Mary McGrail, a writer based in New York City, contributed today’s post on painter Chantal Bruchez-Hall. Mary’s writing has appeared in Melic Review, The Brooklyn Rail, The Portland Review, and Community College Moment, and she is co-editor of the anthology Too Darn Hot: Writing About Sex Since Kinsey (Persea). She works in communications at a nonprofit in New York City. Find her on Twitter at @therealmfm.
Chantal Bruchez-Hall is an emerging Swiss-American artist whose work has been shown in alternatives spaces around New York City. Influenced by her years of practice as a psychologist, Chantal’s paintings explore “the internal pathways and emotional maps that lead us to the heart of darkness and back.” I spoke with her about how she came to identify as an artist, and her recent decision to give up psychotherapy in order to paint full-time. Talking with Chantal reminded me of a quote by Ray Bradbury: “You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
Early experiences For years I convinced myself that I was not an artist. I remember in elementary school, a teacher telling me I had absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever, after I drew a pot of flowers all in purple. As an adult, I was practical; when I had a child I went back to do my PhD. I felt unable to do art, so looked at it from the other side, with awe. It was my son who first told me, ‘Why don’t you take a drawing class?’ I said, ‘Oh Matthew you know I can’t draw.’ He wouldn’t let go and we took a class together at Cooper Union, for beginners. This was about fifteen years ago. I learned that I could draw, and that freed me. It was as if the sky had opened, and I wasn’t on the other side looking in anymore.
Process I wake up sometimes, thinking of paintings. It could be a shape, or a color. I go inside my head for a while, then back to sleep, and it comes back, dreamlike. I don’t turn the light on.
I often use mixed media: a broken corkscrew, a discarded piece of metal, a torn fabric. Giving trash a new life is my way of refusing to let the refuse swallow us. I loved oil, it’s so sensual, but now I like acrylic and it allows me to do a lot of work with different textures, and to build surfaces. It can be so messy and big, disgustingly thick, or light and transparent. There’s often a phase in the process where a painting becomes “pretty.” When that happens I know I have to destroy it. You want something powerful, it can be ugly, beautiful maybe, but not pretty. The paintings start having their own personality, and I can yell at them: get out of my sight! I stack them in a corner, face against the wall.
Taking risks There’s a wonderful work by Goya, of two old women looking at themselves in the mirror. Old, bejeweled witches. It’s very harsh, but Goya perceived something about women’s terror of aging, of not being visible anymore. Nothing has changed! [she laughs]
The culture in which we live wants to keep us scared, because when you are scared you can be controlled. But it’s never too late to say no to fear. What’s difficult is getting over the fear of not being good enough, and fear of change. When I am scared, I tell my son, ‘You take care of that.’ My son died more than ten years ago, and it’s not that I believe he is there like a ghost, or an angel or something like that. But I do think he is part of that vast energy field that some people call god, black holes, whatever. I don’t know what to call it. I think the creative process links us to that energy. It’s hard to create. But it’s pleasure too. It’s joy.