Michele Poirier Mozzone's series 'Fractured Light' is an example of how she loves to explore the human body and areas of pure abstraction to create extraordinary underwater paintings
Art by Michele Poirier Mozzone
Capturing the transient nature of water is one of the biggest challenges for an artist, but Michele Poirier Mozzone takes it all in her stride. Working in oil and pastel, the American painter has been focusing on underwater paintings for more than ten years, creating pieces that instil a sense of peace, movement and levity. Using swim-mad friends and family as inspiration, who often pose (or float) as models, the pieces present a sunny, poolside lifestyle with masterly brushstrokes, vivid colours and playful perspectives. Here we speak to the artist about the human body, the transformative power of sunlight and being the “worst swimmer in the family”:
Glorious: Where and when did you discover your talent for painting?
I have been interested in art for as long as I can remember. I was the kid sitting with my sketchbook drawing people and portraits for hours in my room, copying figures from a fashion magazine and being the over-achiever in art class. There was never any question about what I loved to do. My natural path was to major in art in college and graduate with a Bachelor Degree in Fine Art.
Glorious: Does art run in the family?
MPM: I have three daughters who are also artistic. My oldest daughter, Lydia, is a wonderful figurative oil painter who is known for her atmospheric depictions of the female form. We were lucky enough to have a mother/daughter show on Cape Cod in August of 2017 and it was an exceptional moment we will never forget. After a year of hard work and planning, it certainly brought us joy to see our work hanging together with family and friends around us. It is ironic that we both paint the figure and water – Lydia’s work focuses on body image with steamy shower glass. (LydiaMozzone.com)
Glorious: Talk us through the creation of your ‘Fractured Light’ series. We love the way you capture the body, often in a skewed perspective looking up through the water. How did the idea for the series come about?
MPM: The idea for ‘Fractured Light,’ my series of underwater paintings, came about after a disappointing foray into abstract painting and an afternoon photographing my daughter in our pool. I found the underwater distortions and play of light extraordinary. I decided it couldn’t hurt to try painting her figure into some of my unsuccessful abstract pastel pieces and the results were fresh and exciting. I began to receive a lot of recognition with this new body of work and it has continued to evolve over the past ten years or so. I have taken a couple of breaks from this series to paint other subject matter, but the vast majority of my work explores the figure and how it is affected by water.
The motivation behind this body of work is twofold. First, it allows me to paint what I love: the human form. But this series also gives me the opportunity to explore areas of pure abstraction that exist naturally in turbulent, sunlight-drenched water. I take video footage of my models with a GoPro camera. It takes a lot of footage to capture just the right image to inspire a painting! My models are often one of my daughters, myself or a friend. The paintings are not about anyone in particular, but about capturing a common experience, memory or ideas. Most of us have experienced the sound of bubbles rushing past our ears, the broken ribbons of sunlight, bizarre reflections, fascinating distortions and the weightless, slow dance of movement below the water’s surface. Water brings change, gives life and can take life away. Bubbles are ideas and intentions that rise to the open air while each figure is interpreted as reacting to a moment in this surreal, wet world.
Glorious: You often use pastels and oils, do you use any other mediums? Do you think you will ever move away from these?
MPM: For years after university, I worked in watercolour. I still love the medium for its translucence and inherent beauty. Ten years ago I decided to try something different and began to take workshops in pastel. I quickly came to appreciate the medium’s expressiveness and immediacy while developing this series. For over three years I have been translating this series into oil paintings and enjoying the way oil adds texture, richness and depth of colour. Oil also lends itself well to larger format paintings.
Glorious: Your series shows the female form in a distorted way. In water, you capture the colour, shape and line distortions that occur through fractured light. Why do you mainly use women in your work? Is female body image something you ever think about?
MPM: I don’t have male models as often as female, but I do enjoy incorporating male figures into my work. I think the female form is incredibly beautiful. As a woman and mother of three girls, I naturally gravitate to expressing this subject matter from a female perspective. Body image is often an underlying idea in the pieces where the figure is very distorted. In 2016, for example, I created a 5-piece series within my ‘Fractured Light’ body of work entitled ‘These Changes’. They were all self-reflective and experimental, with words and phrases incorporated into the layers of pastel. I wrote and scribbled my thoughts about aging, body image and the passing of time into these pieces and each one was distinctly cathartic for me.
Glorious: How do you feel about the ‘digital age’ for artists? Do you think it will affect the way we consume or buy work in the future?
MPM: Instagram has been an amazing asset to me as an artist. I have been offered many wonderful opportunities and sales through this digital platform. For example, I was offered a solo show at a gallery in NYC through exposure on Instagram. More recently, another wonderful opportunity came my way via social media when I collaborated with Hammitt Handbags of Los Angeles. One of my images is featured on a limited edition collection of bags and are still available for purchase.
Glorious: Do you think being a woman helps or hinders you in the art world?
MPM: Unfortunately, there has always been a gender bias against women in art. Historically, female artists were generally overlooked while their male counterparts achieved success – either during their lifetimes or after their deaths. Although there are more notably successful women artists today than one hundred years ago, there is still a distinct void of female artists in many exclusive galleries offering “investment grade” art. I do see a glass ceiling in the art world and hope there are some up-and-coming women artists who will soon break it.
Glorious: We love the way your paintings capture the sense of fun and freedom that swimming provides. Is swimming a big part of your life when not painting? Do you enjoy any other sports?
MPM: My husband coached my daughters’ swim team in high school, so yes, swimming is a big part of our family. I am the worst swimmer in the family, but I love tennis, working out at the gym and am learning to play squash.
Glorious: What advice would you give to a budding female artist?
MPM: Pursue your passion with a serious work ethic and you will improve and achieve what you never thought possible. Join associations where groups of artists gather, then become involved and ask questions. Absorb their valuable information and mentorship. Say yes to opportunities that come your way – even if you feel unqualified or unready – this pushes you out of your comfort zone, makes you grow and brings unexpected benefits your way. Don’t settle for mediocre work – always present your best work to the world in a neat, professional manner. Value yourself and the worth of your artwork. Don’t downplay your work. Be proud of what you do.
Glorious: What’s next and where can we find you?
MPM: I’m in early talks about a solo show in Kennbunk, Maine at Maine Art Hill in 2023.
My work can be found at:
My Instagram account: @MicheleMoz