Artist Renée Caouette is one of the many local artists who work inside the storied Sandpaper Factory Building in Rockland. On a cold day in March, some late afternoon light slips through her southwest-facing windows and onto a painting she is currently working on. Caouette indicates where birch trees will fill in the canvas around the subject, a woman who stands solemnly with her back to the viewer in a traditional wedding dress.
“[The painting] is exploring the ideas of marriage, femininity and women being second-class citizens, especially in the workplace—especially in the art world,” says Caouette. “She’s looking away from the viewer and into a forest, which gives it a mystical, ethereal feeling.”
The painting will be part of a series, which will be on view at South Street Gallery May 9-31. Caouette was recently invited into the Copley Society of Artists and the Salmagundi Club, and her work has been exhibited in galleries in Paris, New York City, Boston and Miami. Her show in Hingham will also explore themes of divorce, life and death, equality and inequality, as well as addiction.
While Caouette’s themes are contemporary, her influences are centuries old. A native of Pembroke and a graduate of Cardinal Spellman High School, she had a brief stint at Pratt Institute before moving to France where she studied history and art at the American University of Paris. On the old sidewalks and between the ancient buildings of the City of Lights, she became enamored by the stories of people of the past and the art they left behind. “I find it fascinating to learn about art and history. I think about my own work and how much of myself I put in it and how painters have done that forever. When you look at a painting, you are seeing exactly how that person saw the world, which to me is more impactful than any piece of text.”
Caouette returned to the United States and earned her Master of Fine Art at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. But her Parisian experience continues to inspire her work. Sketches hang inside her studio and completed canvases lean against the walls. She pulls pieces out to discuss Fibonacci’s spiral, hidden symbolism and her intentional stark contrast of light and shadow. “My education was so nontraditional for an artist in the 21st century, but it lends itself to what my work is,” she says. “Everyone ends up doing what they do, based on where they come from.” Caouette will return to France in May of 2018, and she will lead a workshop in the south of France in Arles, which will include painting instructions, plein-air sessions and museum tours.
The South Street Gallery show will feature Caouette’s figures, interiors and still-life works. An opening reception will take place on May 12, from 6-9 p.m., Caouette will lead an art demonstration May 13 from 12-2 p.m. and she will give an art talk with Simona Minns, founder of Syntheater, on May 21, from 2-4 p.m. Find out more at reneecaouette.com and southstreetgallery.com.