Nicole Charbonnet thinks of her collaged paintings as palimpsests of cultural memory. She appropriates pop and art historical imagery, beginning with iconic works—examples include Damien Hirst’s spot paintings or Howard Hawks or Alfred Hitchcock film stills. For Charbonnet, the specificity of the image is less important than its ability to evoke broad cultural trends.
Charbonnet begins a piece by laying down a multitude of images. Paper bank statements, musical notation, menus, tax forms, cartoons, and kanji are all layered onto the canvas, painted over, peeled away, and built up again with more images, words, and strips of cultural minutia. After developing this base, Charbonnet lays down her dominant image, an iconic cultural image, familiar or nearly familiar. This also undergoes peeling and sanding, a process of erosion that reveals some of the original layers below, and leaves the piece with a feeling of antiquity.
Charbonnet began receiving invitations to show her work in museums in her early 20s. After twenty years and an impressive national and international exhibition history, her career continues its exciting trajectory.
“Whether painting images or abstract gestures, my paintings are textural and built up with layers over time. The superimposition of textures, images, collage, words and paint create surfaces that retain or reveal a memory of preexisting stages, resulting in a palimpsest in which some images, shapes or words are obfuscated, while others remain visible however shaped by previous or subsequent gestures and events. Painting for me serves as a metaphor for the phenomenon of recollection. My process of painting mimics or simulates the process of remembering with all its layers and numerous textures. Hopefully, introducing into this process images that come out of our cultural memory will result in paintings that will not only serve to illuminate the past but will also encourage interpretations which function as starting points themselves."