Storytelling Through Painting: Why I Share My Life Through Landscapes

Storytelling Through Painting: Why I Share My Life Through Landscapes

Last week I met up with my friend Lindsey to catch up over drinks. She immediately ordered us mozzarella sticks (this is why we’re friends) and asked me to tell her about my current exhibit at Lowber Pilates & Art Gallery. At one point she stopped me and asked, “So, when did you first get into narrative landscape painting?”

I’ll be honest, I had to stop and think about it for a couple of reasons:

  1. I hadn’t ever heard the term “narrative landscape” and
  2. I don’t think there was ever a time in my life that I wasn’t telling my narrative through landscape art!

Can A Nature Scene Tell A Story?

Lots of paintings are considered “narrative”. Much of the Western art you see in museums is depicting a scene that tells a story - think Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. That one’s a tale of the Second Coming of Christ.

But can an artist use a landscape to do the same thing? Is a landscape more than just the background for the action? It certainly is!

My paintings are snapshots of my life. I’ve lived in a lot of different places and had a lot of different experiences - both good and bad. These paintings aren’t just of those places - they also capture how I was feeling and what I was going through when I was there.

My Narrative Landscapes Are Influenced By All Of My Experiences 

Most people think of a landscape as one moment in time, captured forever. But, to me, they also hold a lifetime of moments past and future. Everything I do is impacted by everything I’ve already done, so it makes sense that my whole life can be seen in my landscape work. Here’s an example with "The World Outside":

Painting by artist Makara Thach Sernett of a small young girl looking out a bus window. Inside, she and the interior are colored blue-teal while the outside is dreamy pastels of corals, pinks, and greens. There are cows in the distance, which she mistakes for giant dogs since it's her first time being outside of refugee camp and seeing cows for the first time.

The scene here is a young girl watching a herd of cows through a bus window. But this isn’t just any girl - it’s young Makara. And they aren’t just any cows, either. In this real moment from my life, I thought I was looking at huge dogs! I was so cut off from the outside world while in the refugee camp that I had never seen a cow. "The World Outside" is the story of a child who saw too much and too little at the same time. 

It’s also the story of the woman that child grew to be. 

I play with composition in my landscapes to help control the story I’m telling. You might notice that the bus window is not exactly to scale. It’s huge! That’s my way of telling you that I was and felt very small in that moment. 


My Narrative Landscape Work Helps Me Process My Trauma

Did you know that trauma is not experienced as a memory, but as a feeling? Psychology Today explains that traumatic memories are not stored in your brain “as a cohesive narrative.” Instead, our bodies remember those experiences as “sensations, not words.” 

Having no words makes it really hard to talk about.

As a visual artist, I can process those sensations and what provokes them by creating paintings about where and when the trauma happened without having to re-experience what happened. There’s a lot of power and freedom in having my story heard and in telling it in a way that makes sense to me. Doesn’t everyone deserve that?

Each Painting Is A Page In My Autobiography

Every landscape I create adds to the story of my life. One day I’ll have an entire history book about myself contained in canvas.

Wandering Day Dreams - my solo art exhibition about my younger self and the places life took her - is the first chapter. I would love to share that chapter with all of you. Even though the event has passed, you can take a virtual tour of the Wandering Day Dreams exhibit on Instagram and even purchase the remaining pieces in the online shop.

We’re all struggling in our own ways - often in big ways. That impacts our perspective whether we want it to or not. The important thing is to find your own path to telling your story and overcoming your trauma. Or maybe it’s not something you can or want to overcome. In that case, you can accept that your story is your story and get ready to write (or paint!) it.



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