We kick off our new local artist Q&A series by chatting with Fredericton-based artist Ysabelle Vautour.
Ysabelle Vautour is a visually impaired painter and art teacher who works in a wide array of mediums. Her passion for creation is led by her belief in art’s ability to heal and empower us all as individuals. One of four presenters in Connexion ARC’s recent Art Kitchen event, Vautour is a strong advocate for artists with disabilities and is continously seeking new ways to make art accessible to all.
Can you give us an introduction to your painting?
I love to paint things that are alive. Even when I am painting abstractly I love to get my whole body into it so I can see the energy from the movement in the painting. I am interested in communicating feelings and painting moments I would like to remember. I am very aware about how I am feeling and like to stay present to what is unfolding. It’s kind of like a yoga practice for me. In yoga, they encourage us to look internally and feel your way through the pose, to trust your body knows what shape is good for it to take in the practice on any particular day as opposed to looking around the room trying to compare your pose to others. For me, what I am after in my artwork is the stuff of slam poetry, those visceral images they describe with their words that resonate with your own experience and remind us of something that needs attention now. Slam poets often talk about identity, love and pain, and learning about things that often get left unsaid. I love that. I love the intimacy and the rawness of it. There is a communal catharsis happening that is really fascinating to me.
You teach art. Can you tell us about your teaching practice?
I teach group as well as private classes on request. I have taught some traditional art techniques but mostly I like to focus on the experience of art making as a tool for self exploration as opposed to making a finished product. In my Art as Therapy workshops that I teach at Serenity Wellness, I invite people to explore the material because that sense of play and exploration feels good. A lot of the time people have an interest in art making but they also have all these high expectations of what art should look like. I like to explore and breakdown the obstacles that folks may have in terms of art making. It is interesting to me. I did a learn to run program years ago and nobody really got mad at themselves because they couldn’t run a marathon or even a 5K on their first few attempts.
Is your teaching directly connected to a willingness to have others experience the joy art brings to you?
Yes, very much so. Art has really helped me to see myself differently, to let go of judgement and trust that I can create things and make things happen. I love the sense of accomplishment when I make something. I love creating a tangible reminder that I can look back on. Art allows me to confront things and find a way to work with them. Creativity is such a great quality to encourage and tease out of people. Creativity is such an asset for problem solving. These aren’t your typical paint-and-sip or watch-me-paint-and-you-follow-along type of workshops. Whether a person is new to art or an artist that has been painting for years, we all can benefit from developing our own creative voice and pushing through what gets in our way of doing that. Building things with others is an amazing feeling. Art making requires us to be brave and put ourselves out there. I love to encourage that in others. It’s so exciting and beautiful.
At Connexion ARC’s Art Kitchen event back in the fall, you pitched a festival idea in support of artists with disabilities. Have you developed this idea any further or has it evolved into something new?
Yes the idea is ever-evolving in my head, but I feel like it’s more than a one person job.
After Art Kitchen I spoke with a festival organizer in Quebec to see how they developed their month long festival that includes all styles of the arts, from music to theatre to visual arts. It seems like they received funding by disability support organizations that we do not have here in NB. I learned that Nova Scotia has a weekend-long festival that is put on by their Independent Living Center which again we do not have here in NB. There seems to be a few dedicated centers in the UK that support disability arts. I would love to go there and check it out. And Ontario has a dedicated accessible gallery focusing on the disability arts that is quite innovative.
I like the idea of having a tangible resource that people can be directed to and can be easily found in addition to a time-bound event. I would like it to be integrated in the community so it’s not just this thing in isolation. It’s important to me that people get properly represented. I am more interested in artists with disabilities being recognized and validated as artists based on their work and I am interested in getting the support we need to do this work as I think there are some barriers to entry. I want to hear people’s ideas. I think it’s time to hear those untold stories. Accessibility needs creativity to build those innovative solutions. I am looking for ways to develop my art practice as a disabled artist. How can I visually depict things people don’t see about my life? I am still wrestling with that. I would love to learn more about disability art history and how we can bring that into everyday culture. How can we inform artists with disabilities about disability art history so we can contribute to the conversation with our own art? That’s what I’m really after. I would love to find a mentor, residency opportunities, funding and support to explore these ideas further in a structured way.
Do you have any shows coming up?
I have two solo exhibitions one in June at the Leon Leger Gallery in Grand Barachois and a show in October at the Charlotte Street Art Centre. You can see some or my work at Cinnamon Cafe, the Happy Baker Westmorland Street location, Issac’s Way and Surface Float to name a few, and on Facebook where you can keep up with what I am doing in terms of events, live painting and art classes. www.facebook.com/ysabellart