Question 1: Tell us about yourself as an artist, including your inspiration, your training in the arts, its evolution and influence on your life and what you like most about your career?
I have always been interested in the arts, even as a young teenager painting murals on the walls of my bedroom. It was how I expressed myself, and could tell a story visually at the same time. I credit my 9th grade teacher with being the first adult to encourage me to think seriously about art as a career. Finally with a degree in Art, and Art history I worked in both the private and public school sector in the Detroit area as a Director of Art for 10 years. I loved teaching, and inspiring young minds to be passionate about art and art history.
My interest at that time was printmaking. I loved working with silkscreen, wood cuts and etchings. I have always been attracted by the 2 dimensional, poster image, with its clean lines and flat shapes. It wasn’t until I moved to Germany and was no longer teaching that I started to paint, beginning first in acrylics and then moving on to using oils. By the time my children left for college I was painting full time. I started with images of them as I missed them, and felt by painting them I was bringing them back into my daily life. My daughter especially was a particular muse as she was living in Mali and would send me photos of her life there to inspire me. I loved the bright colors and bold images from Africa, they were perfect to recreate on canvas. As I progressed in my work I started taking images from my own exotic travels and using them as my inspiration. The work just evolved from that point on as more of my own interpretations and feelings came out in the paintings.
Repetition and form that border on the abstract, the play of a scene that can be viewed differently from one point to the next. All of these things together guide me into creating something that is very personal to me. Sharing my art with the public allows me to bring them into the narrative that makes up my life.
Question 2: Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your work? What is the main challenge you face when beginning a piece of art? How do you know when the work is complete?
There is a fine line to know if a piece is finished or not, it can be easy to overwork a piece, so sometimes I have to just walk away and say its done. If I come back later and see if there is something I can still do to it I will, but mostly it is an art in and of itself to know whether a piece is finished. I think experience has been the best teacher in that sense.
The biggest challenge I find when deciding what to paint is what series of paintings I am going to do. I find that having 10 paintings of a certain theme works well for a show. It makes a cohesive grouping and already puts the audience in mind about what they are going to be seeing. My interpretation of that theme can be very different from the public, but that is what makes it interesting. People come in with one thing in mind and then their ideas are challenged or expanded by what I’ve created.
Question 3: What work of art do you wish you owned? Who is your favorite living artist?
I wish I owned an original Van Gogh or Matisse, two of my favorite artists, who inspire me in so many ways, but mostly in their use of color. I have many favorite living artists as I am constantly visiting galleries and museums to widen my scope of what is out there in the public eye. I will say, however I favor many women artists, Marlene Dumas, Elizabeth Peyton, and Louise Nevelson, all whom are very different from each other, but who have captured my interest. Peter Doig and David Hockney are two male artists who have inspired many of my works.
Question 4: How do you manage balancing work/life? What are your hobbies?
I am an avid tennis player, so balancing the times I have to be in the studio, versus on the court can be very challenging, however if I can work at least an hour or two a day, I feel I have accomplished something, slow and steady makes the race, so I am not in a hurry to finish a piece unless I am on a time crunch. To me being able to be creative every day, is like breathing, it is necessary for my sanity and well being.
Question 5: What helped you decide to donate your talent to the Turtle on the Town project? Why did you name your turtle “Spot” and how is the name related to the way you painted her? If you were going to write a children’s story about how Spot came to be in Cambier Park, what would it be?
Because I live in Naples only 6 months of the year, I didn’t think I was able to be part of any art community or association, as I thought that there wasn’t enough time to be involved. However, when Mally Khorasantchi encouraged me to partake in the Turtles on the Town project and to join United Arts Council, I was thrilled to be part of a community event, and to be associated with such a prestigious group. The more I learn about United Arts Council of Collier County, the more impressed I am with what they stand for and do in the community. In France, where I live the other six months of the year I am always gathering artists together for something or other, I believe there is power in numbers, and we can accomplish so much more when we work together in a positive group.
There is a funny story about when I went to turn in my drawings and form for the competition for the Turtles on the Town. As usual I was rushing to get everything done before leaving Florida for the summer, I had been traveling and tried to do some drawings on the plane, we were moving right before we left, so my studio was in disarray, everything was against me for applying for this event. The day I turned in the drawings was the day we were leaving, so I rushed over to the office where Andy Browne took my application, we quickly perused the information, only to find I hadn’t filled out all of the questions, one of them being the name of the Turtle. Once she read my story and why I chose a leopard turtle design, she was quick to come up with the name Spot, I thought great, but would write, “subject to change”, in case I came up with something better. The name Spot worked so well though, it was inspiration for when I was working on him, and giving him those Klimt like spots over his arms and legs, that the name stuck. I later found out to my delight, that Andy Browne is an artist too, and she mostly works in spot paintings, so no wonder that was the first thought that came into her head that day!
When I found out that Spot was going to be in Cambier Park, I was so happy. My first thoughts were the children will love having him there to play with, climb on, and create their own stories about, and with him. So you can imagine my joy, when the first day I went to go see him in his new home (it was on my birthday), there he was with a little girl petting him, whispering sweet words in his ear, and in general creating her own story about him. I loved it!
Question 6: Given what you know about Greater Naples Leadership what do you see as the connection between it and your conception of the turtle?
When I had heard that Greater Naples Leadership had sponsored my turtle I was thrilled that someone saw the potential in my quick renderings on the application, and more than surprised and delighted once seeing him, they decided to buy him outright. I had no idea who this organization was or what they stood for. I had one more opportunity to come back to Naples before the turtles were picked up and also had the chance to meet the President of the Greater Naples Leadership program. Ed Boyer and I met for coffee at the French bakery near my home to discuss Spot and for me to learn a little more about Greater Naples Leadership. I was happy to know that such an organization exists and thought how appropriate that they chose Spot. My philosophy has always been since I started painting, exhibiting and selling my work, that it would be my own personal way to give back to charity. All proceeds of any paintings I have done in the last 12 years have all gone to charity. Sometimes that charity reflects a series I am working on, for instance when I spoke of the African paintings I did my first year of taking up painting, the money I made that year all went to the Malian theater troupe that my daughter worked with during the time period she was there, we were able to buy the costumes for their stage production for that entire year. The year I did a series on ‘Woman of Power and Interest’, the money benefited Womankind Worldwide, a charity in England that supports women by offering them loans for their businesses and schooling to help educate them to stand on their own two feet and to fight back against oppression. These are just a couple of examples, but most importantly I try to choose charities where I think a small amount of money can make a huge difference. I see this in the philosophy of Naples Greater Leadership; they encourage the movers and shakers in our community to find their niche in supporting causes that can use their expertise.
Question 7: Where can we view your work and learn more about you?
You can find out more information about the different series I’ve done over the years by checking out my website www.valerieghoussaini.com, and by signing up for my newsletter to see where I am exhibiting or other fun facts that happen to be going on currently.