Zoé Boivin always knew she would be a painter, yet it took one artist’s work to ignite the creative flame inside and ignore those around her saying it would never happen. Based in Montreal, a city that holds talent throughout its streets, her soft colour palate and Basquiat-like brushstrokes provoke a sense of curiosity and intrigue, toying with the emotions of those who view her pieces. Co-founder and photographer Aleyah Solomon met with Boivin in Montreal to spend an afternoon chatting with the artist.
Walking into Pâtisserie Rhubarbe, the cafe which was agreed as the meeting point, is what would feel like to step into one of Zoé Boivin’s canvases. It immediately makes sense as to why the native-Quebec artist would select this as our meeting spot, with its colours of pastel pink and coral hanging throughout the small cafe on rue Laurier Est in Montreal. I order my coffee and wait for Boivin to arrive. ‘I am just parking and will be there shortly’ pops up on my text messages as I select a window seat looking out on a gray winter day that is very common for winter in Canada. Arriving just a short moment later, we quickly exchange our greetings before Boivin orders a hot chocolate. Having talked online for a month or so, this is our first meeting in person, though immediately it feels like we are already close friends.
Aleyah Solomon: I was on your site, browsing through your past series of works and was wondering, how long have you been painting?
Zoé Boivin: I have been painting for two years, but when I was a child I used to tell my mom and my teachers that I am going to be a painter when I grow up. I loved to draw and make sketches, but people told me, you can’t – it’s just not something you can do. I listened and followed their advice in a way; in my subconscious, I believed what they said was true, so I stopped painting and then I started to feel really lost – I went through a period of depression because I wasn’t doing what I am here to do.
You weren’t able to express yourself so...
No, I wasn’t. I ended up studying communication and marketing, which, I found, is still creative, so there was something in there that I liked and I was working in companies doing this. But then I left because I felt that I needed to do this (paint), to use the talent I have, but I didn’t really know how to market myself. So I left, and at that time I was also working in cinema. I still do it once in a while because I love this industry – I do photo double and stand-in, I love acting and taking acting classes because it’s also a way to express yourself. I think all human beings, even if they aren’t artists, should go to an acting class, even just once in their lives. Because it changes the way you connect with people.
That’s true. I used to do that but I hate acting, I just really don’t enjoy being in front of audiences (or the camera).
Oh really? But even for your psychological well-being...
Yeah, I don’t regret anything. There are certain skills that are good to know whether or not you love doing it, it’s still good to try things out and learn and know how to do more things.
Uh huh, I think you heal yourself in a way.
When I finished school, for one year I was part of three movies back-to-back. So basically you are on set every day and night, and you just go home to take a shower and sleep and that’s it. During that year, it was just so magical because I met Xavier Dolan, a well-known writer and director from Quebec, who travels a lot and was in Cannes (Film Festival) before. So I worked on his movie and as soon as I got in contact with him, and seeing him work (because you are there everyday), it lit up the artist that was sleeping inside of me, and then I knew, so I started an Instagram and Facebook page. I didn’t have much to share but I just posted collage, small sketches, just small things and that is how it started. And now I am doing it full time and I still do cinema gigs sometimes because I really love it.
Because I am a photographer but I paint as well, I find people always say ‘oh well your hobby is photography’ and I say, no that’s my profession, my hobbies are…and then I list other things But I find it funny because people assume that photography is my hobby but no, there is a clear difference when working in art as a hobby and a profession.
Haha yes, there is still that mentality in creating something pretty or ‘safe’ but there is a weird notion in society that if you aren’t working a conventional office job, then you aren’t ‘working’.
Yeah [laughing], you aren’t working if you don’t have a 9-5 office job.
It’s crazy! Because life is life. When I am painting, it’s work – I love it but it’s still work, but most people have that mindset. There is a movement of people being their true selves to create and do what they love and make it work for themselves. And I am excited to see what it will be like in the future.
And I know there are so many artists out there, creating their own thing (adding to the competition, in a sense) but I find we all inspire each other and it’s not like you see something and copy it, but you gain inspiration from other works that wake up something inside of you and motivate you to create and express your opinion or feelings about something.
I totally agree. I read a book called "Steal like an Artist" by Austin Kleon, which you would love. I read it during that year when I was working in movies. It changed my life, because people are scared but, in art, it’s normal to get inspiration from other artists and then find your own voice through this – there is no shame to look at what other artists are doing.
Looking at your style, when I first looked at your work, I was reminded of a couple different painters – and I love the colours you work with; they are soft and very appealing – but I was wondering who are some artists who have inspired your style. I immediately think of Jean-Michel Basquiat and then a couple works reminded me of Gustav Klimt, with some of the textures you create. Have you heard this before?
Klimt, no this is the first I have heard that comparison, but Basquiat, yes, I have been told this before! I have always found inspiration in works by Miro and Kandinsky, they have been influences since I was little, and Klimt as well. Picasso, I love him so much. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Miro, I really love their work. And I really love some more recent painters, one being Daniel Jensen. He is doing all these marks so intuitively, it looks almost like, in French it’s ‘des Barbo’, and I really love it, something so free. And another painter I like is Japanese artist, dmocba. I am going to Japan this year and will go visit his studio! Just saying this makes me so emotional because I am so inspired by him, since day one! Another painter, someone who has played a huge role in my direction of life, is Dominique Fortin. Before I met the filmmaker Xavier Dolan, I went to a gallery where I saw the works of Dominique Fortin. She is a Canadian painter and her work is incredible – you need to see it in person. When I saw her work, I immediately connected with my higher self and realized ‘yeah, I am a painter’. And then, after meeting Dolan and everything, I just opened up and haven’t stopped painting yet. Dominique Fortin was a huge breaking point and inspiration.
Do you go to galleries and museums with notebooks to jot things down if inspiration strikes?
Mostly I write in my phone, but I usually have a sketchbook with me – not really when I am in a museum, it’s more when I am out in nature that I do this. Normally, it’s life experiences that really create inspiration for me and I need to rush home to get some sketches down. My creations happen more with emotions when I meet someone or experience something that I need to get out on canvas or paper. It can be anything, like walking in nature or meeting someone at work; any moment could bring on creative inspiration. Sometimes, I don’t know why, I begin to see colours in my mind – I will see all yellow and I am like, I need to leave now! Sorry! [laughs]
I am the same way with images and photo and I feel like some people don’t get it but I’m like ‘sorry, I need to go do something now’ [laughing] and now I know I am not crazy for being like this! When I was looking through your body of work, there is one titled ‘Bélier’, which is my star sign (Aries), and when I saw this I immediately felt a connection to it. So this series, ‘Racines’ (Roots) tell me a bit about the meaning behind it...
I have done a lot of work on myself this past year, and I have no shame to say I started to see a therapist because I have some issues that were never resolved with my family and my true self and especially with my vision of ‘love’ in general, because of the relationship with my parents. Like many others, it’s when you are an adult that you realize there is something in your life that just isn’t unfolding like you would like it to, and this is where therapy is such a great gift you can do for yourself. My art is also my therapy, as is acting, but seeing someone, to have a doctor for your mind and your soul, someone you can talk to without judgement, is what really helped me see things clearly. So, I created ‘Racines’ during my therapy and this series is about relieving and healing myself and expressing all my understandings of childhood and how I grew up, and understanding the relationships I went through because of my childhood, things like this. So, this series was – I mean, they all are because they are all part of me – but this series was particularly strong for me. It was my healing and it really changed my life. ‘Bélier’ is kind of that strength you have inside of you to just put on your horns and push through challenges you will face.
[laughing] Yes, just be an Aries!
Yes! Be stubborn and push through and let your true self come out, whatever your parents, or society or anyone else told you, just push through in a positive way and listen to your heart.
Yeah, for me personally, daily meditation is essential – I actually feel terrible if I skip a day, it makes such a huge difference for me.
I cannot pass one day without meditating! I think everyone should be meditating and I think we should be learning these things as children at school. When I started painting, during that one year of working in movies, I started to meditate at the same time, and I saw that when the films were done and I came back to my real life, everything had changed for me. All my friendships/relationships, my whole approach to life had changed. A fresh perspective knowing that the world, the Universe, is there to support you; you just need to listen to yourself.
In all of your paintings, you use similar tones of dominant pastel colours. Is there a specific reason, or it’s what you see?
People say ‘it’s the colour of your soul’ and it really is, because I cannot control the colours I select, it’s what I am attracted to. Sometimes there will be a painting where more blue will pop up but it’s still in my palate and I do not mentally choose them, it’s in my soul and it just pours out of me.
Now that I have met you, it completely makes sense to me, the colours you use match your energy and personality! This is who you are!
There is an art store up the street from here where I like to go, and I immediately am attracted to these kinds of colours and I buy only these colours, but I don’t choose it, it’s what I am drawn to.
Looking at the shapes you create, I can really see some of your works in a three-dimensional format; have you ever thought of creating some sculptures?
I have some clay at home, and I would like to play around with it and see what comes from it, but I have been so busy with painting and getting the start of it all going. But it is something I like and would love to create these shapes using clay. It is something I want to push in the near future. When I started painting I took some photography classes, but I felt it was a bit restrictive for me personally, because I want to use my hands to create my vision.
I am (the) opposite! We all have our own mediums to best express ourselves.
And I believe that learning other creative mediums brings something new to you. I find acting brings something to my paintings, more freedom, because acting works with your body, you are listening to the emotions of your body to create a character and when you paint, you listen to your body – which paint (colour) you choose and which shapes you want to do. So, acting has changed my work, and ‘Belier’, the piece you connected to, I created it when I was coming from an acting class. And I felt it in the work.
Are you still taking acting classes?
Not at the moment but for the past 6 months I was doing it a few times a week at Gilles Plouffe’s. There isn’t a lot of guidance; I mean there is, but he allows you to explore your character, and evoke emotion through improvisation. You always feel so good and free after a class, and I can feel I am growing. I think the purpose of art is to get people out of their comfort zone and to allow people to see something of themselves in the artwork.
I was speaking with an artist friend who has evolved so much from when she started and she is so excited about the new works she has been creating because, as human beings, we are constantly growing and evolving. As we learn and experience new things, we grow! I cannot imagine doing the same subject matter or using the same style forever, because as we grow we change and see things in new and a slightly different ways. I was recently looking at my past work and I was like ‘wow, it’s not terrible but it’s not great either’! [laughing] But without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
For sure! I was looking at one of my first works and I felt the same, but I still like it because it shows me where I came from and it still means something to someone and people still connect to it and it was part of my journey to get to my style today. Doesn’t mean because you evolved from it that it’s not good, but, for sure, as an artist, you want to evolve in your work, and your past work shows the lack of experience which is normal, but this is how you learn and grow into your style.
Do you ever look back at some of your past works, and find an element you used which you want to take and bring into your work today?
Yes, a lot of the time. And as you will see in the studio, I create so many sketches, and, sometimes, my work is going back through past sketches and seeing what I like and what I don’t like and that is also part of how an artist’s style evolves. And then I make a new sketch with my updated idea.
Yeah, I never delete any images and sometimes I look back on past shoots with fresh eyes and see things I may have missed before. With this, sometimes I gain new ideas for my next shoot or see what doesn’t work; but some things just need time.
I agree, some works – photo or painting, or any medium, you sometimes need to take a break and walk away for a few days because I know that sometimes, you need some time to allow for the concept to work itself out and you can’t force it, it will come to you! But I admit, I used to destroy some works when I first started, not realizing I should hang onto them to look back at after some time had passed. I was too emotionally attached to them and I felt they were too hard to see, as they were created during a hard time. But today I know, if I still had these pieces, I would have seen something else and grown from it. But I did what I needed to do at that time. It was therapy for me to destroy them with scissors.
What is the longest time you have spent on a painting?
Usually, it happens quickly, because when I work I am going by a feeling and I like to work during the emotions at that time. I don’t like working on pieces I started a year ago, however, some pieces take maybe a few weeks to finish, on and off, while starting another one in between, but most times, it’s one painting at a time. During my time in therapy, some works that came out were very powerful and with others, I was too emotional so I couldn’t push myself to work and just needed to relax my body. So with these kinds of paintings, sometimes I will start and then stop. So, I begin with all white and then I work on the emotions and shapes over time, possibly over the course of a year.
Do you journal at all?
Yeah, I write in a journal and write out the visions that come to me during meditation. Sometimes, you might not understand why, but you just feel it. And it’s a good sign that you need to remember it. ■