“I create colourful dreamscapes inhabited by silhouettes of living creatures longing for an Elsewhere,” says Justine Formentelli, currently an MA student at the City and Guilds of London Art School. “My work evokes our endless quest for an elusive destination (be it a higher ground or a different emotional state) by contrasting movement and stillness, shadows and light, emotions and reality.”
Justine, who attended the Atlanta College of Arts for a BA in the mid-90s, creates muted, misty paintings that contain elements of collage mixed with layers of acrylic paint – this is to “reflect the flotsam and jetsam of life.” Her use of colour is significantly influenced by the cultures of the places where she grew up – the Caribbean and Morocco.
In Justine’s delicate and mysterious imagery, lonely individuals are seen lying at home, running in the playground, standing before mountain ranges and the seas. Whoever they may be, they look away at the horizon rather painfully. Perhaps they are caught between two or more nations and cannot come to assume a definite cultural identity. Perhaps they passionately aspire to realise their potential but it is their class or their gender that is keeping them restricted in their present society. The feelings portrayed in these paintings will be familiar to anybody who has ever felt limited by and trapped within circumstance.
Justine admires the work of Matisse, Frida Kahlo and Karin Mamma Andersson. Another interesting source of inspiration for her is the Indian Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). She says of his book Reminiscences (1912): “I was inspired by his memories of childhood…when he would stare for hours on end at the mysterious and forbidden places outside, longing to rejoin this tantalising realm yet staying within the boundaries of his home.”
Read a short excerpt from the third chapter of the book – “Within and Without” – that powerfully evokes the fact of bondage and the desire for freedom:
Going out of the house was forbidden to us, in fact we had not even the freedom of all its parts. We perforce took our peeps at nature from behind the barriers. Beyond my reach there was this limitless thing called the Outside, of which flashes and sounds and scents used momentarily to come and touch me through its interstices. It seemed to want to play with me through the bars with so many gestures. But it was free and I was bound–there was no way of meeting. So the attraction was all the stronger. The chalk line has been wiped away to-day, but the confining ring is still there. The distant is just as distant, the outside is still beyond me; and I am reminded of the poem I wrote when I was older:
The tame bird was in a cage, the free bird was in the forest, They met when the time came, it was a decree of fate. The free bird cries, “O my love, let us fly to wood.” The cage bird whispers, “Come hither, let us both live in the cage.” Says the free bird, “Among bars, where is there room to spread one’s wings?” “Alas,” cries the cage bird, “I should not know where to sit perched in the sky.”
Images used with permission.