H’Art is now Being (taken more seriously)
“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.