Artist in Focus | Renee Bouchard: From small town to state house
BENNINGTON, VT. — From a quiet corner of New Hampshire to the governor's office of Vermont might seem like a considerable jump for some people. But for artist Renee Bouchard, it's one she's embraced.
During July, August and September, Bennington-based Bouchard will be featured in the Governor's Gallery at the state capitol in Montpelier, Vt. The gallery space is the waiting chamber to enter the governor's office.
Her exhibit, titled "Kaleidoscopic Pathos," is an assemblage of paintings created over the last seven years.
Bouchard said she works by combining views from the landscape of certain locales, mostly places where she has either lived or spent considerable time. Her place-themes tend to surround Vermont, Maine, Hawaii and Washington.
"The paintings are very much about the wonder of paint and mark-making, and elements of the human experience by way of observation, memory and invention," Bouchard said.
Her work was selected to be shown in the Governor's Gallery by Vermont State Curator David Schutz. He has been following Bouchard's work — as well as that of other Vermont artists — for several years.
Schutz is also responsible for helping to restore buildings that house state government. As such, he works at making art accessible to people who come in and out of these structures, and looks for expressive representations to display.
"This collection of paintings by Renee Bouchard masterfully conveys profound abstract composition by layering color upon color," Schutz said from the state capitol.
Bouchard discussed one of her works in the gallery, "Samson and Delilah," which she called a comment on feminism, influenced partly by an early mentor, feminist author Kate Millett. Her husband, Bennington Museum curator Jamie Franklin, and son, almost 3-year-old Ensor, also played a part.
"My husband's and son's hair are part of the painting, a comment on the biblical story of Samson and Delilah," Bouchard said. "My final artistic decision was squeezing out yellow ochre strait from an old tube that was given to me onto the painting making a line similar in shape to an archetypical vagina."
Bouchard began another painting in the gallery, "Floodline, Wilmington VT, 2011," in 2011, when driving through Wilmington and witnessing the chaos caused by Hurricane Irene to the iconic Dots Diner.
Since she had her materials in the car, Bouchard stopped and painted while people were busy restoring the collapsed building. She said she was inspired by the community efforts and support, "so I wanted to somehow capture how loss can bring people together."
"I worked on the painting on and off for five years," Bouchard said. "What once was a painting completed using linear perspective, became a very flat-planed abstract collaged work depicting water using studio detritus."
Small town girl, big art
Indeed, as if coming full circle, when Bouchard was growing up in Mont Vernon, N.H., she covered her music lesson books with colorings. Her parents sensed a future painter in their midst and set her on the path she has stayed on to this day.
"So, they sent me instead to art lessons with local artists," Bouchard said with a laugh from her Bennington studio, fondly recalling her beginnings in the craft. "I remember referencing postcards of snowy scenes and learning to paint pastel portraits from life."
Bouchard, who attended the Cleveland Art Institute and graduated from Maine College of Art, said the greatest artistic experience of her formative years came when she was 16 and spent a summer at the Phoebe Flory Watercolor School in her hometown of Mont Vernon.
Flory, a well-known painter and teacher, was co-author of the instructional book "Watercolor Portraiture: A Practical Guide," published in 1985 and still in print; she died in 2014 at age 90.
Bouchard was so determined to study with Flory that she paid for the course by helping Flory in her garden and studio. She recalled that Flory's school, to which she could ride daily on her bike, was rigorous yet maintained a bohemian flair.
"My parents didn't approve of me going with the class during lunch breaks to a privately owned quarry to swim in the nude, so I had to ride my bike home for lunch, too," Bouchard said.
Flory and Eliot O'Hara published the book, "Portraits in the Making," and designed an intensive program in which students learned to draw and paint portraits in watercolor using planes as the basic building block. Students in Flory's school painted more than 200 portraits in watercolor, from talking or moving models, over the course of six weeks.
"I learned a ton of techniques from Phoebe that I still use today," Bouchard said.
For more information on the art of Renee Bouchard, visit renee-bouchard.com.
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