Before recently putting down roots in Burlington VT, Vanessa Compton maintained a semi-nomadic lifestyle for many years, creating art throughout the American West and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Drawn to rural environments where landscapes are vast and people are few, Compton grew up in northern Vermont where her singer-songwriter father and artist mother inspired her to create from an early age. Though she didn't speak until she was three years old, Vanessa Compton has always self-identified as an artist. Art was her first language and its practice became a lifelong confidant and source of refuge throughout her travels.
Flexing her fluency in the western visual vernacular, sourced images of cowboys, cacti, and craggy rock formations feature heavily in Compton's mixed media collages. However, she takes a more critical look at these romanticized icons of Americana in her new work, reflecting on the darker side of our nation's past and its reverberations into the present.
Considering the ways in which her personal story is informed by a historical narrative of settler-colonialism, institutionalized racism and normalized toxic masculinity, her most recent collages address themes of social justice through the lenses of her own gender identity, whiteness, and implicit personal privilege.
Central to this process is the overarching question: "Who gets to tell whose story?" Venturing into uncharted territory in her artistic practice, Compton's recent work includes images of herself and the Northeastern landscape within her compositions. An open-ended exploration of identity and authenticity, her latest work reminds us of the power of intentional imagery - particularly that of negative imagery - to influence perceptions of oneself and others. Reflecting on the ways in which she has benefitted from systems of oppression as a white, cis-gendered woman, she proposes that addressing our blind spots, however uncomfortable, is a critical step in moving the needle towards social justice. Discovering power in self-reflection, Compton suggests that in accountability lies a possibility for positive change.
– Vanessa Compton