, but I can only hope the finished work reflects that sense of humanism. I’ve always been most interested in where the prisons are built, or more accurately the places and the communities around the facilities. Since prisons are constructed in certain communities for economic and political reasons, my hope in the beginning was that my work would capture the relationship the facilities had on these communities. As with anything in this country, there are economies of scale, job creation, all sorts of statistics at play when a prison gets built. Over time I was so overwhelmed by the sheer scale and number of facilities I concluded the clear thing to do, as a painter, was to focus on painting just the penitentiaries, as they appear. What’s happened since is that the paintings evoke a narrative rather than creating/containing one. People bring their stories and experiences about prison to the paintings. 

Bunting’s studio | Image courtesy of the artist.

AM: You have a video in the show as well: scenery from the correctional facility quickly rolling by out the window of a vehicle.

BB: The video clips are source material for the paintings - I think of them as sketches and find them mesmerizing to watch, raw and jittery, unlike the paintings. They reveal a reality of the places that the paintings never can, and I like that. I think there are ten prisons in six states in the video, but the Idaho prison isn’t included.

Buddy Bunting | Grande Ronde (detail), 2011, oil on paper, 22 x 30 in. 

AM: What about the color? These paintings are radiant and saturated, which is so different from past works where you've worked primarily in monochrome.

BB: I don’t know what to say other than some things take time. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable painting these subjects in color. For years my work went through an expansion in scale, so black and white felt like the best way to cover the necessary territory then. I’ve been painting in color for years, but have shown very little of the work until now, and I’m glad I waited.

Buddy Bunting | Grande Ronde, 2011, oil on paper, 22 x 30 in.

AM: An unexpected element of the show is some of the smaller paintings in the back room. Almost the opposite of the massive utilitarian facades, they show motel rooms, outcroppings of rock, exterior and interior spaces that give off a sense of quiet and privacy. A few of the landscapes remind me of William Blake: watery, luminous. Tell me about these.

BB: Yes, the small works were made over the past several years, they’re rooms I slept in, things I see while driving or walking. They’re sort of a reprieve from the large work, though related. Your connection to Blake is telling, as several of these paintings are based on memories or dreams I’ve had about specific places I’ve been. They definitely have a romantic or visionary quality about them, unlike the cool distance and architecture of the large work.

Buddy Bunting’s Flat Time Blue will be on view at Prole Drift through May 27, 2012.


Buddy Bunting received his MFA from Boston University. His work has been shown at PS122 and The Painting Center in New York City, Consolidated Works and Crawl Space Gallery (Seattle, WA), the Tacoma Art Museum, Muscarelle Museum of Art (Williamsburg, VA), and the Chrysler Museum (Norfolk, VA).

Amanda Manitach is a writer and artist based in Seattle.

Recent posts

Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 18:17
Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - 15:19
Friday, June 26, 2020 - 13:03
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 14:02
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 14:55