Bringing Art to Everyday Life: An Interview with Marianne Chevalier

Photo by Éliane Brodeur.

We recently sat down virtually with Montreal-based artist Marianne Chevalier to talk about her art, practice, and what she loves about public art. You can see the full interview on YouTube.

Tell us more about your work as an artist.

I have been working in the field of art and illustration since 2005. I have a background in graphic design, and in 2005 I started working in illustration. Above all, I am an illustrator, from the very beginning of my career. It was after that that I decided to do a master’s degree in Visual Arts and it was then that I really discovered a new profession, which is the visual arts, which is completely different from how we work in illustration.

What kind of art do you do?

I work with collage. It's a collage of pieces of photocopied images that I cut with scissors, then I glue them together, and after that I scan it on the computer. I add the colors in Photoshop. When I scan it, I scan it in very, very high-resolution planning for the fact that it's going to be very large.

It wasn't a big problem for me to take the leap and work with very, very large formats for public art. These are really skills that I acquired during my career in illustration, then applied to my visual arts practice.

Photo by Éliane Brodeur.

How did you get into public art?

In 2017, I didn't know public art at all, and at the time I was working on a large mural for a solo show in a gallery. An artist colleague told me that this mural would work really well as a piece of public art. Then that's when I said to myself, "This could be interesting.’”

I went through training with RAAV (Regroupement des associations d'artistes en arts visuels du Québec) to learn what kind of expertise was needed to work in the field of public art. I realized as I was doing the training that I was qualified to do it. That's when I took steps to be part of the pool of government artists and I began to receive invitations in 2019.

Photo by Éliane Brodeur.

How do you find public art opportunities in Quebec?

We’re lucky in Quebec because we have the Art and Architecture Integration Law. When there is a building that is subsidized by the government, whether it is a new building or a major renovation, or an expansion, for example, the law obliges the clients - the city or the school or the school board and so on- to set aside 1% of the overall budget for the integration of a public work of art. We are the only province in Canada that has this. I've even heard there are artists from other provinces who decided to move to Quebec just for this.

What are some of the challenges you face when working on a public art project?

There's no doubt that each project has its specific constraints, according to where the work will be installed. When it's outside, for example, you have to think of the wind, you have to think of the ice, you have to think of the birds, the animals that could build nests in it, you have to think of the anchors, then in relation to that, will it anchor into the cladding, so there is this whole question of insulation, thermal bridges, all that. All this is evaluated with an engineer and the installer. You have to rack your brain every time, but that's how it is.

Photo by Éliane Brodeur.

You’re also dealing with the construction business, so it's a way of doing things that has nothing to do with the world of illustration or working in visual arts. When I have illustration jobs, which I still work on, I'm used to working very quickly, usually within one or two weeks. Construction isn’t like that at all! I can get extremely impatient, so it is really an adjustment for me in terms of rhythm.

Who do you work with on your public art projects?

When I started, I found it quite complicated because public art is extremely specialized, and you don't hear much talk about the trades that work in this field. When you start, it's a challenge to find your team.

What is important for me is that the colors and the resolution are impeccable. So now my team is The SH Group with their ALTO products, as well as François Tessier for the installation, and my engineer is Nicholas Pelletier.

Photo by Éliane Brodeur.

How did you find out about ALTO™?

I was doing research to try to find a durable construction product, with the colors and all that, so I was doing the research with keywords like public art, Quebec, et cetera, and then I came across the ALTO website. Then at the same time, I was asking other artists working in public art who referred me to The SH Group and the ALTO products. I am often invited to make murals, and it has to be on something durable. So when I saw the product, I said, “Oh, this could be very interesting for me!”

Tell us about “Turlututu, chapeau pointu.”

“Turlututu chapeau pointu” is a great example of Marianne’s signature style. Render by Vincent Gagnon.

I did a work of art in a school that was made with ALTO™ Aluminum. It is inspired by fairy tales; I made these large images based on folk and fairy tales from Grimm, Andersen and Perrault. One of the project requirements for this school was that the work of art be inspired, generally, by literature. It was a personal choice to go in the direction of fairy tales. The school does a lot of theater workshops, a lot of literature and art workshops and is really focused on culture, so the murals really act as tools for the teachers. It’s part of their education.

As an illustrator I have done a lot of workshops with children in the past, to promote my books, for example. Working with children is really integrated into my practice, because at its core it’s about introducing them to art.

Why do you think public art is important?

What I think is important about public art and what I find so interesting is that it is art that presents itself to the population. People don't have to move to special places reserved for art, which are often perceived as elitist spaces that are difficult to access. People are embarrassed sometimes about going to a gallery or to a museum.

I always say that public art offers people a democratic way of integrating art into everyday life. What I find really fun - to go back to a light box piece I just installed - it's in a hallway of a primary school and the children would pass by when we were installing it and say "Wow!" It shows me that I have succeeded because these people, these children, these adults get to see this work every day and it will brighten their lives.

Photo by Éliane Brodeur.

It’s also a tool for teachers to use to initiate them into the world of art. What is art, why is it there, why do think the artist did it that way, what did she mean? It's really an introductory course into the world of the imagination, into creativity, and that turns it into a jumping off point for doing cultural workshops with children on so many subjects.

That's what makes me so passionate about public art. It’s not only interesting to artists because it’s a good source of income, but there is also there is also something very democratic about it.

Thank you to Marianne Chevalier for speaking with us. "Turlututu, chapeau pointu" is a series of digital collage murals, sublimated onto powder-coated ALTO™ Aluminum and installed at École Premier-Envol in Bedford, QC. You can see more of Marianne's work here.

Watch the full interview in French with French or English subtitles:

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