Since the 1980s, Gulfport artist Janet Folsom has been painting the everyday people she connects with. Recently, those people have been the essential workers and faces braving the pandemic.
From the hospital-scrub-clad women behind a computer screen to the dewy-skinned cashier at a bakery, Folsom took note on the few days she left home and used these brief interactions as inspiration.
“I would go to the doctor’s office and be amazed at how great the workers were,” Folsom said. “I started asking if I could paint them.”
Characteristically, the Washington, D.C. area native uses oil on canvas for her candids, with a slightly warped take on reality.
She’s not going for realism – she’s going for feeling.
“You know, through all this, some people were more locked down than others,” Folsom said. “We were really locked down, and I was really struck by the people I would briefly see.”
Her main artistic liberty? The nose down.
“I think the biggest challenge was that I didn’t want to paint people with masks on,” Folsom reflected. “I made up their face from the nose down.”
Folsom’s subjects are not college students “braving” the bars on Saturdays – they’re grocery store customers, cashiers, doctor’s office patients, reimagined without a thin piece of fabric covering half of their face.
Painting candids of strangers has been Folsom’s passion since she graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s in art history. She moved to Gulfport in 1996, and never put down her paintbrush.
“It was just something that I had a calling to do,” Folsom said, but, she notes, “I’ve had to be corrected; I ask before I paint people now.”
Folsom’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed: Her art was selected for Skyway 20/21: A Contemporary Collaboration, with collections showing at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Tampa Museum of Art and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa.
Folsom’s work will appear in the Tampa Museum of Art from June 3 until October 10, alongside other collections of Floridian art.
“I’m just incredibly honored to be showing my work there,” Folsom said.