France

Process: Marnay by Laura J. Lawson

Marnay , 200" x 80", acrylic ink on polypropylene, 2016.

Marnay, 200" x 80", acrylic ink on polypropylene, 2016.

Marnay, the piece pictured above, is one of my "atmospheric view" paintings. Totally abstract, the piece narrates what my summer in Marnay-sur-Seine, France, felt like as an immersive experience. This was a two month artist residency at the Centre d'Art Marnay Art Center (CAMAC).

Each morning, I woke early in my comfortable but cell-like room, crossed the 16th century priory through the library, and greeted the Seine on my walk to the kitchen for breakfast.

My Junes were always sweltering and oppressive, but these mornings were chilly, wet, and quiet. The Seine was murky and impatient, much like my Mississippi back home. Even when the sun reached its zenith, its rays were gentle, warming, and meek.

As the days passed, the Seine's flooding subsided, and river's sediments settled enough to restore the water to jewel-like brilliance. Wildflowers popped up in gardens and in gravel. The sun visited for longer and longer, with impressive sunsets past 9pm.

Everything about this place felt enchanting. The light felt more diffuse and sparkling. The persistent grey sky made every leaf and flower pop like an hallucination. There was nothing rugged or tough about the rural way of life-- even the cows were polite and content.

All of this went into my work. I matched my inks to what I saw-- the changing river, the plants and flowers, the cobblestones and tiles, the soil and sand-- and began to piece together how it feels to be wrapped up in all of these sensations at once.

The lightweight Yupo-- which I bought specifically to be plane-friendly-- was the perfect choice for representing this place. It flutters when viewers walk past it, and there is some hint of an iridescent sheen to it, even when saturated with ink. Compared to my other atmospheric paintings, it is weightless and unabashedly colorful.

This residency had the dépaysement I was looking for. CAMAC gave me the space and time I needed to work with a clear mind, and Marnay-sur-Seine gave me a landscape unlike any I had seen before.

What is depaysement? by Laura J. Lawson

I titled my thesis exhibition Depaysement. Said exhibition was held in Memphis, Tennessee, where French is not the lingua franca. I dedicated an entire section of gallery wall to the definition. Why bother?

The exhibition was the product of my experiences after three years of study in Memphis, and a two month artist residency at the Centre d'Art Marnay Art Center (CAMAC) in Marnay-sur-Seine, France. I wanted to take a deep look at the concept of the identity of place, and I did so by investigating the landscape through color, pathways, borders, and cartography.

As an undergraduate, I spent a semester in Paris, and gained what I'll call an academic fluency with the French language. (Fluent enough, but not confidently bilingual yet.) My favorite words to learn were the ones that didn't have an English equivalent. Depaysement. The feeling of not being in one's home country. What is that, exactly?

The odd thing is, by returning to France for the CAMAC residency, I was essentially returning to something familiar. I spoke the language, navigating nearby Paris was already easy for me, and there were few surprises left when it came to cultural differences. Still, the light and air were different, and invisible particles seemed energized in different wavelengths. Time ran at a slightly different speed. Even on days when I felt terrible, I could still delight in how normalcy was never quite normal.

The depaysement in the French countryside reminded me of the almost imperceptible differences that continued to permeate my life in Memphis. Despite moving frequently, most of my youth was spent in Texas. Southern culture covers a huge swath of states, but beyond slightly inferior BBQ and sno-cones,* there were still peripheral and atmospheric qualities that would never be identical.

I really saturated my mind and body in these places. They were a little familiar, a little strange, and had more in common than I could have predicted. It's invigorating to be depaysee, and these questions and memories continue to drive my artistic practice.

*I'm sorry, Memphians; "excellent" is still one rung lower than "best."