Alison Byrnes

Region: Midwest


City / State: Ann Arbor, MI

I make funny paintings about history: that is the simple way of putting it. Within that statement, three key words deserve much elaboration--"funny," "paintings," and "history;" and the word "I" cannot help but be present throughout. Working within and expanding upon the canon of history painting, I am interested in portraying the problem of historiography itself. History is an artificial construction that reflects actual events but can never fully convey its multiplicity and complexity.

I started off with the question, "Why can't I make up history too, just as do writers and historians?" I wanted to bring my conceptions of the people about whom I was reading into alignment with images of them. I had to create these images. I began painting eminent historical figures in mid-century modern settings as a comment on how the mind arbitrarily constructs images of history. Seeking to call attention to the inherently authored qualities of historical accounts, I use a painting style that proclaims its subjectivity.

I use painting as an investigation into the problem of translating text into a visual representation. By working directly from historical texts I have discovered that I am left to fill in many of the details, as were artists throughout time, thus leaving space for my personal interpretation and consciously constructed anachronism. The very act of painting then becomes an exercise in historiography: writers of history must perform a certain amount of "filling in" as well.