Finding beauty in the blur of the past
In this surreal walk down memory lane, vintage family snapshots merge with vibrant, Walden-esque landscapes
To create her vibrant abstractions of the natural world, Alison Jardine had dabbled in most of art's mediums. But in 2010, Jardine's work took a rather personal turn into photography after her brother sent her scans of old family photographs.
There was her mother, who died in 1974, perched bravely on rocky outcropping. There was her great-grandmother, Bertha, standing sternly in a doorway. There were the legs of her grandparents as they paddled across an English stream in the summertime.
"My father took several of the photographs during the 1950s, when he and my mother were dating," Jardine said in an interview. "It was interesting seeing photographs of my mother, who I never knew, but have vague recollections of from when I was around 2 years old. After the summer I spent working on the photographs, I did have a sense that I'd been on a journey with them, that we'd spent time together, which was a really comforting feeling."
That journey produced PixelNation, a surreal departure from Jardine's previous work into a world of digitally altered photographs. The Dallas artist had used photos for years as inspiration when developing new paintings; she would gather the images into sketchbooks and reference them again and again. But before the personal connection to her family's history, Jardine had never imagined using the photographs as her medium.
The artworks in PixelNation are far from typical old-timey photographs. Instead, Jardine places her black-and-white relatives within rich, Walden-esque scenes.
"Trees remain the star of my work," Jardine says. "For PixelNation, I tried to people my forests with ghosts from my own past, but to create them in such a way that the images would work as stand-alone elements, needing no explanation to be understood, or appreciated."
Jardine's blurred and distorted subjects are indeed haunting. The viewer pauses to wonder about the histories of these people and their relation to the dizzying scenes in which they've been dropped. But given their abstract nature, the interpretation is up to the viewer and his own history. And that, Jardine says, is art's unique gift.
"In the bigger scheme of things, we all have the same, quite simple narrative," she says. "We may feel that our experiences and lives are unique, but seen in aggregate, they most certainly are not. For me, this only serves to heighten the awareness of how incredibly amazing it is that we get to appreciate our journeys, think our thoughts, and search for answers. This is why, for me, art and science represent the very best of humanity."
Though the subject matter is straightforward — person, landscape — the process is far from it. Jardine would pull a family photograph as her starting point, then alter the colors, skew the texture, and pull parts of other photographs from her vast library into the new world she was creating.
"It's a really long process," she says. "The technological components alone cannot create an artwork. I've found it as creative a process as my paintings and drawings."
No surprise, then, that after finishing her summer with PixelNation, Jardine still found herself inspired by the project. One of her photographic works, Going Home, actually made its way into a subsequent painting, Risking the Ecstatic.