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Finding Your Visual Voice

J Claveau walking forward with her black dog, against an imaginary background of dominant blue, green background and scraped paint forming the image of an imaginary house in the background and walking down a treehouse ladder.
Treehouse Ladder, 12x12, Acrylic on Canvas, 2022 by J Claveau

I just realized today that I have artwork in my archives that is over 30 years old. It seems like an impossibility, but the proof is in the art and in my memory.

I happened to stumble across these two images recently and it sent me back to the moment I made them. I know exactly where a much younger me was, and what I was doing. Time shifted the moment I laid eyes on them. It was an unexpected moment of reflection that reminded me of where I came from and how far I have travelled along this path of creative exploration.

The glass seen here was a challenge to myself. I wanted to make it as realistic as possible and I only used one mechanical pencil and rolled paper smudgers to do it. Not sure why I chose a mechanical pencil, but I just remember that it was rebelliously important to me at the time. The glass was on the table, we were hanging out as usual in my boyfriend's parents basement (our pseudo apartment).

Sketch of a glass on a wood grain table casting a shadow
Stevie Ray Vaughan Water Glass Casting a Shadow 8x10 sketch on paper with mechanical pencil, 1991 by J Claveau

Stevie Ray Vaughan's documentary was on a repetitive loop that year, while the boyfriend worked on mastering Jimmy Hendrix's "Little Wing" in Stevie Ray style on his own real American Fender Strat. I grew to know and love that brilliant rendition, every detail, intricacy and inflection, having listened to it hundreds of times and not always by choice. I feel so close to it I can breathe it and paint it without even listening to it. Check out the live version here.

This guitar was my first. At age 15, I left behind my flute and the school band. My high school sweetheart taught me how to play this Canadian-made Norman 12-string, but with only 6 strings on it. I remember loving that guitar so much that it needed to be painted.

Acoustic guitar in watercolour, leaning aginst a wall
Norman 12-String Guitar, 8x10 watercolour on paper, 1991 by J Claveau

Time goes on and new memories keep piling on top of the old ones. Soon, there is so much distance between the old and the new, you realize that you have become an entirely different person. What never changes is that change is constant and you are always evolving and learning.

Learning has always been my focus. I am always trying to understand the not-so-understandable or the impossible. I'd be lying if I told you that I'm no longer obsessed with the subject of existence and who we are and why we are here. I have fine tuned that lofty goal of understanding the entire universe and focused on my own little box. My own little container of things where an infinite world of possibility exists. A playground where I can invent my own future in a wonderland of joyful experimentation. There is much to explore, test and learn, even within the boundaries of your own imagination.

I have always had a creative confidence and a belief in myself. I have always had faith in the idea that I could learn anything, create solutions, find answers and solve problems. The song from my album called "I Know" is about having faith in yourself. You can listen here:

Growing up everyone around me was always very encouraging and positive about my artwork, my music, my singing and lyric writing. As I made more art and music, it became a form of unguided therapy through rough times. It was a natural way for me to cope through my teen years, process emotions, to release ideas and to make myself and others feel better. Somewhere along the way, it was in senior years of high school, I felt that I had to choose between the two and I chose to focus on my music.

Photo of a man and a woman against a white backdrop from above, black and white
Eric Newby and Jennifer Claveau (Likewater) photo from Weightless CD released in 2004, photography by Sheralyn Rushton-Phillips

I was working on my voice and songwriting and trying to perfect my live performance. There was a perfectionism in our band which made me a better performer but not a better human being. The perfectionism and the business side of my music eventually killed me creatively, after a decade of slogging through the music industry, I called it quits around 2007. I had found my music voice but I knew it was time to change gears and follow my intuition. That is when I decided to find my visual voice.

Jennifer Claveau and Eric Newby, Likewater in Kensington Market, 2006, photo credit Lori Newby

I use the term "Visual Voice" intentionally. It is the name of this new blog but it was also the name of my radio show that I created and hosted on CIUT 89.5FM while attending the University of Toronto in the late 90's. I was exploring the connection between visual art and music while on air. I interviewed visual artists who were also musicians. I spoke with musicians who were making visual art and with others who were blurring the lines between the two. It was where I began to understand that there was no need to choose between art and music and that I truly wanted to do both.

I came to the realization quite recently that I actually needed to bring my art and music together in order for my whole self to thrive. Now that I am doing that, I have made great creative breakthroughs. I'm being more honest with myself and as a result, my art is a more accurate reflection of my true identity.

City Walk, 12x12 acrylic on canvas, digital version with collage, 2022 by J Claveau

Finding your visual voice is what this blog is about. What I have learned so far is that finding your visual voice is a process that requires time and patience. It is an unfolding and an unravelling of "darkness within darkness, the gateway to all mystery." ( Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu)

For me, at this moment in time, I am learning to breathe and paint in the same direction. As a singer and a painter, this makes me happy.

In this new blog, I will explore the connection between art and music. I will address art history topics, existential questions and musical connections that relate to our theme of visual voice. I will also include bits and pieces of my own life alongside fellow wanderers who I meet along the way.

Thanks for reading!

J Claveau

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