Space to Bloom: Jessica Mongeon
a colorful conversation with painter Jessica Mongeon
She’s still quite young, but as an artist, Jessica Mongeon has a lot of perspective to put on the canvas. A graduate of the University of North Dakota, Mongeon studied fine art and communications, but art was never gonna be her main thing. She thought she’d settle into the gooey stability that being a PR-professional-and-artist-on-the-side brings. But doubts-be-damned, Mongeon applied for grad schools and artist residencies and ended up getting her masters in painting from Montana State University in 2013. All the while, she kept having residencies and shows across the country to perfect her craft. Now Mongeon teaches a variety of fine arts courses at UW-Barron County in Rice Lake, and she is also one the artists selected for the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center’s Community Supported Art program this summer. We caught up with Mongeon to talk about color dynamics, drawing every single day, and her upcoming show at the Volume One Gallery, “Of The Earth."
Volume One: Your style seems very dynamic and full of movement, but there seems to be specific layering, where one section of the piece can explode with color while the background is often desolate and gray. What does that represent?
Jessica Mongeon: I use atmospheric perspective to create a sense of space in my paintings, so in a traditional landscape painting, atmospheric perspective would appear as trees that look bluish, gray, or blurry. In my work, since much of the space is abstract, I use color to create that effect. The muted colors recede into the background and the saturated colors come forward. I create planes of space that are meant to be stepping-stones from the foreground to the background.
I really like your color choices; they’re very gritty and deep, even the brighter ones. Why is that?
I spent a good amount of time trying out all of the colors and finding ones that interacted in a certain way. I was looking for paint that had transparent qualities and also pigments that create blooms. Certain pigments tend to push other ones out of the way, rather than mixing, and that’s the effect that I use a lot. I like my paint to flow and create thin layers. Sometimes I use a medium that suspends the paint and creates marbled effects or I print a pool of paint onto the surface. I also integrate my photography into the paintings by printing photos in black and white using a laser-jet printer or Xerox copier and using acrylic medium (clear acrylic) to transfer the toner onto the painting surface. That way I get the image without the white of the paper. I usually start a painting with a photograph or a combination of photographs in mind, and then choose a color combination. I try to stick to a complimentary color scheme, which makes for more dynamic paintings.
What is your subject matter?
I’m interested in natural structures or organisms that transcend scale or that I want to highlight. When I lived in Montana, my subject matter was mountains and the juxtaposition between peacefulness and chaos that I experienced while hiking or backpacking. Now, my paintings focus on tiny plants and fungi that grow in the forests of Wisconsin. I read books and articles about environmentalism, geology, and ecology, so those thoughts are part of my work, and I hope that they reflect my values. But if I wanted to communicate something really specific about environmentalism, I would write an essay. I want to create something that can’t be put into words.
Where do you draw inspiration?
I’m inspired by my students; they have wonderful work ethics and ideas, seeing them make art every day makes me want to go to my studio and create something. Other artists inspire me as well. I love to visit galleries and museums to see as much as I can, my favorite city for that is New York. I think that as an artist, everything that you see and experience makes its way into your artwork, whether we are conscious of it or not. Experiencing the outdoors inspires me, whether it’s a quiet hike in the Blue Hills, downhill skiing, or sitting in a park. I think it’s important to note that professional artists don’t just work when they are feeling inspired that day. One way that I helped develop more discipline was to complete a small drawing each day in 2014 in colored pencil. I would draw even if I didn’t feel like it, and it was good to get all kinds of different ideas on paper. I’m going include a binder at the show of drawing-a-days that I did in Wisconsin from August-December,and they will be for sale.
What do you hope people leave with after seeing your work?
If someone leaves feeling amazed by nature, or having even a tiny bit more appreciation for it, I feel like I succeeded. Color is a tool that I use to evoke an emotional reaction by the viewer. I want my paintings to be visceral. Maybe the bright colors just cheered someone up or brightened their day; that’s great too.
An opening reception for “Of the Earth” will be at 6:30pm Friday, May 1, at The Volume One Gallery at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire. The show will run May 1 through July 4.