American Art Collector, 1 March 2022



Michelle E. Fillmore sums up her response to the COVID pandemic in a painting and her description of it. In The Escape Artist, a young woman sits in a field folding paper cranes. The most popular form in Japanese origami, the crane symbolizes good fortune and longevity. As she finishes each crane, it becomes a bird that flies freely away. Fillmore sees the young woman in “the act of making her own freedom.” The Escape Artist, oil on wood panel, 48 x 24"

When the painting was exhibited at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, she wrote, “I started The Escape Artist in March of 2020, around the time the pandemic was unfolding in the United States. What began as an expression of directing energy toward creating positive solutions and opportunities for life, shifted to a much more personal search for transcendence. The title references the feeling of respite I experienced while painting it. In depicting symbols of freedom and optimism, I’m able to temporarily expel my fears and anxieties; the finished work serves to relay this transcendence to others.”In Control, oil on canvas, 30 x 24"

Before the pandemic “I wanted to paint positive things,” she says. “The pandemic pushed me toward painting the truth, which is sometimes not pretty. It can be dark and uncomfortable. I’m painting what I’m honestly feeling. I think people gravitate toward the truth.”

Her latest photorealist paintings will be shown in the exhibition Breaking Open at SHOH Gallery in Berkeley, California, through March 5.Separation (diptych), oil on canvas, 60 x 40"

Among the works is the painting In Control, in which a woman sits in a chair holding a steering wheel with her right foot poised over an imagined gas pedal. She says, “At the time, I was thinking of the fact that women had recently been allowed to drive in Afghanistan. There’s a disconnect between what this woman thinks she’s in control of and what she’s not in control of.” The Opening Dance, oil on canvas, 24 x 48"

Fillmore’s paintings are autobiographical metaphors. She grew up in an environment in which there was mental illness that was never really confronted. “The pandemic has brought back what I experienced as a child,” she explains. “I’m trying to help facilitate more conversation—to make it less stigmatized. It’s important to do my part.” —