The whole thing started with a dusty dilapidated cardboard box at the back of the cupboard under the stairs. It almost went straight into the skip, but B had had dementia and we’d already found a roll of cash in a biscuit tin under the bed; a bracelet in the pantry; so, we felt obliged to check. And there it was. A beautiful photo of a beautiful person from a time long past; in a place we didn’t know, taken by who knows whom. Her calm intelligent face was turned to one side. In her own world of quiet contemplation, what was it that she’d been thinking?

This moment was the genesis of my art practice. A found photo of my beloved mother-in-law in a pink dress on a green lawn on a perfect English summer day. I felt compelled to paint it. At the time, I didn’t know how to paint, so I had to learn, allowing myself the time to ponder what the back story of the photo might have been.

My work explores the relationship between painting and photography, centred around my fascination with the way a photograph, as Susan Sontag wrote, “is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence”; providing connection to a past or longed for reality. Family archives remain a key starting point, investigating the fallibility and subjectivity of memory, the ability of imagery from a particular period to trigger a stream of recollection and nostalgia, and the way our imagination attempts to fill in gaps of knowledge. Recently my work has expanded to draw from contemporary photographs with the subject looking to one side or seen from behind. Depicted with an averted gaze, the figure is introspective, inviting the viewer to merge with and interpret their state of mind.  I’m interested in translating the ambiguity of these photos into a painting to construct a new space that provides an opportunity for pause and contemplation by the viewer.

Photographs are inherently time-stamped by the technology of their making and the details captured, while time becomes embedded in a painting by the slow and contemplative process of making it with traditional materials. Thus, these paintings speak to the entwined histories of painting, portraiture and photography, operating in a space between where the reality of a point in time is depicted and imagined narrative enabled.

instagram: @janet_drury



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Janet Drury