ICONS: Sophie Brussaux
It's 202-Won and Arts Help' highly successful series ICONS is back! Still reeling from our inaugural social change artists' tremendous global reception, we are thrilled to announce the illustrious French visual artist Sophie Brussaux. Her work highlights the importance of global change through art and is framed by the UN SDGs. Sophie's work has been seen all over, and Arts Help is honoured to positively amplify her work and her mission of raising the consciousness of global dilemmas.
Arts Help Managing Editor Hannah Chew sat down with Brussaux to discuss her work and the global impact potential of art.
You’re an artist, entrepreneur, and creative director, what did your journey to get here look like?
Art has always been a part of my life. As a child, I loved to paint, draw, or do anything creative. My art experience has always been diverse, and that journey has been just as multi-faceted. I have been in music videos; I've put on exhibitions worldwide, and now I'm creating programming for other artists. My journey looks like my life experiences: it emulates highlights of my life.
As an artist, how do you utilize your creativity in the rest of your work? Is there a demand for overlap between your multiple positions?
As an artist, I create, and I want people to have a unique experience with my work. I want people to have an emotional connection that will outlast their immediate viewing of my work. In my role as Chief Visionary Officer, I aim to accomplish the same goals through my work. I curate programming and experiences that align with the overarching mandate of leaving this world better than I came into it and creating a positive impact.
For example, at Arts Help, we are developing a project called Project Climate Change, an experiential learning opportunity that introduces climate solutions that are currently available to the general public. Through my ICONS Exhibition, I paint influential figures whose work aligns with the UN 17 SDGs. In both instances, I am curating art that can be experienced past the immediate interaction.
Much of your work centers around capturing pop culture icons, how do you make decisions about expressions, colours, and features without being reductive? Do you believe there is a way to capture personality and essence in simply still portraits?
The saying “the eyes are the window to the soul" holds true in all my artwork. When someone is looking into the camera and engaging with the viewer, it really brings out their true essence. When I find the picture that inspires what I would like to paint, I envision what the subject is really like. I try to find colours representing either the current emotion in the picture or what I believe is a collective representation of who they are. When I painted Freida Kahlo, the colours that I chose were based on the vibe that I got when I looked at pictures of her and when I experienced her art; the colours that came to mind ended up on the canvas.
To paint iconic figures is also to paint their legacies, how do you temper their controversies, opinions, and history while creating their portraits?
When I choose to paint an Icon, I research all aspects of their lives, not just controversies, but also opinions, actions, and history. I take all those things into account, and I evaluate for myself what I think about them. I believe that people are more than the sum of their parts, they are a whole being with complexities and life experiences that shape them into role models. When I paint ICONS, their actions and words serve as a compass to help me navigate both my admiration for their work and their lasting impacts.
Your body of work occupies diverse spaces from prestigious museums to nightclubs, how do you create work that appeals to different audiences and different environments?
I don't create art that is intended to appease different audiences and environments. The central message of the work that I produce is always focused on positive experiences or emotions. The moments in my life where my work was in a prestigious museum or a nightclub align with where I was in my life at the moment. Simply put, the body of work found its own home. Art is about expressing yourself and your thoughts through your craft, and by being authentic, your work finds a community that it aligns with or a community that it resonates with. I think that's vital for new artists to understand.
When painting such recognizable faces, your portraits likely evoke in individuals their own personal associations with these figures. How do you avoid (or perhaps embrace) your own bias while painting portraits?
I think people must understand the concept of bias. Bias, in its simplest form, is having a disproportionate weight in favour or against an idea, a notion, or a person. Because bias can be learned and unlearned, artists have a responsibility to acknowledge and embrace biases. An artistic depiction can create a positive or negative light on someone's opinion. No one is perfect in this world, and it is imperative that as a society, we can see the positive aspects and actions of people for what they are, even if parts of them do not align with personal beliefs.
Many of your portraits intentionally look outwards, meeting the viewer’s gaze directly. What is the intended relationship between your viewers and your art?
When you meet someone's gaze, it instantly creates a bond, even through painting. When I begin searching for inspiration, I look for personality and intensity that can be conveyed through a piercing gaze made of colour and brush strokes. When I was looking for photographic inspiration to paint President Barack Obama, I could not find the perfect image to capture both his smile and gaze. Because his smile is such a notable feature, I found a great compromise in a picture that expressed his emotions through the smile and the slight tilting of his head. It’s an image of genuine joy, given to viewers even without meeting their eyes.
Contemporary artists seem to constantly be compared to one another, do you think this trend makes for rich artistic dialogue or simply increases artist insecurity? How can artists overcome the constant scrutiny they’re under?
Inspiration comes from numerous sources, and because many artists are in similar environments and social media exposes artists to similar images, contemporary artists may draw on similar styles. Competition can help foster innovation and push artists past their self-imposed boundaries and past their comfort zones.
As an artist, do you think there is a correct balance between making commercially appealing art and staying true to what you want to do?
As an artist, there doesn't need to be a balance between commercially appealing art and staying true to what you do because they are not mutually exclusive. The “sell-out artist” concept or the “starving artist” stigma is one-way artists have lost confidence in their craft. At Arts Help, we have developed a curriculum called the Artist for Social Change because we wanted to combat the “starving artist” stigma. There are many avenues to staying true to one's art and having the right resources and tools, i.e., business and wellness tools that allow artists to make sustainable and profitable livelihoods through their craft.
There are plenty of misconceptions about becoming a full-time artist or pursuing a creative career that leads to fear and uncertainty in new artists. What would you say to contemporary artists in response to these criticisms?
My advice to new artists would be to take a holistic approach to your art and to consider the career you would like to build. To genuinely pursue a creative career will require effort and sacrifice. Many artists are afraid of commercialization because they fear losing control of their work or having their creativity stifled. But I think that is the wrong way to approach creative careers. I like to use the example of the Trojan horse–an artist armed with the knowledge of how to protect their work and how to navigate the business world will ensure that their creative career can thrive in nearly any environment or industry.
As one of the founders of Arts Help, you champion art as an essential facet of social change. People often argue that art has no place amongst science and technology in solving world problems. On a global level, what are the direct impacts art is making on humanitarian issues?
Society argues that STEM is the only key to solving humanitarian crises, but contrary to what they think, art impacts the solutions to these issues as well. I often refer to art as the neutral table that provides a seat for many stakeholders when tackling macro world issues. Art takes large, complex, and hard-to-understand problems and articulates them in a digestible and thought-provoking manner that allows more people to understand and relate. Art allows people in any circumstance to get involved and take small ownership of their circumstances in order to help solve world issues.
Your website mentions that motherhood has impacted your creative spirit. How has fostering a new personal relationship impacted your desire and/or inspiration to make art?
Motherhood gave me a different perspective on life. It made me reevaluate my environment. I realized the world I lived in wasn't a suitable world for my son to grow up in. Motherhood did this weird thing where my maternal instincts apply to my son and the 8 billion people in the world. It ignited in me a different level of empathy for the world and the things that people were going through, and made me want to help in any capacity I could.
Motherhood also made me evaluate my resources and contributions to the world. How could I possibly help the world without being a scientist or doctor? I came to realize that my impact could be made through my art, and that it was a valid vehicle for change. I know many people feel like they cannot contribute to the world’s betterment due to a lack of resources or education, but I wanted to show my son that his mother tried to leave him a better world to the best of her abilities. My platform allowed me to share my message of doing better with and for my fellow humans could be achieved through both global and hyper-local impact. Community engagement is critical because global issues will not be solved by one homogeneous solution for all but through small, impactful changes done by many people together.
Since you often have to create portraits from reference images or live models, where does your creative inspiration come in? What is your source of inspiration?
The art market and industry can be discouraging and challenging to new artists; how did you overcome the challenges and trials of entering the art world?
I simply did not listen to naysayers. Artists need to remember the reason why they want to create art. Your intention will be a guiding light and a source of strength when people don't believe in your art or if you find yourself losing your way; always remembering your “why” is going to keep you grounded in your beliefs. I am continually reflecting on my thoughts, goals, and visions for the future to keep me focused when the outside world doesn't see the bigger picture. And if I’m being candid, I just did not let anyone tell me I couldn't do shit.
Art is notoriously inaccessible to much of society. However, with the rise of the internet, artists and art-lovers everywhere are gaining power. How does your work aid this new move towards cooperation and accessibility?
There has always been elitism in art, and except for promoting the care of historical art, it has not left a positive impact. The rise of social media has given access to people of all backgrounds. At Arts Help, we provide a far-reaching platform for artists to share their work and art lovers to have first access to innovative and non-traditional art forms. To date, Arts Help has provided a platform for over 5000 artists from various career levels, featuring both a 16-year-old artist fromArgentina just starting out their career and world-famous artists such as Bou Bou from Senegal.
You have a vast online platform and influential online presence; do you believe people with this similar influence have a responsibility to use it for social good (i.e., championing social justice causes and encouraging dialogue)?
In short, yes, I do believe that people with influence have a responsibility to use it for social good. As an artist, there are ethical responsibilities that we owe our audience, mostly notably acknowledging the proper representation of people and events. I believe artists play a large role in creating or expelling biases and stereotypes of people. That is why all of the art and the work that Arts Help represents are related to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals framework. By aligning the work that we do with the SDGs, it allows artists to engage in socially conscious art that is digestible for anyone. I think that it is vital for artists to remain genuine because authenticity is their power. At Arts Help, we aim to give artists their voice back on a platform that reaches millions, and we allow artists to do that in an uncompromised form.
With the advent of social media and the rise in amateur creatives’ exposure, the line defining art has blurred away. What does being an artist mean for you? Is there a way we should be defining artistry?
I'm not here to define art, nor will I ever try to define what art is. Art is self-expression in its most valid form, it is that feeling in the pit of your stomach, and it encompasses both traditional and non-traditional art. With the rise of social media, people are being exposed to new forms of art, and that is also making it nearly impossible to really define art. It is no longer confined to a traditionally beautiful painting or that abstract sculpture. Being an artist, to me, means being able to express myself unapologetically.
What do you think up-and-coming artists can do to stand out and make a difference with their work in an increasingly saturated digital art market?
Find the one thing that makes your artwork unique. Think of the example of school kids who look over their shoulders when tasked with the same assignment. It's about blocking out the noise and focusing on expressing yourself. You will not see Banksy trying to paint the Mona Lisa or Harmonia Rosales recreating Mr. Doodles. These artists found their voice and success by being themselves, even when it wasn’t popular or mainstream.
What is a piece of advice for young artists and creatives?
Don't be stagnant in your creative work. Your art can always be evolving, changing and conveying different messages. If something doesn't feel right anymore, don't be afraid to pivot, and don't be afraid to explore creative avenues that piqued your interest.
For more information of Sophie Brussaux and her body of work, visit https://www.sophiebrussaux.com/about
To listen to Sophie Brussaux's playlist on Spotify, visit https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6NcViuG1I0y6TyLTYTYxse?si=Irdu585gR5CVehIwLwe2YQ.