NORWAY — Celeste LaForme’s new gallery at 448 Main Street has had brown paper covering its windows most of the winter, and although the finishing touches are still being applied, the paper has been removed and passersby can peer in.
When she is not teaching at Hebron Academy, there is a good chance LaForme will be in her studio, which reflects her artistically and personally. Within that space the artwork speaks to a variety of emotions. Feelings of loss and grief intermingle with those of hope and altruism that sometimes lack clear distinction, according to LaForme’s descriptions of her artwork.
“I’ve always identified as an artist, and in college it’s just what I wanted to do so I did my Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico,” she says. “It’s what I do, I produce a lot of art.”
While LaForme suspects she would be considered an oil painter by her contemporaries, she emphasis meaningful content rather than medium. “My art usually centers around environmentalism and climate change; a lot of the time there is animal rights activism involved,” she explains.
LaForme isn’t shy about her own visceral emotional position being at least in-part on display as inextricable from her artwork. In the window of her location there is a clay figure laying naked across a bed of sticks and straw; it is the only thing in the window. LaForme leans over and explains that the figure in the window is representative of her father, for whom she administered end-of-life care before he died.
In the studio LaForme has two series exhibited, one in each of the two rooms. “The show
that’s in there [the back room] is titled “Remnant,” and that show is how I made sense of my life, how I found purpose and was able to carry on after losing my dad.”
On the walls are visually striking paintings that are physically underscored by what appear to be many bird’s nest-like structures. LaForme unwraps the layers around the finished product to show how the inspiration stemmed from the grief of losing her father. Moving from a populated area in a desert to the lesser peopled western foothills of Maine brought some jarring changes to LaForme and her family.
“I was home with my kids at our farmhouse and I was grieving, I couldn’t make art and it was agonizing for me … I was a disaster,” she says.
Not only being without familiar faces, LaForme had to cope with what, for her, was a totally alien landscape.
“Grass is not something I’m used to, New Mexico doesn’t really have grass. And the gas lawnmower didn’t really fit with my idea of living symbiotically with the environment … I would kill all these crickets and one day I even killed a snake,” LaForme says, visually bothered by the memory of harming living things.
It was from this, however, that LaForme found a therapy of sorts and began creating art again. She saw a relation between her mowing, and the personal loss LaForme was facing as both being grievous and as a hard thing that she, “had to do anyway.”
Then LaForme decided to make use of it.
“I took this process of mowing grass as a way of containing my grief, I took the clippings to make something out of them. [The clippings represented] death, this end of life, this unhealthy practice of mowing and started stuffing them into these starter trays.”
Celeste says she’d also filled her kid’s swimming pool with grass clippings, making her bird-nest structures and, “containing my grief.”
LaForme’s next step was to take her nests to a place that made her uncomfortable, “an environment that had some unhealthy logging practices use,” which she calls, “profound areas of grief for me.”
Setting up and photographing her bird nests in these heavily deforested landscapes, the subjects in the painting clearly become those photographs repainted with some of the artist’s extra interpretation.
Toward the front of the gallery, where the little statue of LaForme’s father lay at rest ad perpetuum, LaForme continues her technical application of painting art that is first conceptualized as a photograph.
Leaving the room containing the “Remnant” collection LaForte explains some of the works that seem to have people in them.
“This series is more personal it’s about my family and how we remain here, how we’re this unified family.”
For the second collection, LaForme took photographs of her family and then framed them in natural objects, a log worn partially through or small cave; something with negative space. She then painted the photograph.
LaForme plans on announcing a formal opening later as she finishes staging the studio just the way she wants.