Considering how heavily my artistic process relies on representation, it may sound odd when I claim that my artwork is as much about the gaps in that representation as the representation itself. These gaps are both literal and figurative.
The literal gaps are relevant to how often I work with altered books, polyptychs, and other artworks in which it is at least difficult to view the entire surface at once. Within comics there is a convention that the space between panels and the panels’ relative sizes subtly indicate the passage of time. Many of my artworks from the last decade work in a similar manner to emphasize the relationship between past and present through their forced proximity.
The figurative gaps in my artwork are those of allusion. Any images that I appropriate or subvert are chosen for how meaningfully they relate to topics that concern me deeply. In artworks like the Toying with History series, in which the watercolor paper doll costumes which shove pop culture and the art history canon into company with one another, wordless juxtapositions allow viewers to come up with their own thematic interpretations. As suggested by their titles, I had structured, feminist reasons for reinterpreting symbols of what were often large oil paintings as small watercolors reminiscent of little girls’ toys. Another person will have different associations with the canons to which I refer. In such cases, the themes that we assign to the paintings will be more memorable and personal for being allusive.
Core to any allusive work is its attitude to that from which it borrows. As I wrestle artistically with this dynamic, I find opportunities in my art to regard being derivative as a strength. With the Test Papers series, I embraced the fact that the pages themselves are not my creation. I merely collected, curated, and bound them. The actual art that I set up occurs in the moment when a person flips through the pages and becomes engrossed in searching for patterns. There is a voyeuristic aspect to flipping through these drawings, which were only ever made to test the working properties of a drawing tool before being thrown away. What meaning can we invent when the intent of the creators are difficult to discern?
In addition to its allusive emphasis, my artwork often has a narrative component. Seemingly disparate elements of my works, such as the Hiroshige references hidden in a copy of Dear Theo, relate to the familiar art history approach to seeing a symbolic correspondence between the work of Japanese and European artists. Another such example is my With love, NO series, which tells a short story addressing the quandary that results when confidentiality has been promised but proves difficult. Artworks from that series are straightforward when taken individually, but the series as a whole develops a tense ambivalence.
My artwork, whether narrative or allusive, is all about context.
Colleen Wampole (b. 1984) lives and works in northern California. She earned her BA at Principia College in Illinois (2006), and her MFA at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia (2014). Her artwork has appeared in shows in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and California.
Wampole’s current artistic practice conflates fine art history and pop culture. Iconic figures from each are depicted as hand-painted paper doll costumes. These costumes are broadly linked by their connection to feminist topics such as representation, agency, and gender roles.