“If anything, my work is an investigation and a means for me to synthesize research,” says conceptual artist Renee Couture. “Instead of writing a paper, I make sculptures, photographs, drawings or installations.”
Couture’s interest in art first developed in high school, in an unlikely way. To encourage a friend to keep up with math, Couture made a deal to take an art class in exchange. This inspired her to attend Buena Vista University, where she obtained a BA in Studio Art, and gained a new perspective on the possibility of an art career.
Following her graduation from Buena Vista, Couture traveled widely and served in the Peace Corps. But her interest in art never diminished.
“Over the years, art and grad school always lingered in my thoughts as something I felt compelled to do. Unfinished business. At one point everything seemed to align in life and I decided to just go for it,” says Couture, who earned her MFA in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010.
When her husband got a job in southern Oregon, Couture found herself living in Glide. Though some artists might have considered it limiting to be in a rural logging environment, Couture found that her location began influencing her work. Says Couture, “While in many ways I see the work I do now as a natural extension of my work from grad school, it also took me by surprise. The work I’m doing now is very grounded in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.”
Conceptual art and rural Oregon aren’t an obvious pairing. But Couture has learned to make powerful use of her environment, utilizing the space of the outdoors as her studio and creating art installations that are inspired by the issues of resource extraction.
For example, orange flagging tape now appears prominently in several of Couture’s projects. The Bureau of Land Management often uses orange paint on trees to tell cutters which trees to leave standing. “It’s a color that often tells people to pay attention or to be cautious. We see it on road crews and highway signs. We’ve been trained, in those situations, to slow down, to pay careful attention, to notice,” explains Couture.
Couture has used the tape to explore the meanings of boundaries and barriers. “I’m curious how boundaries — which can be visible or invisible — determine what can happen in a place, how it can be managed.” In addition, these projects are helping Couture develop her plans for future work.
2013 will be a busy year for Couture. She will be an Artist in Residence at Centrum in Fort Worden, Washington, and will have multiple exhibits coming up, including group exhibitions at the Corrine Woodman Gallery in Corvallis, The Art Gallery at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, and at Gallery 114 in Portland, as well as a solo exhibit at the Hartnett Gallery in Minot, North Dakota. She is also hoping to do a project entitled MarshMallow Field this summer.
To learn more about Couture, watch our story on Oregon Art Beat.