Ecotone: the place where forest meets meadow, desert touches river. It’s the frontier where communities of humankind and wild animals touch each other. It’s that shaky space between who we are and who we appear to be, the gap between reality and mystery, the certain and the imagined.
- Joanne Smith from What Wildness is This
I develop fable-based mixed media work that is sophisticated in technique and child-like in spirit to express universal themes such as joy, heartbreak, love, pride, and aggression. My pieces are visual stories of animals in a variety of imaginary settings that serve as metaphors for the human experience. These experiences can be all-encompassing like coping with a pandemic or small and specific like the sheer joy of accomplishing a goal. Some animals are rendered true to life, with the detail of a photograph, while others are magical hybrid creatures possessing archetypal strengths. These characters living in invented landscapes are simultaneously lyrical, magical, intimate, hopeful, mysterious, and ominous. The landscapes that surround them are as much of a character in these visual stories as the animals themselves.
In many ways, my process of creating is childlike, simply responding to the beauty and chaos of the world around me by drawing and painting pictures. The works portray slivers of accurate representations of animals and landscapes as well as imagined and embellished counterparts. Part truth and part story. Depictions of images such as golden antlers growing atop a rabbit’s head or a pink rabbit nestled inside the belly of a coyote, populate my work. Objects such as antlers or snakeskin function as symbols of power. Both “shed” and re-new or grow back. They become crowns or capes these critters adorn to arm themselves as they face universal obstacles in their specific lives. For example, I create a world for my coyote where she grows a set of golden antlers giving her double powers, coyness and strength. She becomes the superhero in her story. I want to empower my characters to set them free.
Using water-media in my initial stages, I work in layers. Some layers are thicker opaque paint, transparent washes, collage elements or cutting or drawing back into a previous layer. I focus attention on specific parts of the piece by pushing the less important elements to the background and bringing the more important features to the foreground. The two-dimensional surface of paper, canvas or panel becomes the setting for imagery that is balanced between abstraction and representation, sharp or blurred, objective and subjective. Oil paint is often added in the later stages, creating rich and saturated areas of symbolic color.
The resulting work is a simultaneously playful and serious allegory allowing the viewer to identify with these characters, to bear witness to the world around them, to look deeply at the interconnectedness among people, animals and landscapes.