Oklahoma Contemporary
Sam Charboneau, Quarantine Self Portrait
An adult sits on a couch holding an electronic device while a child stands upright on the wall, pointing at the camera

New Light

May 12, 2020

#ArtistSpotlight: Sam Charboneau

The Shadow on the Glare artist turns the domestic upside down
A person lies with their back on the floor in a surreal living room environment
Quarantine Self Portrait 2 (2020) by Sam Charboneau

Things aren't always what they seem in the world of Sam Charboneau. The Shadow on the Glare artist tinkers with the edges of reality, manipulating digital images of domestic scenes and landscapes into dreamlike dioramas.

"Have you ever had those dreams, where you're not quite convinced it was a dream? The possibility of it just kind of stays with you, and you almost feel like it really happened, or maybe it happened a past life," Charboneau said of her surreal scenes. "You're kind of phased into a different dimension almost."

The emerging artist says her uncanny work is an attempt to translate scenes and characters from her head to the wider world. "Whenever I'm driving by a big field or something, I just look out and I think about those creatures from my brain, looming in the field. It's almost like when you were a kid and you had imaginary best friends. You'd be like, 'What if this happened?' The imagination and the dream is all in one."

Charboneau’s unique visions are composed of handmade sculptures photographed in natural light to match photographs of specific settings in her everyday life. Her visual vocabulary ranges from fictional works to references to post-WWII magical realism painters, but is always grounded in objects and settings she has personally created or captured.

Sam Charboneau The Momma
The Momma by Sam Charboneau

Three of Charboneau's works are on display in Oklahoma Contemporary's delayed inaugural Shadow on the Glare exhibition, a group show by Oklahoma artists responding to the themes of light and place in Bright Golden Haze. Each work takes digital manipulation to its logical extreme, generating fantastical and surreal landscapes that invite the viewer closer.

Of Charboneau's exhibited images, two were produced during a yearlong exercise in which the artist created one image a week for 52 weeks. These works, The Momma and Don't Look Behind You, are two very different visual environments bound by the artist's sense of strangeness and wonder. "I was really trying to hone my craft and find my voice and figure out what it is I want to do," she said.

Many viewers might see in these works a confident artist with a sharp sense of style and voice, but Charboneau's path to her art practice was a winding one. "I've always been very artsy-fartsy, but I just never really quite found the right medium for myself. I started working at Best Buy selling cameras, so my husband's like, 'Buy a camera!'"

After familiarizing herself with her new tools, Charboneau came across the work of photographer Brooke Shaden, whose surreal digital images unlocked something crucial in the aspiring artist. "She's doing all sorts of weird stuff, low budget, with whatever tools she has available. And she's giving away how she does it for free. I didn't even know you could do this kind of stuff with a camera. That's when I started really learning Photoshop and forced perspective and all that kind of stuff. I just kind of fell into the rabbit hole and ended up here."

Charboneau credits her alternative path and interest in stop-motion animation with helping develop her unique practice, focused as much on crafting 3-D objects as on capturing still images. "I build a lot of things for the pictures I create — like Don't Look Behind You. That's a handmade sculpture of reindeer moss. I'm working on making these elements more posable. I don't have the time or energy or patience to do video. So this is kind of like my way of culminating all those things together."

A figure lies on a couch in the backyard in front of a giant moss creature
Don't Look Behind You by Sam Charboneau

Sam Charboneau. Untitled Quarantine Self Portait 1, 2020. Digital image.

Untitled Quarantine Self Portrait 2, 2020. Digital image.

The Momma, 2016. Digital collage of photographed sculptures, landscapes and digitally manipulated images. 

Don’t Look Behind You, 2016. Digital collage of photographed sculptures, landscapes and digitally manipulated images. 

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Oklahoma Contemporary Shadow on the Glare Sam Charboneau Artist Spotlight photography

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