Andrea Coleman is a Chicago based visual artist who makes digital paintings based on family folklore, that explore the layered nature of memory.

Although the end result of her studio process is ultimately a print on canvas, the method of its creation combines techniques and ideas from painting, film, photography, animation, and murals.

But truly, Coleman’s process begins and ends with storytelling. She listens to the stories members of her family tell her about the past, and then seeks out the other people who were part of the same story and asks them to tell her their version of events. Using a 360 camera, she photographs the locations where these stories took place, empty now, but still reverberation from the aura of past events. She mixes her photographs with family photos that relate to the story being told. She then layers brush marks and splotches of color, and then erases or whites out sections of the image. The details in the image shift and evolve as much as the details in the different versions of the past that people tell her. The process of adding layers to the image honors the fuzzy nature of shared memories; the abstract marks Coleman adds to the image convey a sense of energy and mood—part of the lasting aura of the memory; the act of erasure makes spaces in the image for lost information to reappear, and for hidden trauma be memorialized.

“These images that I make welcome the complexities of re-remembering,” Coleman says. “The story is bigger than itself. When you go and sit down with a certain person, they’ll tell you a story, and regardless if you’ve heard the story, you’ll be intrigued because you’re hearing their perspective on the story. It tells about the person, and it tells you about your history, and it also tells you about the nature of storytelling in general.”

While rooted in the past, Coleman’s images feel liberated from nostalgia. Their mixture of painterly layers and missing parts gives them a sense of mystery that makes room for the idea that these stories and the people who remember them are still very much alive and in process. 

“The people in the images are the important figures,” Coleman says. “They are what made the fabric of who I am. I want to honor them with this ritual reminiscing.”