Madeleine Gross is the 23-year-old Toronto-based artist who customizes her photographs with paint in a way designed to “abstract landscapes but without completely abstracting reality.” A graduate of the The Ontario College of Art and Design where she gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography, Madeleine intuitively applies gesture, texture, colour and strokes with paint with the idea of emulating an immersive reality for viewers and in turn induce the sensation of actually being there just by looking. The inspiration she finds in the likes of Gerard Richter, Helen Frankenthaler, nature and the effortlessly entertaining pastime of people watching can be felt in her images; with textural colour layers and a realistic movement her images embody the rippled water from a jet ski, ocean waves, the fresh beach breeze. Positive connotations are at the heart of her work, with each of the photographs taken on her trips to settings found within Miami, Joshua Tree, Los Angeles and New York to Aspen and the Bahamas, all enhanced by a warm and bright colour palette applied through a few happy strokes of a brush.
When did you first start customizing your photographs with paint?
I started by using paint markers on black and white portraits I took, coloring in the model’s makeup, and their outfit, adding quirky outlines to create a more animated look. They were interesting but didn’t have much movement. Later, after taking a trip to New York, I came back and I printed out a selection of my photos for a critique at OCAD. I was feeling very stagnant at the time and wanted to experiment. I took out my acrylic paint and intuitively painted on each photograph. Sometimes photography can feel very technical, I’m always making sure I don’t mess up on the lighting, aperture…etc so it was enjoyable to paint freely and expressively on the photograph directly. I feel like it always works out that way, that we create our best work unintentionally.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
My aesthetic is very vibrant, bright, colorful, and contemporary. I like to create work that sparks a happy emotional chord. I would define my work as reflective, light, calming, sometimes ethereal. I’m constantly over-thinking so art is in a sense a way to clear my crowded mind. My first impulse was to just get what was going on in my head and translate that into drawing. My progression from painting to photograph was the impulse to capture what I see and make it immortal. It has a subtly feminine aesthetic.
What does femininity mean to you?
Femininity means so many different things to me, the ability to embrace my strength, be confident and love myself. I also express my feminine side through fashion. I love to wear Isabel Marant, she makes me feel like I’m some cool French girl. I feel powerful proudly expressing my femininity through my art, style, and spirit.
"I’m trying to create images that are more intimate and inviting"
Which artists would you say have influenced your practice the most?
Gerhard Richter, Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis. Gerhard Richter also works with painting on photograph and I really enjoy the narrative he creates with his use of paint. I love Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis’ color field painting- the layers of colour inspire my work since I layer paint onto my photographs.
How do you hope viewers will feel after seeing your work?
I want my viewer to be put in a good mood, maybe feel nostalgic of a memory they had or have them look forward to a vacation they are planning or fantasise about one. I like to hear different interpretations people have when they see my work, some people see faces or little beings in my brushstrokes. I want the viewer to have a personal experience, often when looking at other’s beautiful photographs I can enjoy them but if I wasn’t there, it’s hard to relate. I’m trying to create images that are more intimate and inviting. Even though it is through my lens and perspective, with the added abstraction I find it makes it less of my personal experience and more relatable.
What message do you hope to translate through your art?
A message of hope and beauty. Art can take our mind to a higher state of consciousness, it’s the best way to get out of our heads and escape from our problems that derive from everyday life. I want to translate a positive message and show how naturally beautiful this world is. Life is hard enough, we see so many negative images, if my photography and colorful brushstrokes can set a good vibe and bring hope to my viewer, then I’m happy.