H’Art is now Be­ing (taken more se­ri­ously)

Ottawa Magazine - - THIS CITY -

“I’m not afraid of colours!” says lo­cal artist Car­o­line Joanisse. In­deed, the 34-year-old is dressed in pale yel­low with jewellery in sil­ver, turquoise, pur­ple, and black. A lime-green bowtie clip pulls her hair up. Ac­tu­ally, Joanisse is not afraid of any­thing, not even her own demons. “And most peo­ple are,” she says, as she lays on the last brush­strokes of the chameleon in her paint­ing; the robin keep­ing her eggs warm below is un­aware of any dan­ger.

On the morn­ing I meet with Joanisse, five oth­ers have joined her at the Bron­son Av­enue stu­dio that’s home to H’Art, an art space for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. All five are sad­dled with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties caused by, say, anx­i­ety dis­or­der or Down syn­drome; Joanisse has fe­tal al­co­hol syn­drome. H’Art in­vites these peo­ple — many of whom have never lifted a brush be­fore — to paint, draw, even write. Par­tic­i­pants are also in­volved in pub­lic ex­hi­bi­tions and per­for­mances at the Ot­tawa Art Gallery, SAW Gallery, and the Na­tional Arts Cen­tre, among oth­ers.

Al­ready 13 years old, H’Art re­cently re­ceived an im­age over­haul from mar­ket­ing com­pany McMil­lan. It was the sec­ond year of the agency’s Bet­ter­ful ini­tia­tive, which sees them re­brand a char­ity for free; H’Art was cho­sen out of al­most 30 oth­ers. Megan Find­lay of McMil­lan says her team got a “rush of oxy­gen” work­ing on the project. “Peo­ple cared about it and wanted to see it through,” she says.

Now H’Art has a new name: Be­ing. Their space: The Be­ing Stu­dio. Their goal: to stay on the radar. A cut­ting-edge im­age does open doors. The think­ing is that af­ter the re­brand­ing, stu­dio par­tic­i­pants will be taken more se­ri­ously, as will their art.

Joanisse’s work might re­mind you of the vivid paint­ings of self-taught French prim­i­tivist Henri Rousseau, whose ex­otic an­i­mals and veg­e­ta­tion cre­ate a feel­ing of idyl­lic dreami­ness. How­ever, Joanisse’s paint­ings are flat, with lit­tle de­tail, quite un­like Rousseau’s. Or her work might bring to mind that of Frieden­sre­ich Hun­dert­wasser, the vi­sion­ary Vi­en­nese artist who used jewel tones to show “how ba­si­cally sim­ple it is to have par­adise on earth.” The houses, boats, and gar­dens in his post-war paint­ings are edged with thick lines, as are the scor­pi­ons, taran­tu­las, and ravens in Joanisse’s. One par­tic­u­larly strik­ing paint­ing of hers shows an ex­tru­sion com­ing out the top of a head look­ing like some par­ti­tioned speech bub­ble. There’s a teddy bear, a heart, and a hand­ful of pills. Phrases such as “I’m not crazy! Not nuts” or “Shy, Hides” sur­round the im­ages. The paint­ing is called My Brain and My Men­tal Health. Un­like the art of Rousseau and Hun­dert­wasser, Joanisse’s work rec­og­nizes that while par­adise may ex­ist here on earth, so, too, does hell. Demons and all.

At The Be­ing Stu­dio, there’s no pres­sure to cre­ate that per­fect work of art. Nev­er­the­less, some of these works are pow­er­ful enough to give out­siders a chance to per­ceive some­one else’s world. While it’s not nec­es­sary to face your own demons, you might rec­og­nize them in a draw­ing. An­other world Lo­cal artist Car­o­line Joanisse proudly dis­plays her paint­ing cre­ated at The Be­ing Stu­dio on Bron­son Av­enue Cindy Deach­man loves writ­ing about food and art and is ex­per­i­ment­ing with crush­ing chalk pas­tel into pow­der and us­ing her right in­dex fin­ger to draw.

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