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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Essay for Michele on the Occasion of Her Solo Show

"Landscape (here)", 2008, 36x36", acrylic on canvas

Essay for Michele on the Occasion of Her Solo Show
By Jane La Motte, set designer for San Diego Opera Ensemble

I met Michele at her son’s 4th birthday party, three years ago. We are kindred spirits, sharing insight into the world of mothering young boys. But my affection for her is even more personal. When I found out that she was a painter, I told her that I was a set designer. We knew we must have common ground somewhere, and we’ve had a lot of fun trying to locate where it lies. I never dreamed that it would reveal itself in a conversation about our creative processes—I mean, the collaborative effort of the designer versus the solitary journey of the painter? Come on! —But here we are. I learned only recently that she spent 10 years as a graphic designer before opting to paint full time. That fact explained so much to me—she had been living on that common ground of designer and painter within her own soul for years.

"Landscape (there)", 2008, 36x36", acrylic on canvas

The journey from concept to finished piece is a multi-stepped process, but for Michele, each step can be a work of art in itself. Michele often uses her own photography as a starting point, and occasionally she uses iconic photos of public figures that she finds on the Internet. Through a series of sessions at the computer, Michele manipulates the contrast and edits the composition of her photos. The result can be much like an image that has been photocopied and then the copies copied over and over until the original’s details are lost. These images then become the building blocks of her work, and if they do not become digital prints, finished pieces in their own right, they go on to become the layers of a painting.

At this point, Michele’s work takes on what strikes me as a very theatrical quality: the artwork in one scale becomes the blueprint for the final work in a much larger scale. Each digital layer becomes a projection, the basis of a fully realized painted layer. Each layer, no matter how detailed—many of Michele’s paintings include expanses of hand-lettered text—is painted in its entirety before the next layer is applied. Michele says that she loves painting this way, that this twist in the process allows her to love the act of painting.

Becoming a mother has given Michele the opportunity to see things through the eyes of her children and to learn from their willingness to jump into new experiences with minds completely open. Michele’s most recent work conveys a kind of flowing peace that is both confident and ill at ease at the same time, very much like the life of a young mother.

In his “Series of Unfortunate Events,” children’s author Lemony Snicket has his protagonists frequently encountering the phrase ‘the world is quiet here,’ a mysterious caption to the picture he paints of their world, which is anything but quiet. In this room filled with Michele’s paintings and prints, for those of us lucky enough to be here, and for those of us who are more likely to have our lives marked by harmony than disruption—here, it’s peace. Peace: we only know how to appreciate it in the knowledge of its opposite. Somewhere, that opposite is someone’s daily reality. There, it’s war.

-San Diego, California, March 2008

Solo Show: Here it's Peace / San Diego Art Institute
June 5 - July 13, 2008
reception: Friday, June 13, 2008 from 6 to 8 pm
lecture: Tuesday, July 8, 2008, at 6:pm

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