For Bennington artist Renée Bouchard, painting is all about communication, embracing the unexplainable and just making marks.
Although she was formally trained in watercolor painting at Maine College of Art in Portland, many of Bouchard's recent works are inspired by her interest in self-taught or outsider art, a term for artwork produced outside the jurisdiction of any established artistic community. She is also inspired by artists who technically aren't old enough to do anything at all professionally, such as her 20-month-old son, Ensor, and other young children. These unique influences combine with her own sophisticated artistic abilities and original ideas to form engaging, hypnotic and deeply personal paintings that have recently been featured in several exhibits around Southern Vermont and the Berkshires.
Last fall, Southern Vermont College hosted a solo show of Bouchard's works, "Baby Ensor: Recent Paintings," which included paintings that revolved around her new motherhood.
"I was painting from observation of him, and I had moments of time to paint when he was a baby, so then I had this body of watercolors that I worked on," she said. Since then, Bouchard has invited Ensor to participate in her painting.
"He was about 10 months old when I started letting him have a pencil and crayon and making marks. He had been in my studio since he was born, so he seemed like he was interested in it," she said. "He can clearly make a zig-zag line now. He can make a beautiful arc, I have to say. That's much different than just his vertical and horizontal lines.
A former elementary school art teacher, Bouchard said there's something essential and impossible to describe about children's art.
She has embraced these inexplicable elements as inspiration for her own painting.
"I'm very interested in intuitive mark making. It's helping me develop my vocabulary," she said. "I like the idea of somebody saying, ‘Did Renée do that or did a child do that?,' and not knowing."
Bouchard's fascination with children's art also relates to her interest in outsider art. Bouchard and her husband -- Jamie Franklin, curator of the Bennington Museum -- have decorated their home with a mix of Bouchard's own works and an extensive collection of outsider art. Both her works and their collection have been featured together in recent exhibits like "Inside the Outside: Reconsidering Our Views About Art" at MCLA's Gallery 51 in North Adams this past spring. Tony Gengarelly, MCLA Art History and Museum Studies professor, organized the exhibit and he said Bouchard's paintings capture the fundamental originality of outsider art.
"She admires outsider artists because they are unfettered," said Gengarelly. "That is, they aren't terribly influenced by models that have already been established, and they seek their own way of expressing what they need to say."
While he said Bouchard herself wouldn't be considered an outsider artist, he explained she has an incredible ability to create images based on content from her own mind.
"It's almost as if she goes inside herself and finds what she needs to say, then finds a way to say it," he continued. "It's a very intuitive and meditative process for her."
Bouchard explains that, especially in her collaborations with Ensor, creating visual art is also an interesting process of communicating with the world.
"Art is really a form of communication," she said, explaining she often thinks about how 90 percent of the information we receive comes in through the eyes and is decoded by the brain. "Just think about cave paintings, and how we can still understand them -- it's incredible to think about how powerful they can be. And if I could put myself in my son's perspective, I would definitely say that he's having a dialogue with me and my marks on the canvas."
Although she considers her artwork an important form of communication, Bouchard also said there are limits to what she is willing to communicate to her audience.
Pointing to an old door covered in marks and three-dimensional textures, she explained she sometimes includes more private detail in her work than she means to.
"I was using this as a working surface, and then I showed it [in the Baby Ensor show at SVC]. It had all these words and everything on it, and I was so horrified that people were reading what went through my mind -- I had to paint over them. I don't always want to share."