Lauren Marsolier's Psychological Landscapes

By Conor Risch

© Lauren Marsolier/Courtesy of the Artist and Robert Berman Gallery
An image from Lauren Marsolier's "Transition" series. To see more images, click on the Photo Gallery link below.

At a glance, Lauren Marsolier’s images look like simple color landscapes, depicting a house or office building or lakeside or parking garage against a rocky mountain backdrop. While the images appear carefully composed and pop with crisp, vibrant color, one could be forgiven for thinking they depict rather mundane scenes. But something isn’t quite right, so we’re drawn in.

Why is this home isolated in an arid, desert landscape? How will the newly planted sapling grow there? How is it that people get to this Ferris wheel and roller coaster when there are no apparent roads, pathways or other built surroundings? Has someone laid a concrete walkway in a mountain landscape or are the mountains fake, part of some diorama simulating the natural world? Also: Where are the people? There are manmade structures and built environments, yet they seem completely unused, clean, post-human.

Marsolier, who is French but lives in Los Angeles, creates her images digitally, assembling elements of photographs she’s made both in Europe and in the United States, where she has resided since 2009. Though she’s drawing on photographs of the physical world to create her images, they depict a psychological landscape, a mind as it undergoes change and upheaval.

It was a “radical and long phase of transition in my personal life,” Marsolier says, that spurred her to create the series, “Transition,” which is comprised of three parts organized chronologically, the first beginning in 2005 and the most recent incorporating work made this year. After living abroad for ten years and working as a commercial photographer in the United States, Marsolier moved to the French countryside to concentrate on personal work. But rather than idyllic, Marsolier says, she found the life there isolating, and she grew depressed and disoriented during her four years there. “Working on these images has helped me make sense of this mental process during which our consciousness is transforming.”

As she created more work, Marsolier realized her exploration of her personal psychology also addressed shared human psychology. “I became interested in how we perceive reality and how our times, marked by constant changes, affect us on a psychological level,” she explains. “A motivation that was initially personal and emotional raised more general questions for me.”

The meaning of the images evolved in other ways as well. Initially Marsolier scrubbed her images of “the tracks of time and the signs of life” as a method of describing “a lonely experience, like being lost in your own mindscape, something close to an existential angst.

“But I think that a lot more goes into an artist’s work than their initial intention,” she adds. “Looking back at my depopulated landscapes, I often think of humanity withdrawing from their material world to live a more virtual life, and I often feel that the more we get connected, the more we feel disconnected.”

While Marsolier’s work is photographic, her process is more closely akin to painting, she says. “Months or years often separate the capture of elements juxtaposed in my landscapes,” she says. “This approach reminds me of many painters who would make sketches at different locations to use as reference for their future paintings.” To create her source material Marsolier simply photographs landscapes or structures that she’s drawn to instinctively, “without thinking much about why they interest me at that stage,” she says.

When she sets out to create a new work, a process that can stretch over long periods of time, she has a “vague idea,” she says, of the image she wants to make. “But it almost always fails,” she adds. She begins with one image, adds a second, then a third and so on, working intuitively. She compares the process to building a puzzle, “except I don’t know beforehand what the final image will look like.” Through trial and error she works toward “a combination of elements that resonates and is meaningful to me.

“By the time I am done with an image it usually is completely different from what I had in mind initially,” she says.

Marsolier views her process for making these images as an extension of the work she used to do printing her photographs in the darkroom. That process “was as important for me as capturing the images,” she recalls. “I loved both stages equally.” Creating images digitally “extended the possibilities of image manipulation that existed in the darkroom.”

Related Article:

Lauren Marsolier Photo Gallery

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