SesayArts in Conversation: Josée Duranleau, Artiste Extraordinaire



Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.


Josée Duranleau

Beware of the single story. If you know Josée Duranleau only as a Toronto-based bilingual arts publicist, then you don’t have the whole story. She’s also an award-winning artist with a specialty in mixed-media collages. Themes range wildly . . . from flappers to Buddha. . . and now, insomnia.

Even more intriguing is that she’s completely self-taught. She began her arts journey in another art-form entirely—classical and world music—before a foray into making greeting cards revealed a hidden penchant for creating collages.

We at Sesaya love Josée’s work and are thrilled that her latest collage, the evocative “The Flight from Rest, will be featured in the Red Head Gallery’s Insomnia Salon Soirée. The yearly salon show, specially created for Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, will showcase a series of artworks that reflect the theme of Insomnia from October 1st to 5th.

As always, she spoke with tremendous clarity and passion about her inspirations, her process and her works.

1. The inspirations for your art are diverse and compelling, especially the blending of the East and West. Where do you get your inspirations?

My dad was into yoga and Zen philosophy. He was very philosophical and loved music. My mom was always into self-improvement and personal growth. She was and still is a beautiful, strong and resilient woman. I think they influenced me a lot, which helps to explain some of the things that inspire me.

I am inspired by SO MANY things. I am particularly interested in images from the early to mid-1900s. The esthetics, the fashion, the women, all fascinate me.

I feel very drawn to Buddha statues. Not only do I find them beautiful, it’s the peace and tranquility that seem to emerge from the images. I am also drawn to the philosophies of Buddhism and spiritual meanings of the poses and/or types of Buddha. They render a sense of calm in me.

I love Indian (South Asian) culture. I am especially fascinated and inspired by the symbolic meaning and mythology surrounding the various deities represented in Hinduism.

Bouddha et le colibri_Bouddha & Colibris_Mixed media on wood panel2. Out of the themes you’ve explored in your works so far, do you have a favorite?

I really don’t have a favourite theme. I think I love them all equally for different reasons. It’s also about what moves me or inspires me, and how long the inspiration lasts. For example, I might be working on a collage and while researching images, I will come across a compelling photo and leave the work behind to start on a new piece using the image I just found —  because I just have to! Once that urge, inspiration or connection has been fulfilled, I return to the previous work in progress to complete it.

3. How do you feel when someone buys one of your pieces? Does an artist get so attached to a piece that they are reluctant to let it go?

When someone buys one of my pieces, I am always so excited and grateful. It is encouraging and reaffirming. I don’t know about other artists, but I do get attached to some of my works, and sometimes I am reluctant to sell them!

The collages featuring my mother Jacqueline are not for sale because I am definitely too attached to them; they are very special to me. However, I had prints made of some of them, which are for sale, and they look fantastic!

Josée collaging

Josée collaging

4. Typically, how long might one piece take from inspiration to completion?

It really varies. The search for images can take days. Once I know which images I want to use, this is how it goes:

1. I create a background. Will I paint it, or cover it with a beautiful sheet of paper?

2. I then create a full mock-up. I size and print the images on my ink jet printer at home. I carefully cut them and lay them out, shuffle them around (this, too, can take days); then I take photos of each mock-up.

3. I load the images of the mock-ups on my computer to see which layout I prefer. This also helps me remember which pieces go where when I am ready to work on the “real” piece.

4. Once I am satisfied with the layout, I have the images printed at the photocopy shop down the street because the paper is better quality and the colours look way better.

5. With the images in hand, I cut and paste them and then start adding layers with paint, stencils and/or stamps.

6. Once the piece is finished, I add a coat of medium to seal everything in and protect the work.

Josée in action

Josée in action

So, to answer your question, it can take me a couple of days to a couple of weeks to complete a collage! What I do find fascinating when I start the process of creating a piece is that, consciously, I have an idea of where I want the work to go . . . but my unconscious seems to be the one in charge. I am often surprised at where the work takes me. My original ideas tend to morph into something quite unexpected, and that strikes me as magical.

5. Tell us about working full time and being an artist … How do you balance promoting other artists with working on and promoting your own art.

You have to be pretty organized and be able to juggle several projects at once, but it can be exhausting at times. However, making art is what keeps me grounded.

Promoting other artists is a joy for me, but it can be intense, especially when I have several shows on the go. But then, I just turn my chair around (my office and studio are in the same room!) and feel all of the stress melt away when I pick up my scissors or paintbrushes and work on my art.

Buddha in Bloom #1

Buddha in Bloom #1

6. Have you ever experienced a moment of crisis, e.g. artist’s block? How did you deal with the situation?

My mother was hospitalized recently and for the more than 3 months that she was in the hospital, I was unable to create one single piece of art. In fact, I ruined a couple of works in progress and had to give up entirely. My creativity was completely blocked–so much so that I even thought of cancelling this exhibit because I did not think I would have the time or energy to create the 8 news works I wanted for this show. I was in a bit of a panic, but then I figured it was totally pointless to freak out.

So I stopped trying so hard and let it go. I trusted that the Universe would help me through it somehow. When my mom went home and once I saw that her health kept improving, my creative juices started flowing again and BANG! I created my new series on Buddha, five on 18” X 24” panels and three measuring 24” X 24”. As the saying goes, I was on fire!

7. What is the best and worst thing about being an artist?

The best thing about being an artist is how it makes me feel: happy, calm, peaceful, grounded, but at the same time exhilarated. The worst part is that I can’t afford do it full time – yet!

The other aspect that I find difficult is the high cost of making and showing your art. Art supplies are expensive, and if you apply to art festivals, you have to pay a pretty hefty fee. If you want to take part in a group exhibit, there is a “hanging fee”. If you want to rent a gallery, the fees are very prohibitive. So, you have to come up with creative ways to show and sell your art.

8. What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Well, since I am an aspiring artist myself, I would say, just go for it! Believe in your work, and do everything you can to put yourself out there. Be creative in how to present and sell your work. Don’t be shy about promoting yourself. If you love what you do, trust that others will to.

Be patient, and don’t be discouraged if things don’t take off immediately. Work at developing your skills and your style. Look at other artists’ work, go to museums and art galleries, meet and share with other artists. Join an artist collective.

Most of all, love and enjoy and appreciate that you are a creative being!

FYI: José

What: “The Flight of Rest,” mixed-media collage in the Nuit Blanche Insomnia Salon Soirée

Where: Red Head Gallery, 401 Richmond Street West Ground Floor, Suite 115, Toronto, ON

When: October 1 – October 5, 2014, 12 noon-5:00 PM

© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya 2014

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