“While reading, weeding the garden, or making dinner, I’m also solving the painting.” Featured Artist: Crystalle Lacoutoure

Crystalle Lacouture is an artist based in Boston and North Adams, MA. She received her BS in Painting/Printmaking from Skidmore College in 2000. During the decade she lived in NYC, Crystalle was a longtime assistant to activist artists Nancy Spero and Leon Golub, worked at the Lower East Side Printshop, and at the Academic Arts Agency, College Art Association.  In addition to her full-time studio practice Crystalle curates exhibits, has worked as a private art consultant, and is a curator at TOURISTS, a hotel near Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA. She is represented by Beth Kantrowitz from BK Projects and Drive-By Gallery in Boston. Recently several of her paintings were acquired by Fidelity and she was interviewed for the podcast, I Like Your Work. She was nominated and accepted to the Surf Point residency in Maine and is curating two upcoming exhibits for summer of 2020.

Photo by Lisa Neighbors

Could you explain what your art is like?

I’m a painter working in oil paint on medium to large scale canvases.  I also make drawings and prints. My work is mostly abstract and based on fabrics and significant clothing I remember from my life.

What are important motherhood contexts people should know about you?

Being a mother is complicated and the road getting there is often fraught with expectation, defeat, and anxiety. Besides an early miscarriage our conception story was relatively straightforward. My husband and I had our first daughter in Williamsburg Brooklyn in 2009. Louise. 

I was by no means young at 30, but compared to my immediate peers I was one of the first of my friends to become a mother. It was wonderful to have a baby but it completely and dramatically changed my community, the hours I spent outside the apartment, and my connection with the city in which I lived.  I went from being a connected artist with a developing professional practice to a new mother who was pretty isolated in an increasingly small apartment. 

When Louise was two years old we moved to the Boston area and promptly had identical twin boys. To say I was shocked to have three children under three would be an understatement.  I feel like I am still recovering from that period of hectic parenting and overstimulation. Wild times!

Housecoat (Mamie) 2020, oil on canvas, 48×42, Photo by Lisa Neighbors

How has the practice of your creative life changed since motherhood?

I’m sure this is a common answer but time is the ultimate luxury for a mother in any field but especially in the arts. Not only does an artist need time to make their work and see art at museums and galleries, they also need time to simmer ideas and experiment without interruption. During my kids’ baby and toddler years it was impossible to work. I was too wiped out. I had a tiny attic studio and worked sporadically. In those years I did things other than painting- I illustrated a children’s book called The Moth and the Firefly, did some graphic design, and worked a few jobs as an independent art consultant, but it was very fragmented and I was not completely engaged in any of it. I felt like I would never find myself or my work again.  And I really didn’t until all three were in preschool and elementary school. 

About 5 years ago we moved into our current house where I have my studio in a separate barn structure in the backyard.  It has been a game-changer. I can work in all the small cracks in the day (after bedtime, weekends when my husband helps out) and now, finally that all the kids have 6-hour school days, I get a good chunk of uninterrupted work time.  So, there is more time but I still have to be relentlessly determined. Like all of us I have to magically summon the energy to be both mom and artist, simultaneously.

Of course, now that we’re living through a pandemic, normality is out the window.  The kids are everywhere and I’m spending a lot of time guiding them through distance-learning. For the first month of this quarantine I was frozen in a state of mourning and felt overwhelmed by the invasion of my family into my workday, but now, 9 weeks (!) in, I’ve reached some version of acceptance and am painting again. Like everybody, in any discipline, I have questions about what to make now that life is thrown off its axis and there is real tragedy in our midst, but for now I’m just going to keep going.

Petit Bateau, 2020, oil on canvas, 48×42, photo by Lisa Neighbors

What has been most challenging about sustaining a creative life in motherhood? 

Staying focused. 

What’s been the best surprise about having a creative life in motherhood? How do they go together? 

A great surprise is that they go together well. We’re trying to raise our children to be open-minded and creative.  They’ve been so fortunate.  They’ve seen (not always willingly) some of the world’s greatest art in many of its finest museums. We bring them with us to openings and performances and show them that we prioritize engagement with our artistic community. We live with art in our home, hang out with creative people… I think we’ve been successful in just making it what we do and where we go as a family.

What are the particular issues that come up as an artist in your field with children? 

Cultivating patience and accepting limitations. I know this phase of having young children is temporary so I try to enjoy it and them but I definitely have dreams of escaping it all for long solo travel and extended residencies for the sake of deepening my practice or working on a specific project. Several times I’ve had to say No to exciting residency opportunities due to limited childcare or my daughter’s separation anxieties. It’s just the current reality. I’ve learned to accept that life happens in phases. This phase is the stay-close-to-home phase. 

What’s been your most important mantra for having a creative life as a mother? 

“Just begin.” I’m one of those artists who figures things out through trial and error and editing. I think and draw and look at images but I don’t make a lot of fussy preparatory sketches or plans. Who has the time?! When I can’t be in the studio physically making the work, I am thinking about it. While reading, weeding the garden, or making dinner, I’m also solving the painting. That’s one of the reasons I love my phone.  At the end of studio time I photograph the piece I’m working on so I can reference it throughout the day. Keeping the work in my pocket liberates me from having to run back and forth into the studio. 

Another little note- Exercise is critical for me. I cannot settle down or focus unless I move my body. Yoga, cycling, walking, or dancing –  I feel like some form of physical exertion both centers and energizes me. In fact, I think that’s huge for any mother. Mothers are already the strongest women on Earth but don’t always get an opportunity for endorphin-boosting exercise. Pop those kids in a stroller (I had a triple!) give them a bunch of snacks and hit the streets. Sometimes that’s the only way to find quiet and space to think.

Who are other artist mothers in your field that inspire you?

There are countless women to mention but here are a few artist friends who bowl me over with their work and ability to keep it up while being great mothers:

  • Meghan Brady, @meghanbrady, a beautiful abstract painter and mother in mid-coast Maine
  • Ali Smith, @alismithpainter, makes vibrant power-packed abstract paintings in LA
  • Helena Wurzel, @helenawurzel, super-charged, figurative painter near me in Cambridge, MA
  • Daniela Rivera, @driveraclerfeuille, genius conceptual artist, painter, and mother from Chile
  • Alison Fox, @lazy_lazure,  abstract painter and teacher, finding the spiritual in color and nature, based in upstate NY
  • Kimia Kline, @alkeemi, Brooklyn-based figurative painter and curator
  • Susan Metrican, @metrican, makes hybrid sculpture/paintings about heritage and storytelling. They’re amazingly inventive.

And as far as art that inspires me right now, beyond these women… Here are two artists I’ve been looking at lately. Both are making work that poignantly speaks to this moment of Covid-19, particularly for mothers, who are socially distancing from everyone except their children and partners.

  • Madeline Donahue, @madelinedonahue, her paintings and sculptures of intertwined mothers and children capture that feeling of the early years of parenting when you practically merge bodies with your child through nursing, close touching, and co-sleeping. 
  • Rania Matar, @raniamatar, is an incredible photographer.  Recently she’s been photographing neighbors and friends, especially mothers and children, through the windows of their homes. The images are heartbreaking and poetic. 

To learn more about Crystalle or support her work, visit her instagram@crystallelacouture or her website www.crystallelacouture.com

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