Bright Darkness: Artist Ploufe likes to ‘play’ with duality

From an article by Lynda Edwards for Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Walk into Renel Ploufe’s studio and your glance sweeps across a multitude of detailed, lovely cityscapes. But there’s one vertigo-drenched painting that grabs and won’t let go.

It looks like the last glimpse a New Yorker might have of his city as he plunges from the top of the Empire State Building into the Manhattan night. The darkness is splintered by golden skyscraper windows. A wild mishmash of brightly lit streets and red warning lights swirl across two panels.

“I call that painting ‘Darkness’ because, although I love cities, every city has dark places, alleys, the neighborhoods where people go in the day but won’t walk into at night,” says Ploufe. “In that painting, the darkness is taking over but you can still see the beauty.

Renel Plourfe's painting "Destination" hangs in her studio at Chattanooga WorkSpace.
Renel Plourfe’s painting “Destination” hangs in her studio at Chattanooga WorkSpace.
“Yes, it does look like a last moment. But I like to play with that duality. Nothing is ever just one thing. Sometimes putting a dark topic in bright colors can make a visitor see something or think about something he would otherwise be afraid to look at too closely.”

Ploufe, 39, is a magician with paint, an artist who can paint grim and scary subjects in exquisite pastels and gorgeous neon and candy colors. She is one of those artists who can earn a living from her art full-time and have time to play with her twin preschool daughters.

“Renel recently donated two paintings to a local homeless shelter because she wanted residents to have something soothing and calming to contemplate,” says WorkSpace manager Kathy Lennon, as she displays the two donations — calming, restful seascapes. “Her paintings have many different moods.”

A French-Canadian by birth, Ploufe counts Montreal as well as New York and Chattanooga as her influences. Her husband’s work as a computer engineer brought the couple to Chattanooga, where she fell in love with the artists’ colony that inhabits WorkSpace, a former nursing home on Sixth Street that was converted into studios and meeting places.

Ploufe also uses different styles — Cubism, abstract expressionism, Impressionism — and one of her paintings, “Fenetre” (“Window”), could be a female version of Munch’s “The Scream.” In it, a pretty blond woman sits in front of the huge window mentioned in the title but the sunlight and glass seem to have exploded and begun to melt. The colors are so happy, the painting could be decorative, even though the subject might be a science-fiction plot gone very wrong.

Renel Plourfe's painting "Fenetre" hangs in her studio at Chattanooga WorkSpace.
Renel Plourfe’s painting “Fenetre” hangs in her studio at Chattanooga WorkSpace.

Ploufe’s own favorites are her paintings using metallic shades, so expertly done that the oil and acrylic paints look like shards of steel, copper and iron.

“I especially love using copper hues and tones because copper hides a secret life; it has the bright shiny color we know when it is new then, as it ages, it picks up deep green tones and dark, rich hues,” Ploufe says.

“Copper is the second chance we get in life. We make crazy mistakes when we are young or we don’t know how to protect ourselves in life. In my paintings, rich-colored copper is the life we make after we gain wisdom and experience. That second life can be an unforgettable creation.”

Contact Lynda Edwards at 423-757-6391 or

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