Melissa Loop
During the period of open imperialist expansion, the role of the landscape painter was often used to create a sense of wonderment and desire. Instead of accurate recordings, artistic liberties were often used to help implant the desire of relocation so the empires could expand into faraway lands. I have become interested in how my role as a landscape painter fits into the history of misconceptions, authenticity, and desire and the ways I can play inside its subversive framework. By using the guise of romantic landscape painting, I am exploring the slippery ideas of place, the way tourism and media perpetuate fantasies of the exotic, and the ways cultural identities are manipulated, misplaced, and reinvented in an age of globalization and longing for authenticity. In addition to landscape painting history, my work is concerned with how to negotiate my own desires and concerns in an age where we can travel anywhere for a price and many of the best landscapes are quickly disappearing due to the warming of the planet.
My past work started with me searching online for a place that seemed exotic in comparison to the Midwest. After I decided on a particular place, I would use photos from Google Image and piece together a strange perfected landscape. Doing this created a “greatest hits” of the place so it resembled the internet's collective fantasy rather then the reality of the landscape. I found it interesting how this collective has more in common with our nostalgic ideas of a hidden Shangri-La rather then an actual place. After a while, I found these made up landscapes to be too much about surface and I wanted to break though and find a way inside of the fantasy. I decided to focus a whole series around the French Polynesia because the world views this rich culture still under the Colonial rule of France as a country of overwater bungalows for elite vacations. I researched the history, people, and politics to gain an understanding of the place beyond the postcard. When I was given the opportunity to travel to the French Polynesia, I went alone in order to throw myself completely into this idea of artist as social anthropologist. I spent 5 weeks walking where tourists don't want to go, wondering up mountains, asking locals to show me their favorite spots, speaking with people in charge of the cultural centers, and asking questions about an openly corrupt Presidential Election. I also stayed with families that run small rooming houses rather then hotels. This gave me the opportunity to see what exists outside of the perfect travel photo and what is to the side of the tourist path. The experiences, photographs and sketches that I made became the basis for a series of paintings that are created in the studio and explores both the fragmented and nostalgic ideas of place. These paintings confront the fantasy and reality of the exotic and the ways in which tourism and cultural stereotypes are shaping cultural preservation and identity.