The figurative paintings of Laura Pommier are the subject of a current exhibition in View’s Foley Gallery (through April 4, 2016). Laura recently took some time to answer some questions and discuss her work more in depth with View curator; Cory E. Card.
Cory Card: Tell me a bit about your background as a painter: how long have you been painting? Did you study or are you self-taught? If you did study, where?
Laura Pommier: Two distinct situations played a big part in the early years of my development as an artist. First my parents, noticing I was artistically inclined, provided me with a set of oil paints when I was very young. Second, at the age of 16, I took a college life drawing class at Louisville School of Art.
By the time I started college as an art major at Murray State University in Kentucky, my skills were spot on. At most art schools in the 70s, art was undergoing profound changes. New art forms were emerging such as performance and environmental art and existing art forms such as photography and painting were transforming. Students like myself were optimistic, open minded and forward thinking.
The ensuing years took on the character of a typical family with children, home and work. After relocating from Kentucky to southern Indiana, I did freelance and commissioned art including lots and lots of portraits! Eventually I gained full time employment as a graphic artist at a newspaper, where I still work today, continuing my art on the side. However I always felt I had cut myself short by not continuing my art education. On a whim I contacted Indiana State University, two hours away, inquiring about their fine arts program. I returned to school in 2012 and came out with an MA in painting in 2014. While returning to school was exciting and rewarding, most importantly I got back on track to being the kind of artist I dreamed of being when I started out.
CC: You mention in your artist statement that you are very influenced by Renaissance and Baroque painting. Are their specific artists, or paintings that really speak to you?
LP: The giants in art history, from the renaissance through impressionism, were the first artists I became aware of as a child. While I admired and learned from all genres of painting throughout the years, I continually gravitated towards the classical masterpieces of Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Ingres, among many others.
Part of my enthusiasm for classical figure painting was reinforced by my participation in figure skating as a child. I found the beauty of the human form delightful in reality and interpretation.
In 2008 I visited Italy. Seeing some of my favorite works of art in person, I found a newfound love for Botticelli. And while the technical virtuosity of the Baroque had previously been my all time favorite period, I actually connected more with the magical, whimsical, mysterious quality of Renaissance paintings by Botticelli and Leonardo.
CC: Working with the figure has been an ongoing pursuit within the arts, and is obviously a primary muse within your works. The dialogue surrounding the figure in art, and specifically painting is an essential part of the medium, where do you see yourself within the contemporary context of figure painters, and why does the figure become so essential to your work?
LP: When I returned to school in 2012, I envisioned myself producing non-conforming pieces, utilizing unconventional methods, tackling new ideas. Instead I became more involved with the figure resulting in an entirely figurative Masters thesis show. In explanation, the figure is extremely popular in art right now because of digital art in the gaming industry, anime, street art, and the general resurgence of contemporary realism. I feel at home with a lot of the aesthetics revolving around these trends. While it’s crucial to observe what others are creating, when I go back to my studio I try to use my own voice and vision in order to make my paintings unique.
I feel some intuitions of an artist are practically hard wired. My strong suit is figures. In contrast, I like landscapes but I don’t see and interpret the special things in my surroundings that a great landscape artist does, or at the very least I have to try a lot harder. Other artists might have more difficulty with the figure. At this point I want to delve deeper and deeper into the subject that keeps me excited about painting.
CC: Are there contemporary figure painters that you identify with?
LP: Today I primarily follow contemporary artists through various websites and social media. The best figurative artists today are mind-blowing in their execution, doling out content that feasts or fragments the mind and soul.
Dino Valls, a Spanish painter, around the same age as myself, is one of my favorites. He started out in medicine, which is plain to see in his work, usually focused on strange presentations of one particular girl. His work is so extreme I consider it on one end of the spectrum when it comes to sophistication and excellence.
Lisa Yuskavage, a few years younger than me, has been one of my long time favorites. She is an American artist who paints juicy, voluptuous subjects using classic, historical techniques.
I discovered Andrew Salgado a couple years ago. He is an emerging painter in the UK and North America who handles large portrait paintings in a gestural, layered graffiti approach, which serves to further expose the subject rather than covering them up.
I found Soey Milk on Instagram. Of all the painters whose work borrows from anime, with a fantastical style, hers are some of my favorites, maybe because she tends to keep one foot in the real world, so to speak. I would describe them as exotic and hypnotic.
One of the common denominators of the above artists is that they have reinvented the traditional role of the figure in art. Each painter brings the utmost amounts of skill, dedication and thoroughness to the field. There are many more artists I could name, as we are fortunate to be experiencing a time when many styles of art are valued and popular.
CC: The immediate response I often have when spending time with your work, is a sense of discomfort, unease, or more specifically the uncanny. Can you expound on this? In your artist statement you touch on this idea of tension that definitely plays through, but for me it really goes back to Freud’s ideas surrounding the uncanny; where something is overwhelmingly familiar as well as mysterious.
LP: My paintings usually start out as vague ideas although there is almost always a figurative element that begins to take shape early on. Through sketching or photography I begin to find structure and substance. Often times the underlying concept is revealed through the development of the painting. For instance in the series of three paintings titled Chameleon, Apparition and Chimera, I knew I wanted to use this particular young girl as my model. I also knew some of the poses I wanted to try when she modeled for me. But I did not know I was going to do a series or what the series would be about. In this situation I came to see the girl as a creature - lurking in, overseeing, and protecting a home, in this case my home. I like to use familiar surroundings in my work. I feel the personal connection grounds my images, especially if the figures are less than grounded. In addition, sometimes the models I choose remind me of myself at a different age or time.
Some of the other paintings have unusual perspectives, angles, and cropping. These are methods I use to create notions of something occurring in the blink of an eye whereby the viewer cannot register all of what is taking place, such as in the painting Skirting the Issue.
After The Bath and Over the Magic are part of a larger series inspired by lifts and jumps done by dancers and figure skaters. By combining some of these poses with every day scenes, typical compositions and perspectives become warped and skewed.
In the France series, Gay Girls in France, Vampires in Paris and French Ballerina, my goal was to capture the vibrancy of the nightlife. I wanted the human aspect to be almost larger than life in a jarring sort of way, yet still thrilling and beautiful, very much the way a traveler feels in an exotic, unfamiliar location.
CC: To play off this... Your primary focus is obviously on the figure, but there is also the element of the domestic that comes into play. This sense of domesticity, definitely plays off the idea of familiarity and in, my personal opinion, is what makes your paintings so successfully. What drew you to these types of environments?
LP: When I paint I like to have first hand, intimate knowledge of what I’m painting. I enjoy doing live sittings for portraits and the occasional plein air painting. The same carries over to my studio practices.
I’ve been living in and remodeling my home for more than ten years now. Working on a project for so long and so close has spilled over into my artwork. The scenes of hardwood floors and trim represent hours of toil that is only appreciated when it’s done, yet at the same time it’s a labor of love.
Other paintings show furniture and belongings passed down from my grandparents. As an artist, these pieces are not so much chosen or picked to be represented, but are woven into the imagery that I create, just as they have been woven into my life.