By: Ina Joseph
Art is in Yael Talleyrand’s blood. This 27-year-old Haitian painter, freelance designer, and social media addict grew up in a family of creative’s whose work was intuitive. She knew all her life that no other path besides visual art would fulfill her. “If you’re meant to be an artist, nothing else will work for you,” Yael said.
Although she grew up and is currently based in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, her influence draws from sources beyond the island. After attending art school in the U.S. everything began to inform her work - from the varied mediums she dabbled with in her classes in Cleveland and Baltimore to the graffiti and other modern art she admired outside her classrooms. Not only did her skillsets expand, but her work developed purpose. She activated something she didn’t even realize was so crucial to her art while drawing in her beach house in Haiti – a voice.
Pensando en ti con mi man (2020) and a close up shot. Oil on canvas by Yael Talleyrand.
“You learn who you are, what you struggle with, what you represent in the society that you live in, and what your voice is supposed to be. Your art is supposed to be your voice, basically,” Yael said. “It's your work, it's like you're writing a book. you have to learn a lot about your place in society and create from that. I felt like when I was in Haiti, I was just like drawing to draw.”
Now, Yael unapologetically draws from her experience as a mixed raced woman to tackle issues of representation in art. Often combined with an affinity for cubist abstraction, Yael’s style upends classic European influences by depicting them with women of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
“I feel like art for me is a language, I make art about anything that matters to me or that I have an opinion about...The stronger my connection to the subject the more expressive the work will be”
What’s your process? What do you do when you reach a block or run out of inspiration?
Honestly, I wait. When I was inspired, I didn’t know that that’s what it was. I was just like, ‘Hey, I’m working. I don’t know what’s inspiration; you just get up and you work!’
My creative process will depend on the medium. But, for painting, I just wake up and I paint. I just do. It’s intuitive...I think there’s a separate God for artists that, as long as you’re like willing to produce, they kind of just arrange for everything and you get drawn into whatever you need to do.
What unique perspective does your art bring to the world? What makes you different?
I feel like there’s an equal level of classic European, modern American, and Haitian culture influences in my work that I don’t see in a lot of [paintings]. The only girl I’ve seen kind of go in the same direction as me was my student [laughs]. So, I’ll take credit!
Most Haitian artists lean towards one direction; you have [Haitian artists] who are doing really classical, hyper-realistic work. Or you have people that look at old Haitian painters and try to replicate that exact style. Or you have [Haitians] who, once they go to the States, they want their work to look like American art.
I guess you may want to abide by a scene; the American scene has that alluring aspect to it. It’s like you want to be part of the “cool kids”. The European scene is a very serious thing. The American scene is more like an entertainment entity, so, I feel like you want to be seen at these [American] galleries, have these people come to your show, have Jay-Z buy your work.
But, [out of] these different influences, I don’t lean towards anywhere. I don’t feel like anyone’s work looks like mine. If you see a painting of mine in a room, you’re going to know it’s mine.
"If you see a painting of mine in a room, you’re going to know it’s mine."
How does social media impact your work or artistic process?
People won’t spend a lot on a painting unless they have a connection with the person who made it (unless they’re a billionaire and they’re just buying art to put somewhere). So, social media helps make that connection with people. Most of my work I sell from Instagram, not galleries.
I follow all the people I went to art school with. A lot of my timeline is the people I went to school with; they’re literally all amazing. But when you’re a professional artist, you already have to have the confidence... the way social media pressures people to be a certain way or not feel good about what they’re doing? That can’t happen to you if you’re a professional artist. You’ve already decided: if I didn’t think I was good enough at painting I would not be painting.
The pressure you do get, though, is the pressure to post. People have a two-second attention span and if you have to give people something to see every day or else you go down in relevance. So, I see a lot of people do “fast art” but I can’t do that, sometimes my process is really slow. I’m trying to detach from that pressure [to post]; I only post details of my work, and I do a lot more writing now so I’m not just giving away the work.
I don’t compare my work anymore, just work ethics. Once you have your own style, it’s not even you controlling it anymore... I wouldn’t want to be comparing my path to somebody else’s path because there’s no final destination.
What has being an artist taught you about yourself and the world?
I feel like most people that are artists are people that are not necessarily able to blend into society very easily, and I feel like art is my connection to the real world.
[For example] I grew up in a house of artists on the beach; my house didn’t have walls for a really long time...so when I see locks, I freak out. Basic things [I’m not very good with]. When I didn’t have my art as my receipt for why I was different, it taught me that if I was just the way I am without my art, the world would be kind of hostile to me. The artists have the privilege of being the ones who don’t force normalcy onto us.
All that to say, art taught me that I’m weird, and it taught me that it’s ok to be weird if you’re expressing that weirdness in a way other people can consume it.
What’s your biggest piece of advice to aspiring artists?
Take good care of yourself. You’re making the art.
I don’t understand the concept of, “I’m not going to get a job because I want to be a painter! My life is a mess, and I could do something, but I’m not going to but just want to [make art]!” Sometimes you just have to take a break so that the art that comes out.... when you’re an artist everything you do is art.
If you have to be a waitress, maybe it’s the conversations you’re having with people that are going to be the inspiration for your art afterwards. Don’t bash any part of what you have to do for you to be good.