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"Painting the Past" Artist Statement

Exhibit Description

Jan Richardson and Brigitte Boucher, artists from two different generations, working in two different media, share a common desire to explore, understand, and make peace with their own memories and family experiences. This show is the culmination of a project that started when both artists inherited collections of old family photos. Both artists have created paintings inspired by some of the photos they found, interpreting the past through the lens of the present.

Interestingly, the photos Jan and Brigitte used come from about the same time (the 60s and 70s), though Jan is a baby boomer, and Brigitte is a millennial. Jan’s oil paintings include images of herself and her immediate family, exploring her own life experience and memories. Brigitte’s pastel paintings include images of her grandparents, mother, and mother’s siblings, exploring events from before she was born. This dichotomy and difference of perspective adds an interesting twist to the show.

Brigitte Boucher Artist Statement

With a childhood and adolescence that involved frequent moves to new states and new schools, I never truly felt that where I lived was “home,” and I struggled to feel like I belonged. In the face of this instability, I found comfort in my extended family and the places they called home. Though we lived several states apart, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles were a source of love and support, giving me a sense of belonging that I didn’t find elsewhere.

Though this is true of both sides of my family, my Mom’s family and their home on 40 acres of Indiana woodland had a unique impact on my life. Visiting there was an opportunity for discovery and exploration: learning how to pick green beans or use an old Singer sewing machine with Grandma, or investigating bird nests and animal tracks with Grandpa. And it was steeped in family history and lore--everything had a story. I was fascinated to hear about the lives of the people who shaped me, and to find out who they were before I was around.

I have always loved peeling back the layers of family history to find out more. Grandma Rose and Grandpa Kenny both died in the last 10 years. Since then, two of my mom’s brothers live in their old house, maintaining it, yet leaving many things untouched. In my desire to preserve and understand, I took on the task of organizing the many photos, film reels, sketchbooks, letters, and newspaper clippings that remained in dresser drawers and boxes. I found photos I’d never seen before from my grandparents’ lives before marriage, and plenty of my mom and her siblings as kids. There were love letters my grandma wrote, and birthday cards from the kids. Sorting through this gave me that same sense of discovery that I always had at that house. It gave me a new lens onto the family history and lore.

By bringing some of these old black and white photos to life in big, full color pastel paintings, I am taking images seen through my grandparents’ eyes decades ago and transforming them--adding another layer of meaning to the story.

Through this process, I am expressing gratitude to the role they played in my life, while acknowledging that their own lives weren’t always glowing and happy--understanding the sadness and trauma that they experienced, which isn’t visible in the smiling faces in the photos. I try to acknowledge that reality while showing what these people mean to me.

I am also exploring questions of personal identity and family relationships. How much do these portraits say about the subjects, and how much do they say about the artist? How do I reconcile family and personal histories--the kaleidoscope of joys and traumas, experiences and memories of interconnected individuals? How do stories change when they are inherited by members of the next generation, read and transformed through their own lenses?

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