Meet the Abstract Artist Adding Colour to Your Memories

The photograph and the painting are often used in tandem by artists, but rarely is paint applied directly to photographs. Toronto-based artist Madeleine Gross has developed a technique for doing just that, combining photographs with abstract art.


An assemblage of everyday, personal experiences layered with vibrant colours, Madeleine’s fine artworks emphasise the colour in past memories. They add abstraction whilst highlighting the emotion of the experiences. Figures standing in cloudy beach scenes are slathered with blue-green hues and playful swipes of colour dart across city night skies and waving palm trees, point towards the fact that the emotional world is often ambiguous in the face of the supposed objective one.


Madeleine spoke to us about her process.

THE PLUS: What is the concept behind your works – why do you put paint on photographs?
Madeleine Gross:
I thought to combine the two mediums to abstract what we see every day and make it art. It’s a way to abstract figures and landscape but without completely abstracting reality. I want the mixed mediums to invoke emotion and create a new narrative. 

TP: Where do you most enjoy taking pictures?
I enjoy taking photos the most in my travels, always inspired by new places. I love to get out of my everyday routine and out of my head, escape the norm and get inspired. 


TP: How do you match the colours with the photographs?
I like to really pull out the pigments from the images by adding a layer of paint. Sometimes I’ll use an opposing colour palette – it’s all about the feel of the image and how I can make my viewer feel like they’re in that setting. I think the added paint makes the photograph more intimate and inviting. Even though it is through my lens and perspective, with the added abstraction, I find it makes it less of my personal experience and more relatable.

TP: The addition of paint creates an almost three-dimensional effect. How do you think about spatial aspects in your works?
The immersive effect I try to do to my photos is to emulate the sensation of actually being there just by looking. I want to really draw my viewer in and question what’s real. With the added paint strokes, I’m trying to add depth, texture and the feeling of movement. 


TP: Your images are very hopeful, vibrant. Do you ever explore more melancholic scenes?
My art is a way to escape my melancholy and depression. It’s therapeutic for me and I want others to feel happy and hope from viewing it. I have thought about exploring a darker colour palette and narrative but I’m not there yet.

TP: Which came first for you, painting or photography?
Painting came first as it was my favourite thing to do as a child. I later studied photography at The Ontario College of Art and Design. But I felt like I was neglecting my love for painting. Then one day decided to experiment on a series of photos I took in New York. It was so satisfying for me to paint freely and intuitively directly on the photograph. 


TP: What have these works taught you about yourself?
My works have really helped me believe in myself – if that makes sense. My work has taught me to live more colourfully and without so much worry, believe in my process and be patient. Art has helped my confidence and mental health. I love to encourage the people around me to be more creative and experiment with art. I’m grateful for the positivity I have received from my work and I am so happy to inspire others.