Artist Profile: Cia Foreman, Works that Explore Ambiguity and Perception
By Genie Davis
Artist Cia Foreman explains that her approach to making art is both experimental and conceptual. “When I think about my work over the past 40 years, it’s mostly about ideas.”
The abstract photographic images in Foreman’s recent exhibitions are mysterious and haunting, bringing viewers to the point of perception and then retreating from it. According to Foreman “My most recent work, Conditions of Light, is a continuance of my exploration of the edge between perceived reality and the vast dimensions of imagination. During my visual investigations, I introduce ambiguity to unsettle perception and the search for the familiar. I have no specific aim in what I want the viewer to see other than that each may find for himself or herself a unique experience that the image evokes when encountering the unexpected.”
She explains that her work stands as an “inquiry” into ambiguity and perception, the “liminal space between perceived reality and the vast dimensions of imagination.”
Working exclusively in the studio, Foreman combines tactile materials and a variety of light sources that she allows to evolve as she’s shooting, to utilize both in-studio and in-camera disruptions to her work. Earlier iterations of her art involved disruptions achieved by painting with chemicals in the darkroom to alter standard image creation.
“To describe my current process, I’d say that I work from the inside out, allowing the materials, the image, and my imagination to interact in ways that inform the moment. Shifts in visual vantage points, placements of objects, and variations in lighting are my responses to the question, ‘What if?’
Later in her process as she examines her proofs, she delves further into the meaning of what she’s created. “I ask other questions: How else can I see this moment? Where does this take me, both in my mind and in interacting with the materials in front of me? Does the image simultaneously speak to the state of being that is about both moving and being still?”
Searching for moments that she calls “threshold” experiences, she asserts that she’s captivated by light, and the qualities with which it illuminates or veils what she sees both in her mind and through her camera lens. The luminous quality – a kind of inward emotional and outward physical glow – to her current work is due, she says, to combinations of objects, images and light.
Foreman’s work has evolved since she arrived in LA 5 years ago. “I was only interested in getting back to working with my hands and getting off the computer. I only wanted to paint again,” she attests. But when she was asked to participate in two themed-exhibitions in 2016, she gravitated back to photographic work as her primary medium.
“Now that I’m shooting in the studio, I alternate between analog and digital capture, re-photographing, reprocessing, imposing light, shadow, shapes, inconsistencies and disruptions into the image in-camera. I still prefer to make alterations to the image while shooting and use Photoshop in an extremely minimal way to clean up, size, and print digitally.”
Her images are thematically similar to those she’s created most of her life. “I’ve rarely been interested in producing what is considered a traditional photograph. I need to mix it up a bit, push the boundaries of ideas, materials, my process, and the image.”
Overall, with both her palette and approach, her photographic work is painterly – which she agrees may be her background in painting “sneaking into” her photography.
“With very few exceptions, I prefer a muted and/or minimal palette because it allows me infinite visual possibilities and keeps the focus on the work, and about the meaning of the work,” she explains.
Foreman recalls the first time she intentionally tried to mix a particular color she’d imagined, while painting at age seven. “It was magic,” she says. A high school art instructor encouraged her to major in art, and she first picked up a camera for classes at UCLA. Among her first solo shows were site specific project installations that combined still photographs with film and slide projection, and later, large-scale photographic prints. Two of these are in the permanent collection at San Jose Museum of Art.
The artist notes that why she has and continues to create what she does is because she likes “delving into the unknown, and pushing myself to uncover it, reveal it to myself. I like being immersed in the mental space where time does not exist, where images that don’t make sense are free to be unleashed.”
For the viewer, this means the ability to experience Foreman’s work in intensely personal, mutable ways.
“I like introducing ambiguity into my visual investigations because it offers me other ways of seeing. What emerges in this process are not answers, but more questions that move the boundary of the knowable further into the unknown.”
In viewing Foreman’s work, the unknown becomes intensely contemplative, and well-worth considering.