In anticipation of the opening of Sandra Chevrier’s exhibition The Cages; and the Reading Rooms of their Lives we interviewed the Montréal based artist to discuss the inspiration behind her work, creative process and what superhero powers she’d want to possess.
Check out our interview with Sandra Chevrier below and come out to the opening of The Cages; and the Reading Rooms of their Lives at Thinkspace Gallery Saturday October 15th from 6 to 9 pm.
SH: What inspired you to explore comic books as a way of communicating themes of identity, of the expectations that are placed on women?
SC: I am often choosing to highlight the fragility of the superhero, their own struggles, and weaknesses, exposing the humanity within the superhuman.
Despite all the playfulness of the thing itself and all the “CRASH BAM POW,” superheroes are also fragile. There is also a certain melancholy in these different faces as if these women experienced a situation that they did not wish. As if they were “slaves.” An offset of American comics, synonymous to entertainment and fun. This is exactly the goal of the series, a daily struggle for us all against that which is imposed by society and the very expectations we impose on ourselves. I keep myself busy in many ways; single mom, business woman, artist, the household, romance, errands. It puts a lot on one’s shoulders. We overwork ourselves. We are all slaves to something, of something.
SH: What specific ideas or themes were you exploring in this latest body of work?
SC: In the greater body of my work, the images used within the ‘cages’ series range from scenes of conflict, triumph, and defeat. This particular body of work i will be showing at ThinkSpace Gallery; gives focus to the numerous emotions a person lives, the stories that makes us who we are in more than only a way and the different sides of our personalities; our strength, our weakness, our power, our light and darkness, hope and dreams, nightmare and tragedies…. and thus within the superhero multiple masks imagery. The words, the onomatopoeia as well as images becomes vehicles for carrying the symbolics or emotions charge of the pieces. We are all more than one story, more than one book, we are a library, a reading room. The sounds almost becomes audible, as if they were bouncing in echo against the portrait; one that hides but also lives the action of the comic books storylines.
SH: Your work address the dichotomy of strength and fragility that exists within the superhero and self; what defines strength to you and is there strength in fragility?
SC: Superman, when he loses his battle against Doomsday, the image of his red cape tattered planted in the ground as a fallen flag has an intense beauty and incredible power. This is just one example among many others. We are merely human; men and women and we are entitled to the flaws and errors.
We should embrace them, instead of seeing them as weakness.
SH: If you were a super hero what would be your super power and mission statement?
SC: I’d like to have the power of healing people. Physically and mentally. There’s so much darkness in humans heart and head, the world would be so much beautiful if happiness was more common.
SH: When you paint the comic book scene instead of using the comic book itself in mixed media, do you create the scene from scratch or is it pulled from an existing comic book story?
SC: When I create the mask in mixed media, I will work a lot more by instinct. I go with the image that speaks to me, but when I sketch and then hand paint the comics, I am the one creating the story. I sometimes create new images, will had my own words, will create a different story then the original one.
SH: What is your process like in selecting the scenes you want to portray on the portraits?
SC: I usually go with what the portrait will inspire me. I’ll try to go with certain kind of emotions. Hope, Strength, Courage, Darkness, Despair, Sadness. It helps to choose with what Superhero i will work with. Batman is the incarnation of darkness, just within the colors you can feel it; purple, blue, orange. Superman is the true Super hero, the colors are light and vivid; blue, yellow red….
SH: What are your favorite materials to use?
SC: I’m a big fan of watercolor, I like not having a perfect control. It always surprises me. I just let the colors dance with the water and leave their traces on the paper. I paint with acrylic and also will use pastels, graphite, pencil colors…
SH: Walks us through a day in the studio?
SC: I start earlier now that my son started school. So I take him there and then my work day Always starts with a coffee. I work in a tiny home studio, people think its crazy for me to still be working in this little space with huge canvases but i have always liked to work home. My brain never really stops working so I like having all my material near in case I decide to work a little in the middle of the night. So…. yes, coffee….and another one and then i like to prepare my backgrounds and let them dry while I sketch or paint. I need to be productive. So that things are always ready when i need them to be. I usually will work for 6-8 hours non stop, maybe drinking a smoothie meanwhile to stay healthy and focused and then i go get my son to school, spend i nice evening with him and then when he is asleep i often will go back to work for a few hours.
SH: What inspires you? What do you do when self-doubt creeps in?
SC: What inspires me; The day to day life tragedies. The small ones and the big ones. I’m lucky to have great people surrounding me, i easily can fall in a dark place and self-doubt and freak out. My agent, that i prefer calling my partner helped me more then once in these situations. Sometimes just talking to someone and remembering why I do it. I feel so lucky to have a passion, i am truly blessed. I love something so much that it makes me dream. I hope my son will be as passionate as I am about something.
Art to me is not only a way of expression, it is a language on its own. I’ve always used it to release my inner demons. I now try to reflect not only my inner vision but find a matter that will speak to a larger audience.
SH: When you’re not painting, what is your favorite thing to do?
SC: I like spending time with my son, going to parks, i also will often take a few days and travel just to get out of my head a little. I also really enjoy clothes; love spending time finding gems in thrift shops, vintage stores. im a crazy collector, so i also enjoy flea markets.
SH: Describe your artwork in three words –
SC: A Dance of dichotomy
SH: In your work, you address the expectations society places on women through the narrative of superheroes, but what about the inherent expectations we place on ourselves. How does society’s expectations of women breakdown, if women first don’t break down expectations of each other. What truth or thought do you hope people take away from your work?
SC: In past interviews, i often said that it is not just about expectations that society places on our shoulder but also the barriers that we impose on ourselves. We are our worst judge and sometimes our worst enemies. I’ve been so blessed with some people testimony’s regarding how my work inspired them, the best rewards are truly these stories and the time people take to let me know how my Art had an impact on their way to see life and in a certain way I’ve helped them trough my work. A Norwegian polo champion wrote to me last year, telling me about is a personal story. All is life he had been a champion, never failed, then one day he had a big accident with is horse. He taught is life was ending and didn’t know who he was anymore. He saw one of my painting and understood that if Superheros can be fragile sometimes, so do we. As mentioned before; we are human, men and women, and we are entitled to the flaw, the error. He found is courage in my Art.
Also, another incredible testimony would come from a mother who lost her daughter from cancer. She said my painting reminded her of her little girl that fought like a superhero till the end.
Let’s all forget about the standard of our modern communication, the limitations within our world, our self-imposed expectations, and the cages we have allowed to bar us from the fullness of life’s experience.