Rachelle Elie is a Toronto-based self-taught painter, printmaker, clown, comedian and playwright. Her paintings are vibrant expressions of her inner landscapes, many of which are self-portraits of one sort or another. She uses bright colours and dramatic symbolism to express her vision and share her inner journey.
Both inspiring and uplifting there is a childlike playfulness to Rachelle’s work. When approaching a blank canvas she allows the materials, colours and impulse to guide the painting. She observes the creative process without judgement and lets the message transpire. This creates a synergy of colour, shape and design, allowing the medium to speak memories, stories and truths through the canvas. This style has evolved over the years as Rachelle has painted, travelled and been exposed to different techniques and ideas.
As a young girl Rachelle visited Haiti, her father’s birthplace, and these early experiences along with ongoing exposure to Haitien art and culture have had a deep impact on her work. Further travel introduced Rachelle to the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. She later discovered Miro, Gaudi and Picasso in Barcelona, and the French Impressionists in Paris. These early visual art experiences impacted her relationship to colour, design and painting.
As an emerging artist Rachelle spent three months painting in the tropical retreat of Fiji, with an associated visit to Australia. The rich culture and visual beauty of the Fijian people and islands, coupled with a tour of the the Kluge-Ruhe collection of Australian Aboriginal Art in Sydney left her deeply moved and further reinforced her own approach to painting. She noticed that the aboriginal artists worked from intuition, resulting in dynamic and expressive creations. This resonated with how she had been approaching her craft for years, not only in the visual arts but also in performance. Clown, comedy and theatre involve listening and following impulses. Rachelle’s integration of the originative process creates harmony within the creative urge. During this time she moved from paper to canvas and completed a series of paintings called the Fiji Works.
In addition to her travels, meditation has been a significant influence on Rachelle’s art. As a young woman she began attending ten-day silent Vipassana retreats. Through self-observation, this type of “insight meditation” aims at decluttering the mind and bringing inner peace to the meditator. The central figure in many of Rachelle’s paintings is a woman, eyes open or closed, in a contemplative stance. The shapes and details around the central face often represent mindful breath, a personal struggle, or an inner challenge. Rachelle’s years of acting training also involved inner search and self-reflection; ideas that often find their way into her drawings and paintings.
Recently Rachelle had the opportunity to turn that reflection outward; over three years she spent several months living and travelling in Kenya. While there Rachelle facilitated an eight-week course with thirteen HIV-positive artisans, teaching her own self-taught and process-based art. In 2009 she co-founded the Imani Artist Collective in Eldoret, in the western part of the country.
All of the artists were living in deep poverty. Daily life was a challenge and creative solutions were constantly being sought for basic needs. Although none of the artisans had ever painted, when brought to a blank canvas all were creatively free, in a way very unlike artists in North America. There was very little hesitation in their work. The art produced through this process centred on self-reflection, truth-telling, honest impulsivity, and – ultimately – process over product. The Collective’s work is documented in a book entitled “Living Positively: Kenyan Artists Paint Their Truths.” Their art is on permanent exhibition at the Riley Mother-Baby Hospital in Kenya.
Upon returning from Africa Rachelle has embarked on a new series of paintings and drawings. Several pieces were completed in Kenya and some have been completed upon returning to Canada. Her work continues to deepen as she commits to her inner process. Rachelle’s work is in many businesses and private collections in Canada, US and Kenya.