‘Gypsy’ artists re­cy­cle own ca­reers

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Og­den

It al­most sounds like a movie script: Two suc­cess­ful graphic artists work­ing in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, af­ter twenty-five years in the ‘Big City’, move out to the coun­try and rein­vent them­selves as ‘re­cy­cling’ artists, pro­mot­ing (al­beit in­ad­ver­tently) the no­tion

of the three R’s, re­duce, re­use and re­cy­cle, in­stead of a cul­ture of con­sumerism. That would be the tale of Liz­a­beth Laroche and Brigitte Mit­tel­ham­mer, two friends who lived and worked in Mon­treal be­fore tak­ing that leap of faith and mov­ing to ‘greener’ pas­tures.

“I came out here first, about five years ago. My boyfriend had just bought a property on the Boyn­ton Road. My mother was born in the Town­ships and we vis­ited it of­ten when I was a kid, but I had never been to this area,” said Ms. Mit­tel­ham­mer who grew up in Longueuil. Af­ter vis­it­ing Brigitte in her new home, it wasn’t long af­ter that Liz­a­beth de­cided to look for a property in the area. “I grew up in St. Jeansur-Riche­lieu, so we of­ten vis­ited the Town­ships. But I’d never been to this area ei­ther. It’s very spe­cial, beau­ti­ful here; like an undis­cov­ered jewel,” ex­plained Ms. Laroche in an in­ter­view in her stu­dio in Og­den.

Sur­pris­ingly, it doesn’t seem as if the de­ci­sion to leave their lu­cra­tive ca­reers back in Mon­treal for the ru­ral life of the Town­ships was dif­fi­cult for ei­ther of them to make. “It wasn’t hard to move here. I’d al­ways dreamed of liv­ing in the coun­try, with horses. I left ad­ver­tis­ing at the right time be­cause I had no more pas­sion. My job was to de­velop cam­paigns, in­spire artists and clients. It took a lot out of me but it gave a lot back to me, too. But then it started to take more and give less. My friends said ‘You’ll be back’, but they’re from Mon­treal, they don’t know what it’s like here. I love the quiet and the beauty, and the people,” said Brigitte.

Liz­a­beth suf­fered a few burn-outs be­fore de­cid­ing to shift gears. “I loved work­ing in graphic de­sign and I had al­ways wanted, since I was about fif­teen, to work in ad­ver­tis­ing. When I was young I’d spend qual­ity time with my dad watch­ing those great old com­mer­cials. He loved good ad­ver­tis­ing!” com­mented Liz­a­beth. “So af­ter twenty-five years, I felt a move would do it. But you have to be able to face your fears; when you leave a ca­reer it’s like los­ing your iden­tity. I tried so many dif­fer­ent jobs; it brings you to a state of hu­mil­ity. But what was great is that I re­al­ized that I had re­sources.”

The con­ver­sion from ad­ver­tis­ing to re­cy­cling seemed to take a nat­u­ral course. “Liv­ing here helped us to be ob­servers and look at our­selves. We gave our­selves the time and space to do this. There’s a price to ev­ery­thing; we must as­sume our choices,” ex­plained Ms. Mit­tel­ham­mer. “We came from a very con­sumer back­ground, even an ab­sur­dity on my end of over-con­sump­tion. I’m not a mil­i­tant (en­vi­ron­men­tally) but I think it’s re­ally sad that we’ve re­duced our cit­i­zens to con­sumers. It sad­dens me that our hu­man ex­is­tence has come down to that,” com­mented Ms. Laroche. “Yes, so­ci­ety has a lot of re­spect for high con­sumers,” added Brigitte.

The two artists be­gan look­ing at garbage, scrap ma­te­rial and just plain junk quite dif­fer­ently. “We be­gan see­ing ev­ery­thing as a medium or as a can­vas,” said Brigitte. Now wellen­trenched in the project that the two dubbed “Gypsy Art”, Liz­a­beth’s stu­dio had many ex­am­ples, from whim­si­cal wall hang­ings of fig­urines mag­i­cally brought to life with but­tons and bot­tle-caps, colourful sculp­tures, even a Bri­tishthemed ta­ble lamp made with an old ro­tary tele­phone and clev­erly called “Lon­don Call­ing”.

What adds even more mean­ing to the pieces that go out to gal­leries and ex­hi­bi­tions is that each piece comes with its own bi­og­ra­phy. “What I love the most is the story be­hind the piece. Each one comes with a list of the ma­te­ri­als and where they all came from. The ob­jects come to­gether and the people con­nected to all those ob­jects come to­gether in the piece; people re­late to the sto­ries,” said Brigitte. “Some­times people are very touched by the pieces, I think be­cause so much love and joy goes into the cre­ation process,” added Liz­a­beth.

“Con­trary to what you learn in school, we be­lieve that ev­ery­one is an artist. Es­pe­cially with this kind of art, made from re­cy­cled scrap, but they can’t be afraid of break­ing the rules, let­ting them­selves go. There is so much an­guish, anx­i­ety and fear that can go into tra­di­tional art like paint­ing, and the can­vas and paints are very ex­pen­sive. But this re­cy­cled art ev­ery­one can do. There is no fear and no per­fec­tion in Gypsy Art. I had to un­learn to draw and paint to do this,” said Ms. Laroche. “It’s about the Ja­panese phi­los­o­phy of Wabi-Sabi: see­ing the beauty in im­per­fec­tion,” added Brigitte.

The process of cre­at­ing re­cy­cled art is quite ad­ven­tur­ous. “It dif­fers from tra­di­tional art in that it doesn’t come from the brain; there’s lit­tle ra­tio­nale or plan­ning. You click with an ob­ject, then pieces start to come to­gether,” said Liz­a­beth. “Per­son­ally, I never know what I’m go­ing to do. It has a life of its own. The piece could take a cou­ple of hours or a few weeks to fin­ish,” said Ms. Mit­tel­ham­mer.

The search for good scrap is also part of the ad­ven­ture. “We look in at­tics, back al­leys, garage sales, at the side of the road. The great time of the year for find­ing ob­jects is start­ing now,” said Brigitte en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. “It’s hunt­ing time!” added Ms. Laroche.

These two ‘Gypsy artists’ have also worked on some lo­cal group art projects with great re­sults, one of which is dis­played promi­nently in the Rock Is­land sec­tor of Stanstead. “We strongly be­lieve that ev­ery­one is cre­ative and we saw that with the mu­ral that the kids made in Stanstead. Just open the space to be cre­ative and let’s go. They lose the men­tal pro­gram­ming and fol­low their joy, their heart.” The artists also worked with the mem­bers of the Af­ter the Rain­bow comes the Sun group at the CAB RH Rediker to make a mu­ral of re­cy­cled ob­jects. “Some of the mem­bers didn’t want to try it at first, but by the end they were all flour­ish­ing, even com­pli­ment­ing each other’s work.”

“Our pri­or­ity now is mak­ing our new web­site and cre­at­ing new pieces.” Liz­a­beth and Brigitte are also hop­ing to work with more groups, in­clud­ing groups of chil­dren or people with spe­cial needs, to cre­ate mu­rals, and they are plan­ning to be­gin hold­ing re­cy­cled art work­shops for in­di­vid­u­als. “We’re hop­ing for people who don’t have a clue about art!” For in­for­ma­tion about the work­shops, send an email to liz­a­beth­laroche@hot­mail.com, or call 819 876 5015 or 514 918 2593 for any other in­for­ma­tion. Many of their pieces are now on dis­play in Knowl­ton at A la Carte, Arts et An­tiq­uites.

When asked if they had an ob­jec­tive to their Gypsy Art project, Brigitte an­swered first: “For once in my life I have no ob­jec­tive, or, maybe to be in­spired in the present mo­ment. Ev­ery­thing hap­pens from there.” Liz­a­beth con­tin­ued: “We made a vow when we started this that if it didn’t bring us joy in the present mo­ment, we would stop. But if we’re happy and joy­ful, and the work comes from the heart, it will go well.”

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Liz­a­beth Laroche (left) and Brigitte Mit­tel­ham­mer are sur­rounded by art made from junk and found ob­jects in Liz­a­beth’s stu­dio, in Og­den.

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Liz­a­beth Laroche (left) and Brigitte Mit­tel­ham­mer and a ‘re­cy­cled’ bal­le­rina, an ex­am­ple of their ‘Gypsy’ art.

“Dog Divine” was made with an old Toc board, domi­noes, a door han­dle found in a Beebe over­all fac­tory, and many other pieces of junk or in­ter­est­ing arte­facts, depend­ing how you look at it!

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