Audree Marsolais is a Canadian painter and graphic designer based in Ras Al Khaimah.We can’t help but smile when we look at her whimsical paintings. The colors and bright floral motif scream joy with an air of fantasy. Audree worked as a professional graphic designer after graduating from the Academy of Arts and Technology in Montreal in 2000 before taking the plunge to paint full-time when she and her family moved to the UAE in 2015.
Creativity Undefined spoke with her about the inspiration behind her work, her intuitive approach to painting, and how relocating to the UAE has allowed her to reinvent herself and follow her dream of becoming a full-time artist.
Tell us about your artistic journey. What is your earliest memory of creating art and how did you become the artist you are now?
My childhood memories are filled with paint, crayons, colours, and piles of paintings and drawings. Art was my way of escape (and it still is today). I have always considered visual art as a form of poetry and a very important means of expression. I studied graphic design in 2000 and worked as a designer ever since and always kept drawing or painting in my free time. I eventually decided to go all in on my painting practice in 2015 after our move to the UAE.
How would you describe your style? Who/What are your greatest influences and how did you develop your style?
I absorb my inspiration from many areas: fantasy stories, anime movies, folklore and legends, and Islamic art. Similarly, nostalgia and melancholy are engines for my creativity. Although my style of work cannot fit into one specific style, it falls somewhere between post-impressionism and expressionism. I admire the art of Golnaz Afraz, Flora Bowley, Hilda af Klint, Edvard Munch, Alfred Pellan and Jean-Paul Riopelle.
What is your favourite medium and why?
I work mainly with acrylics. I especially love the fluid ones. Acrylic dries quickly and it is super forgiving so you can always correct any kind or mistake or paint over parts that you don’t like that much.
How has life as an expat influenced your art and creative process?
The good thing about moving to a new country where no one knows you is you can decide to be whatever you want, so I took my chance. I was always scared of calling myself an artist, but when I came to the UAE, I decided to introduce myself as such right away and it changed everything. I took myself and my art more seriously. I also had quite a lot of free time since I wasn’t working, so when my youngest started school I began to paint almost every day, and just practice, practice, practice!
What hidden gems should people know about in Ras Al Khaimah’s arts community?
Hidden gems are very rare in the UAE, most people know about all the good inspiring places! RAK has beautiful beaches, quiet desert spots and breathtaking mountains.
What are your favourite tools and tricks for creating texture in your work?
I love Catalyst silicon tools from Princeton. Sometimes I don’t even use brushes for my backgrounds, just their blades and wedges.
Is there a painting you would never part with? If so, which one is it and why?
There’s one particular painting I would have a very hard time to part with. It was created during a difficult period of my life and it symbolically represents something challenging I went through. Looking at it always brings back very particular memories and feelings.
Looking back, what was your greatest achievement and your greatest challenge? Why?
Bearing, delivering and raising four boys. Being a mom is not something that feels natural for me. I’ve always found it extremely tough and I’m so proud to say the most challenging years of motherhood are behind me and I (and the boys!) made it!
Is there anything that you would’ve done differently or wished had happened differently? What? Why?
No. I have no regrets and would not change anything, I believe everything is meant to happen just the way it does for us to learn and grow. Especially the difficult stuff.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? Has that changed since the pandemic hit last year? Why?
Nature and emotions have always been my main source of inspiration and that never changed.
How do you overcome artist’s block?
Since my approach is intuitive, I never really face the artist’s block. I just intuitively paint and build layers until something comes up. Some days I make really crappy work but that doesn’t stop me from creating even if I don’t like what I’m doing. I’m not waiting for inspiration to strike. I just paint until I’m satisfied with the result.
Who would you jump at the chance to collaborate with, if given the chance? Why?
Music is my other passion and I would love to work with musicians, either to illustrate their music, work on album covers, merch, etc. There are a few Canadian artists I would particularly love to collaborate with, like Patrick Watson, Half Moon Run and Klo Pelgag.
The pandemic’s had a lasting impact on everyone. What was the biggest adjustment that you’ve had to do?
Last year, I’ve lost all the opportunities, projects and collabs I’ve been working so hard on since 2015, all because of the pandemic. I’m now trying to rebuild, not exactly sure what I want the next steps to be for my business. I’m mainly teaching art now even if that’s not what I prefer doing.
Do you think that you’ll maintain any changes once things return to normal? If yes, what and why? If no, why?
I’m not sure at this point. It’s an important reflection moment for me, as I have made other big moves in my life that might also influence the direction I will take with my art and business.
What shifts have you observed from creatives? Will these last beyond the pandemic? Why?
The main thing I observed is burn out from many creatives that are trying to keep their head above water at the moment. I know several artists who are drained with the demand of social media and keeping up with the business when all we really want to do is create!
In all the years you’ve been living and working as a full-time artist in the UAE, what developments have you observed in the arts community? What changes would you like to see?
Being an artist in the UAE is very challenging. I feel art is not taken seriously, at least not as it is in Europe or America. Emerging non-local artists are not really supported, especially in smaller emirates like Ras al-Khaimah, where I live. There’s no art community, no art galleries, very few (and not interesting) art events.
How do you split your time between Canada and the UAE? Are you planning any upcoming shows?
I usually spend the school year in the UAE and summer in Canada. I have no upcoming shows.
What are you currently working on? Can you share some details about some upcoming projects?
I’m working on my 2022 calendar and taking custom orders for painted shoes (something that is working pretty well at the moment!). And of course I’m always creating some new paintings.
What advice would you share with anyone starting out that you wished someone had told you?
There are no easy ways! You will need a lot of practice and a lot of patience.
What’s the WORST piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?
“If you want to sell your work, do what people want”. I’m not making art to please people. My art is a means of expression and if people like it and want to buy it, that’s wonderful!
What’s a goal that you hope to achieve, personally and professionally, in the next five years?
I would absolutely love to finally be able to organize art retreats (I had one mind-blowing offering for March 2019 that was canceled due to Covid) on a regular basis. I’m hoping to go to different parts of the world to hold these events and combine travel with art making/teaching.