The paintings begin with an idea or a memory of an event that has personal meaning, for example, my mother’s funeral, a canoe trip or a time spent in a specific place. I write these thoughts in a notebook, keep thinking about them, reorganizing, and over time, they become a plan for a painting. I sketch out the images that hold the initial idea, then, build a landscape around them, adding additional images that support the narrative of the painting. This process is similar to the way a story is written around an outline.
Because of this narrative approach, my personal study of art led me to medieval art. I was interested in how small paintings on a predella, (a supporting base which is added to the bottom of a larger main painting) were used to tell a story. The small figures or scenes painted on the predella form part of the altarpiece, and provide a visual commentary on the major image above. These paintings also expand the event of the central painting by showing the passage of time to the future and into the past. My work incorporated this narrative method in a series using a predella, which gave me the opportunity to tell more about my subjects and their environment.
The series I am presently working on, “Calendae: Book of Hours,” is inspired by the small illuminated medieval manuscripts in the form of a Book of Hours. Among other things, these books traditionally contain the most remarkable calendars: “Calendrier des douze mois de travaux a la campagne,” or Calendar of twelve months of work in the country. Each month shows a miniature painting of people working in the countryside: planting, harvesting or gathering seeds, for example. My series also follows the calendar form, but every month has two paintings in oil on wood panel. The larger is a portrait of my family in their work in the country. Below is a small painting that is a different view of the activity at another time or from another viewpoint.
My work is influenced by the landscapes of Bruegel, and a connection to the land, creeks and people depicted in my paintings. The purpose of the work is to accurately describe something that happened in a specific place, the landscape, the light, portraits of the people and their activities. These are stories that are linked to a strong sense of specificity of place and time. They present to the viewers the possibility of inhabiting that story which is inseparable from a particular place yet at the same time relevant to their experience.