Thursday, October 18, 2012

Interview with Artist Evy Lareau

[Art] is a language I understand.
~ Evy Lareau

Figurative painter Evy Lareau is an art instructor at a correctional facility. She got the job after responding to a help-wanted ad. She's worked as an art therapist (she has a master's degree in art therapy), case manager, and art teacher in residential treatment centers and specialized schools, as well as public schools, around the country. Lareau also has created after-school programs and programs for Boys and Girls Clubs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Los Angeles, California, where she now resides. Wanting to know more about Lareau's experience in bringing art into uncommon environments, I conducted an interview with her by e-mail. Portions of this interview appeared in August at the T.S. Poetry Press blog TweetSpeakPoetry.

Maureen Doallas: What draws you to working with at-risk youth, the disadvantaged, or those in need of special education services?

Evy Lareau: I have always had a passion for creating and providing opportunities for people in environments where art is not commonly found [to be] important. Art is such a wonderful tool to respond and communicate with. It is so versatile. It also is non-threatening, allowing my students to learn and feel heard. I'm an activist for arts education as a means of general education. I recognize the value it offers, and embrace [its] challenge.

MD: Why do you think art matters to the specific groups you teach?

EL: I ask my students, "Why is art important to you?" [Some of their answers are:] "Because I'm able to express myself." "It keeps me focused." "It distracts me from where I am." "It relaxes me." "It makes me feel good about myself when I complete each project; I feel like I am good at something."

MD: You created an arts program for your current employer from the ground up. What are some challenges in designing a program for any particular facility?

EL: Contraband—from colored pencils to paper clips, yarn, and paint. Everything I use is a potential hazard or could be used for alternative purposes. Learning how to accommodate and account for these items in a controlled environment has been one of my biggest challenges, because I refuse to be limited to what I can teach because of materials I am allowed to use.

Language barriers. Although art is a universal language, teaching in a diversified classroom has proven to be challenging. A large number of my students have very little education and, being primarily Spanish-speaking, know minimal English. Comprehension and execution — getting the message across — have been my primary challenges. Needless to say, my Spanish is getting better by the day.

Constant transition/student turnover. My particular facility has a high turnover rate. Given limited time [with my students], I try to provide the most necessary skills in the shortest amount of  time, so that students can move quickly and confidently through the program.

MD: How does your background in art therapy facilitate your teaching?

EL: I don't use art therapy in my curriculum but the act of making art in these unique facilities encourages a therapeutic environment. I know how to respond to emotions that come into my classroom or that come up during the creative process. [My teaching] is a growing experience for me as well.

MD: What's your most memorable teaching experience to date?

EL: It's hard to name one but what warms my heart is to be told by my students that they have never made art before, and then see the beautiful artwork they create. They are excited about their accomplishments and want to share what they have learned with others, most especially their families.

Acrylic and Plaster on Canvas, 2002
22" x 32"
© Evy Lareau
Image Used With Artist's Permission

I also asked Evy, who grew up in a creative household — her father works in the culinary field, her mother's an art professor, her brother is a cinematographer, and her father's mother is a singer — to answer several questions about her artistic career.

MD: What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?

EL: I really don't think there was any other option for me. I have been drawing and making art since I could pick up a pencil. It is a language I understand. I actually didn't learn how to read and write until I was eight, because I would draw pictures explaining what I meant instead. . . [Art's] in the blood, and I was heavily encouraged and supported [by my family] to pursue a career in the arts.

MD: You describe yourself as a photo-based figurative painter with a documentary style. I'm struck by how expressive your portraits are. Tell us about your artistic process.

EL: I primarily work from my own photographs of people I personally know. My process starts with the camera as view-finder or subject-finder [and] is as important as the painting itself. I paint from my photographs because [this approach] allows me to capture, crop, and edit the singular moment I want to embrace and expand upon. The camera has the capacity to frame life through angles and close-ups that are only possible through the lens. In this technological world that we live in today, it is my belief that this is the view that we relate to most and recognize as being truthful and honest.

MD: What or who are our favorite subjects, and why?

EL: My paintings reflect mundane occurrences that we don't necessarily recognize as being important or significant, like sitting on a couch, eating dinner, or holding a pillow. More so, I observe relationships. I'm fascinated with the relationships people have with themselves and others. My goal is not to send a message to the viewer but merely expose him or her to events that naturally exist around us. I want the viewer to be aware of his or her environment.

MD: What do you hope viewers will see in or take away from your paintings?

EL: I hope that viewers of my paintings can relate to them personally; that [my paintings] may spark a memory in their own lives, and [the viewers], in response, [may] have a relationship with the paintings themselves.

MD: What is your dream for yourself as an artist?

EL: I've always told myself that I never want to have a job where I can't wear my painting smock every day. For the most part, I have managed to stick to this goal. Ultimately, I want to continue what I am already doing: teaching in unique environments, as well as maintaining a career as a professional painter. I need the balance of both worlds to be a whole person. 

A dream of mine is to be able to create art programs abroad, particularly in orphanages, although I am really enjoying working [now] within corrections.

Images of other paintings by Evy Lareau may be viewed here. My thanks to Lareau for taking time to answer my questions.


Kurt Penberg said...

Great painting man..

Louise Gallagher said...

Wow! what a fabulous interview Maureen -- thank you. I'm sharing it with my daughter Alexis -- she too will find it inspiring I'm sure!

and I love this for a title for a book! :)

bringing art into uncommon environments

Anonymous said...

THis interview is interesting. I hope she makes it to the orphanages.