This is a game of first impressions. I list out a prompt object, you visualise it and immediately come up with the first thing that pops into your head in association with the object. Easy.
A can of coke— _____________ ?
A pineapple— _______________?
Palm trees— _______________?
At this point, I suspect there’s a good chance you’ve noticed a recurrent theme in the objects listed.
There is no model answer to these questions, but I would think that many like me would have a relaxing beach day with the warm sun hitting our backs and the colours of the sky and ocean blending into each other scrawled across our minds, as the objects listed above and their associating matters unravel in our heads.
For the Norwegian fine artist currently based in South London, Maren Reese, these are the objects of her interest— No, not blue skies, sandy beaches and a good time at the bay. (Come on people, fine art is more substantial than just that.) In her work, the imageries are all means to express her thoughts on culture. Her answers were the sunset, beaches and roadtrip, as well as more beaches and sunsets.
Instead of being abstract, distorted and/or containing an array of colour palettes meshed together, Maren’s paintings are simple and centrally feature two objects or matters that are generally perceived to automatically associate with each other in our culture today.
Best explained by Maren herself—
“My main agenda is to highlight perceptions of culture, either specific to a geographic location or social signifiers and how this is utilised in marketing. I want my work to be read as intentionally naïve or direct to emphasise the simplified visions we hold of cultures that we perceive as other than our own.”
The choice of objects in her expression, Maren is well aware, are based on her upbringing in the West in Northern Europe, Norway. Nonetheless, this does not seem to hinder many people from acquiring understanding to the associations between the objects, in part, due to globalisation or more importantly, the message behind it—
“If anything, I think my work reflects a historic appropriation and exploitation of culture that is not your own.”
Maren is referring to the generalisations people make of items— the single-minded impression of the items imprinted on people’s minds that are still rooted in society. Young people, nowadays especially, have much greater access to information worldwide and easily adopt foreign cultural preferences or habits without truly appreciating them or resonating with them, though the artist does not regard the paintings as targeting against youths specifically.
It is a strong message to make and some of her other artworks clearly don’t fall under the “intentionally naïve” category. For example, one of Maren’s seemingly favourite objects: palm trees, was drawn next to a puffing factory and against a gloomy background of pollution in an untitled piece.
I have taken the brave-but-potentially-embarrassing-if-I-get-it-wrong liberty of interpreting it as an attempt to draw contrasting elements together so as to shock audiences and indicate the sad reality that there is no perfect paradise. But it feels like I have only scraped a small surface of the possible interpretations one can make of Maren’s painting. Though they are well-crafted and simply presented, her paintings invoke strong stimulation to the mind just as much as they do to the eyes.
Through her artwork, Maren wants to communicate a message to her audience. I guess similar to how much every writer values good structure to their writing, Maren loves basing her creations of art on a framework she produced. The importance of the framework seems to be more important to her than the art itself, as she may even steer away from certain ideas because it doesn’t incorporate well into the subject matter.
It is in fact, her thought process and immaculate incorporation of it into her work that sets her apart and creates the authenticity an audience needs to connect to her. It is how she breaks away from the mold and creates something new which she is aware can be difficult with the great breadth of art created since the beginning of time.
After leaving her home in Norway and moving to London to study fine arts years ago (that exuberant city where even though competition was fierce and stakes were high was all worth it because of the “potential” she saw in it) Maren looks to moving again— this time to America.
“I think it can be extremely valuable to test your work in new places and remove yourself from your regular rhythm of creating work and this is what I aim to achieve this year.”
This girl sure loves a good challenge.