Lara Foley

Lara Foley: The Beauty of Ambiguity

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by brianna DiCamillo

Oftentimes we see an ambiguous image of a space as something daunting to the mind, a space which we feel obligated to fill with meaning; however, what if an image emerges that invites us to recognize it via personal memories? Suddenly, the generic space of a hotel room is transformed into a favorite childhood vacation spot through the small detail of a lamp. A wine glass which could belong to any well-decorated dinner table is representative of a holiday party or a quiet night in. Lara Foley’s artwork does just that: the viewer is presented with a piece of a place which at first appears ambiguous; however, once the viewer looks closely, the small, recognizable, details that represent specific moments of their life  transport them to specific moments in time. Foley’s work is arresting in its ability to orient the viewer in a moment where they are the subject as well as the onlooker. The paintings require the viewer to be an active participant by encouraging them to think back to moments of their own life; yet, the viewer is also passive as the images which Foley provides could belong to any period of time. 

Foley works from photographs and crops the images to 3×3 inch squares on a piece of large white paper. One painting displays a staircase with roses placed elegantly on each marble tier; someone may envision a palatial setting, perhaps a wedding reception. For another, those steps may lead to a prom or high school dance. The viewer is invited to bring their own memories, stories, and momentos into the scene. The spaces may appear vague; however, it is through Foley’s deliberate placement of items such as a wine glass or roses on steps that the viewer can orient themselves in a familiar space.

Laura Foley, Dezember in der Husumer Straße (Husumer Street in December), 2021. Photographer Stephen Apicella-Hitchcock

Foley’s work is transient; the pieces take into account the viewer’s own memories as well as Foley’s. The art allows for the viewer to peek into a private moment, as well as insert themselves into the scene. In Foley’s painting which boasts a wine glass on a table, the viewer is only given access to a section of the scene. There is room for imagination on what else is occurring there. The viewer can have fun wondering where this table exists: is it in the home of a diplomat, a young Manhattan couple, or a family’s home? The viewer is allowed to become creative, they can fill the space with their own memories, or they can imagine whose space it is to begin with.

What is so exceptional about Foley’s work is that it lends itself to many different definitions. Her compositions hold specifics for her, but they are left open for the viewer. She wants the viewers to be able to bring their own meaning to her work; she states, “I definitely don’t want to impose anything on the viewer, the experience should be very natural. I want the viewer to feel comfortable, to be able to see the work and tie it back into their own memories.”

Foley’s pieces are comforting, and the vignettes which she creates makes the small, yet detailed, scenes feel like snapshots of a re-awakened memory. Foley explained that she likes to work within the idea that the scenes represent the smaller, more intimate moments of a viewer’s life. She expressed, “oftentimes when we remember things, it’s not the specific thing that’s the main event. It is the little things that we hold onto. The things that weren’t planned, the afterthoughts, are what we remember best. That is what I’m trying to capture.”

There lies a tremendous presence of nostalgia in Foley’s works, that feeling is what makes the viewer gravitate to her pieces. Not only do Foley’s pieces lend themselves to long looking, but they encourage the viewer to recall times in their lives. Being confronted by Foley’s work brings about a sensational feeling; small details of the viewers’ lives resurface in the presence of the square compositions. Immediately, something we may have forgotten, the afterthoughts, come back to us. The uncertainty fades away and the specific space is created or imagined. All too quickly the ambiguous space transforms into a place we know and love, we have no choice but to stop and stare at her squares of beauty.