When it comes to her artwork, Audrey Bellinger can credit her relatives with more than just creative genes. Ms. Bellinger, whose work will be the focus of a show at The John Stobart Gallery in Edgartown opening this week, has rummaged through her family albums to create dreamlike photo montages.
“I layer images of people and places, submerging and obscuring certain images while repeating others,” she writes on her website. “These pieces draw on the uneven quality of memory. Some details remain clear while others slip away.”
The Somerville-based artist uses a process called matte medium transfer: “I make copies of the images, then I can actually transfer the ink from those copies to another surface. I work on boards, mostly panels. I use either images that I took or family images. I manipulate them in some way. Juxtaposing black-and-white images from quite a few generations with other photography, landscapes, and other images.”
Ms. Bellinger first started experimenting with images from magazines — drawing on them and in other ways manipulating them. “Then I realized I could use photocopies of my own images,” she said. “I started culling from my family photos. It’s more the images than who they are.”
Although many of the pieces include members of Ms. Bellinger’s family, she believes there is a universality in the work. “When I started doing the work it wasn’t so much about my family,” she said. “Usually when I compose the work I’m thinking more visually. After they’re finished the narrative starts to surface for me.”
The transfer process itself inspires the work. “It has something to do for me with the repeatability of the images and there’s something serendipitous about this process that I like — applying something to a surface and not really knowing how it will come out,” she said.
Ms. Bellinger’s pictures have a dreamlike quality. There’s a nostalgic feel to the works but they have a contemporary look. There’s a sense that a story is unfolding before the viewer’s eyes, but the lens is a little fuzzy and one is left with an impression — an emotional impact.
A piece called Ancestors includes images from three generations. The top half features a group photo from the 1930s that includes Ms. Bellinger’s father as a child. Below that we see a young Ms. Bellinger and her brother playing in the water and in one corner is a small color image of the artist’s son as a little boy. Edges have been distressed, giving the impression that the photos are blending into each other and images of trees overlay parts of the picture.
This piece is from a series called Recurrence that, according to the artist, “Deals with how memories can come in and out and can be in focus and out of focus. These images can trigger a memory. There are all these different generations and time periods existing in the same image.”
In another piece, an old black-and-white image of a man in an old-fashioned tank top bathing suit shares a stretch of beach with a color image of a child running in the surf. The boy is Ms. Bellinger’s son as an infant. The man is her great uncle, a decorated WWII general who retired to the Vineyard.
“I like the generations and the gestures of those two photographs,” Ms. Bellinger said. “It’s almost like he could be someone looking from the past to the present and the future.
“Photographs freeze an image in time,” she continued. “The person has grown and moved on or possibly died but the imagery remains constant. When I started drawing on pictures it became indicative to me about the passage of time.”
The unreliability of memory is an important theme for Ms. Bellinger. “You can create your own memories. People create their own stories,” she said. “Photographs have a big impact on that. They can solidify and enhance memories.”
The John Stobart Gallery here and the Kensington/Stobart Gallery in Salem specialize in the works of preeminent maritime artist John Stobart. However, along with limited edition prints of Stobart’s magnificent oil paintings, both galleries feature the work of other artists on a rotating basis.
Edgartown’s John Stobart Gallery will host two other shows this summer. Local watercolorist Meg Mercier is the subject of a show in July. In August, Gloucester maritime artist Phil Cusumano will show some of his recent mermaid paintings as well as examples of his more traditional work.
Artist’s Reception with Audrey Bellinger, Friday, June 21, 5–7 pm, The John Stobart Gallery, Edgartown. Show runs through July 8. 508-627-9066; thejohnstobartgallery.com.