Lucy Lord Campana
For me, painting is a challenge – a way of figuring out, how to task myself to see further.
I treat art as an access point. A way to navigate through the world, a way to see things I normally can’t, have conversations with people I haven’t yet met and have an opportunity to learn how we collectively see today.
I think about a painting’s existence in relation to what’s experienced before and what’s seen after—we don’t see things in isolation. The context of ourselves and our life vibrates around us and can often blur our field of vision. I would like to clarify that.
I start by asking myself, “If I am painter, making images, what does it mean to make an image? What images are important today?” In our highly saturated visual culture, I believe the answer is largely subjective, with in my opinion, one glaring exception.
Collectively we see farther than ever before. The Hubble Space Telescope, for example acts as an extension of our eyes, now bringing the imagery of deep space to today’s viewer. As an observational painter interested in the aesthetics of my time, these images fascinate me. They challenge me to want to see further into space, time and possibilities.
Optical technologies dictate many of these images; even when the average person has no access to them. As a painter, I am interested in what painting from observation can push today. Often, I think about the painter J. M. W. Turner and the mythical tale of him strapped to the edge of a ship; all with the goal to intimately experience the atypical vantage point of the subject matter of his paintings. His work inspired me to “strap” myself to the Hubble and see what it sees, experience what it experiences and ultimately, “see further”.
I’ve been working on an ongoing series of paintings in collaboration with NASA’s official Image Processors at the Hubble Heritage Project. Three years ago I traveled to meet with them, and in my visits, I was able to learn exactly how they put together the data to create the images we see. Each image is composed of several black and white digital photos they mosaic together. Color is then added for different illustrative purposes that vary based on what story the picture is intended to tell.
The series of paintings I’ve made in collaboration with them aim to compile how we see these images that are circulated to us, as well as speak to the many filters the data went through to become these celebrated pictures. I want my paintings to honestly portray how I experienced that image, that moment in time, were I strapped to the telescope. Working within a picture, I then weave my own feelings into the work. One of my paintings has a Louise Bourgeois quote embedded within, “The Cold of Anxiety is Very Real”. In another, Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky, lurks inside; and in another I’ve included a drawing my father made that he feels symbolizes his life.
Each time I start a painting, it’s like I’m at the beginning again. I look around and decide what to pay attention to. To sit down and really observe and absorb, opens a possibility for myself to really be present. What I choose to look at varies: it may be the recent Hubble image, or the flowers on my kitchen table, or the stained glass in my apartment.
We see farther than we ever have before, and I’ll continue to tell that story through the evolution of my paintings.