For nearly a decade Chicago artist Michael Paxton has made paintings and drawings that refer to people, animals, and objects in Appalachia, where he grew up. These images, with their sepia-toned backgrounds and clouded, sketchlike quality, suggest ephemeral memories and open-ended narratives. Last summer Paxton went back to West Virginia to stay with his ailing mother. He says he was overcome by the “remnants of what used to be”–of his family home, the local power industry, the labor force, the towns. During his three-month visit some coal-mine slurry ponds spilled over into the river, making the strip-mined landscape bleaker than ever. Haunted by what he’d seen, Paxton created “Ash Land,” a series of nine mixed-media paintings on canvas or paper, now at Byron Roche Gallery. The paintings show empty places–chemical factories, coke ovens, hopper cars, bridges–with a ghostly postindustrial presence. The works are marked, washed, erased, and reworked. Missteps are visible, absences conspicuous. A river barge materializes in the large-scale Pilot, but there’s no river–and no pilot. Stripped of context and history, these works represent a struggle to reclaim a place and a time. Byron Roche Gallery, 750 N. Franklin, through April 12. Hours are 11 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday; 312-654-0144.