Interview with Edith Lebeau for “Certain Scars Can’t Be Seen”

Thinkspace is pleased to present ‘Certain Scars Can’t Be Seen’ from Canadian artist Edith Lebeau.

Edith’s work is focused on mental health awareness. She tells stories through the portraits that she creates.

Lebeau is exploring through the eyes of different woman characters, the various fears and dark emotions that we have in the deepest recesses of our mind. She paints female figures who are facing their own insecurities. These women are left alone with these feelings and fears that we ourselves try to forget and try to bury. 

In anticipation of ‘Certain Scars Can’t Be Seen’, our interview with Lebeau reveals the symbolism in her work, a silver lining to anxiety, and her favorite demon hunters.

For those not familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background? How did you come to work with Thinkspace?

Of course! I’ve always been artistic since I can remember. I studied visual arts and had my Bachelor degree at UQAM here in Montreal. I officially started to show my works in galleries in the US and Internationally in 2009. I did many group shows through the years with wonderful galleries and artists. I’ve been wanting to work with Thinkspace for a good while because I loved your shows and the energy of the gallery and your artists. I started to show my work with Thinkspace in group shows a couple of years ago and I’m very excited for my solo next month!

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

My work is about mental health. This series of painting is once again centered around characters who are going through things. They all have their own journey, their own issues, their own fear and tiny victories like we all do. 

A lot of this show is about our past that often leaves scars if we let it. All of us have our own baggages and deal with it in our own way. 

This body of works includes pieces that go from girls who start to deal with mental illness and phobias at a young age to 30 something women who are dealing with issues due to their past. Some of the themes explored are depression, phobias, fear of going mad (a reoccurring theme), acceptance, small victories/ overcoming certain issues, and hope.

I hope to help break down the stigma surrounding mental illness with my work. 

”Empathy is always the key. Don’t judge, listen.”

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you to grow as an artist? 

I think my most challenging piece is “Don’t let madness define you“. It was not challenging from the start. It was not the details nor theme. It just happened along the way. I finished it a first time. Then started to work on another piece. But everytime I finished another piece I kept looking at that one and there was always something that was missing or did not work that I could not figure out. I had to fade the background and brighten the colors. Then later I was still not happy with it. I had to redo the waves, then contrast. I think I reworked it at least 4-5 times. 

Oh it helped me grow alright! 

Learning to let go is quite a challenge for me. But seriously yes. Reworking a piece and practice makes you better. It really does. It also helped me to realize the importance to take a step back more often while working on a piece.

In other interviews, you’ve shared your work has helped you cope with different anxiety disorders. Anxiety and other mental health issues do not define a person, but very much can be one part of their whole, how do you think anxiety has influenced your life in a positive way?  Do you see any positive aspects?

Oh boy, that is quite a question. 

At first it was only negative to tell the truth. It’s not an easy thing to deal with. Anxiety disorders, Phobias and Panic attacks are the worst, but once I got to work with it, been able to identify the triggers, learned about it and myself and took a step back, yes there was something positive because it forced me to work on myself. I grew a lot and know myself way better. I still have to deal with it in my everyday life but on a smaller degree. 

Anxiety has also influenced my work for sure in a positive way as it inspired me to talk about mental health through my work. I know I’m not alone dealing with this and if my work can help someone in pain not feeling alone then it’s a good thing too. 

Who are some of your creative influences? And how has their work shaped you as an artist?

I don’t know how it shaped me, but the artist who has influenced my work the most is not a painter. It’s Tori Amos, especially through her music videos and all her music video directors I guess. She’s always had a certain aesthetic in her videos that spoke to me in the 90’s and that helped shape my own aesthetic and the way I tell stories through my work. Her music has influenced me a lot too of course. As for painters, there is one painting that’s been haunting me since I first saw it. Its “Christina’s world” by Andrew Wyeth. I know that some people hate it and other find it cliché to name that one but I dont care. For me that’s it. The perspective is kinda weird but there is an ambiance to that piece. I can hear the wind on the grass/ wheat. There is a solitude that I just love about it. That’s probably the piece that has influenced my work. 

What is a day in the studio like? Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

I have a routine. I get up late and have lunch. I go to my studio around 1:30 pm, light a candle ( probably the only ritual I have since I moved in my new home) then paint until dinner. After dinner, I go back to the studio and continue to work depending on how the piece has progressed that day. That’s for the painting part.

For the sketches part, it’s an entirely different routine. I contact all my models and get all my references for the show. Then I make all my sketches sitting under a blanket on the couch in front of the tv in my home. I draw while listening/ distantly watching something I already know by heart and is comforting. It’s the cocooning part of my process. 

So sketches on the couch and painting in the studio. 

What is your most favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is painting, the idea is already planned. I mostly execute and it’s a tad therapeutic at times. I just go with the flow and the colors are pretty much instinctive. I also love the sketching part and finding the theme for each piece. 

The part I hate: VARNISH. Its better now but I still find it very stressful.

Are your parents artistic? If so, what advice have they given you about pursuing a career and living a life in the arts?

Yes they are. My dad studied art a bit when he was younger but never pursued it full time. He had so many mediums to work with in the basement when I was a kid! He would sit with me and we would paint or draw together during the weekends. I have very fond memories of these times. My parents did encourage me to study art. They have been very supportive even if I did not know exactly what I was doing. 

Your work tends to have reoccurring symbols or backdrops, like the ocean, beetles, or a house on fire — Could you share with us what these symbols mean for you, or are they meant to be left up for interpretation?

Yes, I do have a lot of symbolism in my work and developed kind of my own mythology with time. Since my work is about mental health these symbols are there to reinforce the theme of each pieces. Sometimes the symbols have different meanings too. I usually let the viewer create their own narrative. I think we all see art with what we’ve got, what we’ve been through, and mirror it with what we know. So the meaning can be different for everyone. However, I love to put symbols to give hints of the story I created. So here we go:

First, The Ocean. It represents the fear and the unknown. Sometimes my characters face it but most of the times they don’t. They looking or facing the viewer and have the ocean on their back. For me the ocean is not something I fear but every time there is a large body of water or the ocean there is fear linked to it. There is something that I fear at the bottom.

Second, Beetles. Those represent the mental illness or mental health. There is an expression here in Quebec “Avoir des bébittes dans la tête,” which would translate to have bugs in the head. It means you’re crazy, it does not go well in your head or you have bugs in the brain. 

Sometimes the characters are invaded by bugs and sometimes they hug a big one. The first example: the character would fear her own mental illness. The second example: the character would take care of it and embrace it. 

At last, the house on fire. 

The houses in my works have 2 meanings but in this case the house in my painting represents the self, the core. The fire, well, fire does what fire does. So the house on fire means the character is in pain mentally.

I also use small houses in certain pieces to talk about homelessness, when talking about the need for a loving home and when talking about foster care.

If you could have dinner with five fictional characters, who would they be, what’s on the menu, and what is the ice breaker question? 

Buffy Summers, John Constantine, Vanessa Ives, and Sam and Dean Winchester.  What’s for dinner: Crusted Salmon, pie, and macaroons. Ice breaker:  “I thought you all should meet! I know most of you are loners but you’d be a great team…So. Hum…What do you do for fun when you are not fighting demons?”

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