An Interview with Alice Dubois

Alice Dubois is an Evanston based artist. EPL is pleased and honored feature Ms. Dubois as the latest artist in our local artist exhibition series. You can currently view her art on display on the 2nd Floor of the Evanston Public Library. Ms. Dubois will be donating 10% of the proceeds from her sales from this show to the Evanton Library Friends. You can read more about her generous donation right here. To view more of Ms. Dubois’ artwork  you can visit her Flickr site.  We recently spoke with Ms. Dubois via email about her art, her inspirations, and what it’s like to be an artist in Evanston.

Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? How did you get started in art? What drove you to create in the beginning? What drives you now?

I was always interested in art because my parents had a lot of interest in culture, so we had a lot of books and took trips to the museums, etc. when I was a kid.  Mom encouraged my talent a lot- she saw to it that I was signed up for art classes and always had plenty of art supplies.  I think in the beginning, I was interested in drawing because it was a way of manifesting ideas or wishes I had.  I loved horses, so I was constantly drawing them and scenarios that I dreamed about.  In a way, I think that’s still what drives my art!  My ideas and dreams are different, but I think that is still the basic thrust of what makes me want to create. About a year ago I painted a picture of Thoreau gathering hickory nuts and I think that was a very literal example of what I’m talking about.  I kind of wish we could all go back to gathering food from the trees!

Your art seems to draw from many different styles at once. How do you describe your art? Do you see yourself as fitting in with any specific artistic movements or styles?

I do draw from a lot of different styles, but I think I relate most to surrealism and symbolism.  I guess I would describe it as symbolist work with surreal and abstract elements.  I once saw an interview with John Fahey where an interviewer argued with him for 5 minutes about what his music should be called, and in the end he said “I wouldn’t worry about calling it anything!”  I guess I agree that most true art defies categories in the end- but it does help to try and define it.  I really don’t pay much attention to what’s going on in the art world, so I don’t know if I fit into it at all!

One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit is your portrait of Robert Henri. In your description of the piece you write that Henri’s book The Art Spirit is a book that you “literally could not survive without.” That is a very powerful statement. Can you tell me more about Mr. Henri and his book and why it has had such an impact on your life and your art?

Henri was a teacher and a painter and was leader of a group of American artists at the turn of the century (1900). The Art Spirit is a collection of his writing. I first heard of him in a book about David Lynch (who is a painter as well as a film-maker) and he said something equally powerful about The Art Spirit, like it was his Bible or something.  I had to check it out; I like Lynch’s work a lot and had a feeling the book would be amazing.  I read the first page (I got a copy at the library) and immediately went out and bought it.  I rarely buy books, I usually use the library, but I knew I had to HAVE a copy.  When I say I couldn’t survive without it, I mean as an artist.  There have been many black moments when I’ve wanted to give up and get a “real” job and quit this hard grind, but Henri’s words have always brought me back on track.  It is one of the single most inspiring books about how to live the art life that I’ve read.

Many of your paintings feature or are named after authors, artists, or musicians both well known and obscure. What is it about these people and their work that inspires you to create a painting for them? Most people can probably relate to a piece of art or literature that really resonates with them, but I wonder what you find that so moves you to want to create something of your own in response?

I find a lot of inspiration in other artist’s work, especially literature.  I think a lot of times the link with certain artists is more subconscious or cumulative rather than literal.  Sometimes there is a direct link, but for example I did a painting called “Jellyfish Are Next” that was loosely inspired by a Gunter Grass book.  The painting is not literally about what I read of his, but rather influenced by his thoughts and the tone of what he wrote.

Following on with your paintings of authors and artists, I notice that many of your paintings dedicated to or titled after people often don’t feature a strait portrait of the subject, but instead often feature birds. What is the connection for you between these artists and birds?

To me birds are a symbol for a kind of miracle of beauty and fascination.  I think they represent for me a perfect gem that embodies the mystery of beauty.  There are other things I feel that way about (like trees and the sun), but the bird is like a tiny manifestation of a beautiful thought or idea.  So I link them to the artists I love.

In addition to birds, which show up all over your work, many of your paintings seem to contain a strong element or depiction of Nature. Do you find particularly strong inspiration in the natural world?  Living as you do in a large urban environment, how do you strike a balance in your life and your art between Nature and the city?

Nature is the most important element in my work.  I’m interested in how we live in nature and what’s happening now with our lives being at odds with nature, etc.  I used to live in Elgin and it was easier for me to wander away into a quasi-natural world on the bike trails, but having access to the lake serves that purpose for me here.  I like to see stretches of land where humans are not in evidence because we have this knack for trying to outwit and deny the balance of nature and it really doesn’t sit well with me.  I like people, but I don’t like what we’ve been doing here!  I think I focus on nature so much because it is healing to me.  I know nature can be harsh and brutal, but our attempts to tame and destroy it seem to be short-sighted.  I think we could be doing a lot more to try to live in balance with it and that would improve our chances of sticking around.  In short, I feel a strong sense of connection to nature and it hurts me to see it being demolished.

There also seems to be a very strong bicycle theme running through much of your work. Can you tell me a little more about what draws you to include bikes in your art?

I stopped using a car about 4 or 5 years ago and have never gone back.  I wish we were all using bikes instead of cars.  Our whole civilization is based on using cars and I don’t agree with that.  I walk and bike everywhere and have adjusted my life to it.  Part of why I can do it is because I’m self-employed.  I sympathize with people who have to go far to get to a job, but that is what I mean by our world is designed around cars.  If there were no cars, everyone would work within walking/biking distance of where they lived.  I think that would be great!

How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?

My boyfriend Tim and I moved to Evanston a year ago and it is absolutely the best place we’ve ever been in terms of people who love and support art.  It is amazing.  We’ve met so many fellow artists and lovers of art.  I think Chicago and Evanston are great centers of art and artists and I feel very lucky that I can make a living doing what I love here.  Being by the lake and all these wonderful trees is also a big inspiration- the town is beautiful and for the most part peaceful.  We’ve really flourished here.

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