Joanne Parent lives at the edge of a pond in the Maine woods, but when she stands in front of her easel, she is transported to the cockpit of a sailboat surrounded by the sea and sky. Before Parent became a working artist, she spent eight years on boats, captaining charters and exploring the oceans of the world.
“The horizon is a big part of my work,” she says. “The feeling of sitting on the bow with a cup of coffee watching the water and the sun come up—it changed my life.” While she has “endless photographs” from her time on the sea, it’s the images in her memory that inform her paintings, which capture the intersection of light with water and sky.
Lately, it’s mostly sky. “I’m dropping out most of the land and there will be just atmosphere—looking up—a study of cloud formation,” Parent says of her new series. “Because of what’s happened in the last couple of years we’ve all been in this funk, and this whole new subject matter came around of dark clouds with the light emanating out from underneath them—looking to the future with a feeling of hopefulness and spirituality.”
For Parent’s latest paintings, she starts with a word such as “evolve,” “abundance,” or “gratitude” quickly painted on the canvas before it’s covered with a series of thin washes of color. In the background, she listens to audiobooks, cranks techno music when she needs a jolt of energy and streams classical when she’s in the zone. “The process I’ve been enjoying the most lately is writing stream-of-consciousness words in my sketchbook,” she says. “One of them was ‘grace’. I didn’t know what the painting was going to be; I painted ‘grace’ on it, started building layer upon layer upon layer, and it became this beautiful sky looking up with the light coming through—it became something from that word.”
Parent often uses photographs as inspiration but even for commissions her work doesn’t replicate actual places. “Imagery is a very big part of my process,” she says. “People I’ve never even met on Instagram or Facebook will send me photos with a note, ‘This is a Joanne Parent sky.’ I also collaborate with photographers; if I see something that really moves me, I’ll reach out to them.” While she may use elements from several different images in creating a painting, the result will be a one-of-a-kind scene—realistic, but not real, and open to interpretation depending on the viewer and the time of day.
That glow on the horizon or flash of color in the clouds could be a sunrise or a sunset. “The sky is always changing, so it’s little moments of time that I’m trying to capture,” Parent says. “I keep coming back to it. I could paint barns, or dogs, or people, but I keep going back to that spiritual ah-ha moment when the cloud parts and the sun pops through.”