An Artist's Path by Rita Goldman (Gold Coast 2003)
by Rita Goldman
There’s a painting Joëlle wants me to look at, a vibrant peony in shades of pink and coral. “Tell me what you see,” she says. I try to sound like I know what I’m talking about: the meticulous skill with which she has captured this radiant flower that fills the visual field, the delicate petals in counterpoint to their bold color. “How’m I doing so far?”
“Keep looking,” she says.
Then I see it: the way the painting moves from an abstract background . . . to outer leaves that are more defined, but still stylized and expressive . . . to the precise and realistic detail at the flower’s core. “Lightness and Passion,” acrylic on paper, is a metaphor for the journey Joëlle Chicheportiche Perz has traveled over the years. Most artists begin with figurative work and evolve (if at all) toward abstraction. Joëlle went the other way.
When she welcomed me into her small, sunny studio, I had surveyed the varied works on those walls, monoprints, lithographs, watercolors on paper, acrylics on canvas, plaster on wood, and asked, “Which are yours?”
“All of them,” she had replied. “Each one represents a different period in my artistic journey. I consider myself an explorer of the visual phenomena.”
She grew up in Paris, surrounded by intellectualism and art. At the age of five, only slightly precociously, she realized that art was her passion; after high school, she studied fine art and art history at the University of Aix-en-Provence. “I wanted to be a professor of art at the university level,” she says. “I thought that was the one way to make a living at art.”
A visit to Montreal during her university years changed the course of Joëlle’s life. “I saw my first mural paintings there and fell in love with the idea of making art as a part of the urban landscape, art touching people’s lives on a grand scale.” For a year she worked as a waitress to pay her way to Mexico, arriving in the New World with only a small pad of watercolor paper and a pint-sized box of paints. “My first show was done with that,” she says. “I was very conscious of simplicity.”
Mexico was artistically enriching, affording Joëlle enormous opportunities for expressive growth. Still, she felt keenly the loss of a social support system, the kind of safety net France provides its citizens. For a time, Joëlle literally was a starving artist. She persevered, and by 1975 had not only received her first mural commission, she’d won first prize for a painting in honor of the International Year of the Woman.
That’s when she decided to leave. “I was twenty-four and it was becoming too easy. I could see myself becoming better known, but I wanted to keep learning. I longed for more challenges.”
In 1977 Joëlle moved to San Francisco, and studied printmaking, a craft she has continued to develop throughout her artistic career. She also found herself plunging into the melting pot, trying to adapt to a new country, a new language, and survival in the big city. “Each time I have moved to a new country, I have had to let go of patterns and prejudices. The robes of cultural conditioning fall away, and you become naked. I have had to let go of a lot of things to follow my heart.”
In 1982, longing for a reconnection with nature, Joëlle arrived on Maui’an island on its way to becoming one of the hottest art markets in the country.
Throughout her years of study, Joëlle had sold very little of her work. She’d been in no hurry to “make a statement” in the art world, preferring to pursue her quest for knowledge. “This slow growth enabled me to enjoy not only the product of creation but also the process,” she recalls.
“The galleries wanted me to do the underwater paintings that were so popular. I had no money, and still I said no. I would never have gotten to the places I need to be if I had said yes.”
To support herself, Joëlle taught. She worked on boats. And always, she studied. “I learned to let the work guide me, to choose materials and techniques according to the essence of the subject.”
Her willingness to let go, and the training that enables her to “bring all the tools to the task,” have combined in Joëlle to create an openness and readiness that seem to draw serendipity’s blessings like a magnet. Each time she risks, she advances on the path to deeper understanding.
“In the past I had huge revelations. Now they are more subtle. Some you might not notice at first, and yet to me they can be stunning or simply delightful. Like the way a color that appeared dull suddenly brightens and becomes luminous when associated with another color; or the change of mood an object evokes, depending on the light that shines on it. I also found that if you focus on beauty, beauty will surround you. That is the greatest reward of my work.”
It’s a vision and reward she shares with her husband, Oliver Perz, a mechanical engineer who has become her manager and her partner in creating the environment they call home. Seven years ago the couple purchased two acres in Kula along the edge of a ravine. They cleared out scrub and planted beds of flowers, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. A terraced path leads down to the canyon floor, and the gazebo that is Joëlle’s sometime studio. A pohaku wall, the remains of an ancient route to the crater summit, lies along the dramatic cliffs at the property’s far boundary. A rocky depression an unexpected feature revealed during the clearing will form a natural basin for the lily pond Joëlle and Oliver have planned; the transformation is ongoing.
As is Joëlle’s.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from my garden,” she says, “but I don’t necessarily paint it. Some things I like to leave alone, letting the stones keep their secret and giving me a chance to discover them with new eyes every day. The passing moment, the joy and playfulness of the light, the mystery of shadows, the universal quality of a single flower, this I like to capture.”
Light. Enlightenment. I should have known. I remember that Joëlle is an avid student of aikido, a martial art that teaches you to center your being and focus your energy. From this source, too, Joëlle has drawn the confidence to trust.
“What I am looking for is simplicity,” she says, “the balance and peace of mind that enable me to do my art, express my passion for life, and create a little more happiness in this world. I love when people tell me they find a healing in my work.”
Joëlle Chicheportiche (Maui News 1990)
by Marcia Godinez
All that has changed now. After a two hour interview and a good look through Chicheportiche’s portfolios, I realized her present course and style is indefinable. Labels and categorizations simply slide off her shoulders and land on the ground at her feet – or where her feet once were. She’s already off to her next project.
Chicheportiche has covered an amazing amount of territory, and covered it well. Somewhere along the line an art teacher advised her, “Don’t be in a rush to make a statement,” and she took the advice to heart.
“I’m not in a hurry. I’m happy with what I’m doing and I’m free,” explains the artist. Looking around her studio I was forced to agree. She was free to produce the most expressive, refined statement on marine art I have ever seen, capturing the true essence of the ocean with the delicate touch of a master. This was not the hackneyed, garish, souped-up version of Maui whales, but a quiet, mixed media expression of natural peace and order.
In another piece, she was free to create an extraordinary view of what it might look like underwater, when molten lava plunges into the ocean – a view I’d never contemplated. Again, it was not a Hollywood production of explosiveness, but rather a quiet meeting of primal energies.
Although Chicheportiche herself is an outstanding teacher in several styles of expression and media, she felt totally free to study figure drawing with another local teacher. The resulting piece, a pastel entitled “Red Hair Woman with Blue Ribbon” is breathtaking.
Chicheportiche is perhaps one of the most uninhibited and unencumbered artists I’ve ever
met. She is on a quest, but not a frenzied one. In talking with her one gets a feeling of an unlimited expanse of time and possibilities stretched out before her. The past has unfurled itself with opportune, and occasionally, miraculous precision, and it seems the future will also find her in the right place at the right time.
The artist originally hails from Paris, France. At the age of sixteen she moved to the French Alps, and then to the south to attend the University of Aix-en-Provence. From her earliest childhood, she remembers thinking ” Being an artist was the best you could be.” By the time she reached college age, she had modified her vision. Finding the possibility of the “starving artist” unappealing, she set her sights on becoming an art professor, and went on to earn a degree in fine arts.
A vacation to America changed her life. After a visit in New York, she traveled to Montreal, Canada, where she saw her first full-scale mural. “I looked up and thought ‘This is it – this is what I want to do.'”
Returning to the South of France, she began to research murals. Finding the world’s great muralists were from the Mexican school of painters, she made up her mind to attend Mexico’s University of Guadalajara in the following year. For the next several months Chicheportiche worked as a waitress to earn money for her tuition.
One week before the young artist was to leave her job and head for Mexico, a group of Mexican tourists came into the restaurant where she worked. In talking with the visitors, she found out that one man was engaged to the daughter of the professor with whom she would study in Guadalajara. Another man was a former director of the same school. Delighted with the chance encounter, the gentlemen arranged for Chicheportiche to attend school tuition-free, and be provided with a place to live.
Looking through the artist’s photographs of work from this period reveals a side of Chicheportiche that few here on Maui could imagine. Her diversity, and willingness to leap into new dimensions, colors and forms is awe-inspiring.
At the end of her first year in Guadalajara, she was given the honor of painting a mural at the school where she studied, and was later commissioned by the Mexican government to paint another mural in a newly-constructed experimental school. She had several shows of her work, and in 1975 was awarded first prize at the “International Year of the Woman” in Mexico.
Chicheportiche’s work was warmly received by even the harshest critics. One man described her mural (translated from Spanish): “In one of the most difficult forms of expression, the mural painting, she achieved impressive results in attacking the thorny problem of joining a monumental message, rich in its spiritual content, with an aesthetic formula, valuable, accessible, and easily understandable, without falling into popular demagogic painting so often found in the works of so many mural painters.”
Chicheportiche has now directed her talents to island landscapes and plant life. In her upcoming show at the Lahaina Arts Society, “Maui Land, Light and Colors,” she will express the side of Hawaii that “most touches her heart.” The show will include recent multi-media works utilizing oil, mono-print, and hand-made paper.
It is a pleasure to see an artist move with such consummate skill through so many mediums. A sense of celebration, a recognition of the profound order of the natural world, and a fundamental feeling of peace are somewhere present in each of the artist’s works.