Let me introduce you to Mark Rothkoop, the missing piece of our rotational grazing system. An eggmobile whose form has been completely collapsed into function…that’s what I wanted. I’ve built a number of chicken coops over the past 4 years, often with my friend Kenny Latta, who is a much better builder than me and is capable of making things look nice when they are finished. Kenny loves to make chicken coops beautiful. Personally, I think beauty is often a euphemism for “too heavy to move and readily accessible to raccoons.” This one would be different. The coop is 5×11, dimensions that lack economy in terms of wood usage (plywood comes in 4×8 sheets and 2x4s come in two foot increments) and eschew elegance entirely for the sake of fitting as many chickens into as much roost space is comfortable for them. The corners don’t match. There are few, if any, 90 degree angles. Its beauty, if there is any, is that it is a statement against art for art’s sake. Art for chickens’ sake maybe. If it keeps chickens safe and dry, it’s beautiful as far as I’m concerned. It’s cheap; it’s ugly; it probably should be 2 or 3 different coops, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look like Mark Rothko painted it.
I’ll admit I might have gotten a tiny bit carried away with not wanting to focus on the aesthetics of this thing. I even bought cheap particle board (which reminds me of late 1970s early 1980s living room décor) for the walls instead of plywood. I can just paint it right? By the time it rots, I’ll be rolling in those pastured poultry profits Joel Salatin always talks about. Of course, buying paint would defeat the purpose, and like any self-respecting DIY enthusiast, I’ve not thrown out a half empty can of paint in my life. So, I thought, why don’t I just use whatever latex paint I have on hand? This is farming, not an art show. As the walls of the coop took on paint, however, I noticed that I had, unintentionally, dabbled in abstract expressionism (technically color field painting). So this is what Mark Rothko was on about with all those colors! Do I owe art an apology? Is abstract expressionism (finger painting for adults, for those of you who aren’t familiar) really simply homage to the purely practical?
I think I get it now. I, like Mark Rothko, was experimenting in primitivism…but even a more primitive primitivism. I had completely sacrificed form to function by only using what paint was at hand and by shamelessly refusing to clean brushes between colors. Yet, the result could not but help to mimic the abstract expressionism of the post WWII period. Whereas their expressionism abstracted from the natural and formal, my purely natural instinct could not help but result in a natural abstraction from the abstract!
There’s a good chance that is all nonsense. Honestly, I’ve never gotten Aesthetics in much the same way that I’ve never really gotten art…painting, in particular. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to look at, and I’ve really, really tried to understand it. I’ve actually read things written by Clement Greenberg and I’ve (unfortunately) read a whole entire biography of Edie Sedgewick in a failed attempt to understand Andy Warhol. But through my coop painting experience it finally makes sense to me. I get it now. Art, check. At the very least, chicken coop, check.