Sandra Chevrier, an inspiration to all artists as someone who has broken through the barrier to international success, is beyond anything else, grateful that she has found and pursued her love of visual art. As we are humbly invited into her studio and home, we watch her create, paint, spend time with her son, and explore her collection of beautiful art and flea market treasures. She opens up about the gratitude she has for her son, a blessing that pushed her to take the chance of pursuing painting full time, as well as being a single mom, and what her current series “Les Cages” means to her and the dedicated fans of her work.
“It’s the best gift that I have…
that I love something so much, it makes me dream”.
Who are you?
Sandra Chevrier – I’m an artist from Montreal, I’ve been living here for seven years. I’m a single-mom, working at home in my tiny studio. I’m working on a series called “Cages” and that’s what I do everyday, from morning to night. And yeah, art is my passion.
How did you get into art?
S – I think that every artist, they just – it’s a part of us. It’s the way that we are and we have to do something about it. I remember when I was a child, instead of playing cards with the rest of the family, I’d be in the corner with my aunt doing crafts and drawing. When I was in high school, teachers would tell me to stop drawing on desks, but I’d tell them, “No, it’s not me, it’s not me”. But in the end, they would tell me that I was the only one who could draw that well. Then I had to decide what I wanted to do in Cegep. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, even if I couldn’t see myself making a living off of art because it seemed like an impossible dream. I didn’t allow that to stop me. So, I went to UQAM to do Fine Arts. When I had my son, I was working in a sushi restaurant, where I was a chef for five years. When I got my maternity leave, I decided to take the chance to just do this everyday, and it worked. I was super lucky and I will thank him forever.
Some might assume that having a child as a single-mom would make art too difficult or complicated to pursue. But having your son was what gave you the motivation you needed to commit to your dream?
S – I think that in the end, if I had to abandon art, I would have been angry at myself, or even angry at him, because I could have thought that it was kind of his fault or something. I didn’t want to do that, so I just decided to try and it worked.
Was there a moment in your life when you realized, “Yes, this is what I’m meant to be doing, I’m on the right path”?
S – I was fourteen and I went into Yves Laroche gallery when it was in the Old Port and, I dunno, I think I had a revelation… or they call it “Stendhal Syndrome”. I saw a painting by Heidi Taillefer, a Montreal artist who is super talented, and started to cry for two hours. It was unstoppable. The gallerist was like, “Oh my God, she’s crazy”. At that point, I was like, OK, if she can make me cry with just an image that she created and without any words, I told myself that is what I want to do. I want to tell stories, my own stories, show my vision and have people feel emotion out of just images. It’s beyond imagination and beyond words what you can do with just a canvas and a paintbrush.
Have you experienced people approaching you to tell you that your work has changed their lives?
S – I had two moms writing to me about their sons that they lost to cancer and that they saw something in my art that represented this fight that their child had to go through. They were superheroes until the end. It was the best gift I could ever receive. There’s another guy from Norway that wrote to me, he was a polo champion who got into a really big accident. All his life he thought that he had to be the best and then from one day to another he couldn’t do what he believed in. He didn’t know who he was because he couldn’t be a champion anymore. He told me that he was so desperate at that point, and then one day he saw my work and he started to believe that anything could be possible because even superheroes could be fragile, and that’s what I’m trying to say with my work. It was another great gift. I had the chance to meet him in Norway. It’s cool to inspire people, it’s the best reward.
Did you ever think about giving up?
S – I don’t think I’ll ever give up art. Even if I have choices to make, I think that in the end I would probably go crazy if I don’t make art, so it would not be a good thing for my sanity. [laughter]
If I leave for a week to travel, when I get back I feel like I really need to paint, to create something.
Tell me about when you began to sell your artwork.
S – I remember at first, when I started selling my paintings, it was so hard because I used to paint a lot for myself, to release my inner demons. And then I thought that it was so strange that people would want to live with those demons. It was hard at the beginning, but now I’m used to it and I’m so happy that people want to live with a part of who I am.
What inspires you on a day to day basis?
S – I think that everything in life is inspiring. When I watch my son paint, he’s so free. He doesn’t need to finish the work or be satisfied by it. He’s just doing what he wants and expressing what he is and it’s so fun for him. Sometimes, as an artist, you’re always thinking about what you are doing, what it will look like, trying to create something that hasn’t been created before, but when I look at my son, I’m like, “It’s so easy”. He has inspired me to just express myself a bit more. When I started to paint, I wanted things to be so perfect, but now I just want to have fun. But yeah, life in itself, the everyday beauty is inspiring.
What inspired you to start “Les Cages”?
S – I think it was a rainy day and I was in my apartment with my son and we were doing crafts. I took some old portrait sketches I did with graphite and I took some cheap paint and started to cover the faces. When I started to really look at the paintings, I realized there was something there, something powerful, like a prison or a cage, and that’s where the title came from. I think I did it for about a year and a half and I stopped for about six months because I didn’t know where else I could take it. I was at the flea market – I’m addicted to flea markets – on a Friday morning, and I bought some comic books to cover my drawer for a DIY project, but when I was ready to start the project my IKEA drawer broke, so I was left with all these comics. I just had the idea of, “Why not put it on the portraits?” I felt that the meaning would be even more powerful because society is asking us to be superheroes. Everybody has a cage, something they live with and are afraid of. Society puts pressure on us with images of who we should be: the perfect mom, the perfect man, the perfect woman. I think that’s why the series is doing well, because we all feel like we live with these cages.
Are there any “cages” that you live with?
S – Oh my God, yeah! That’s why I started this series. I feel like my life is really crazy – I am driving myself crazy. I have so many expectations for myself. It’s so hard to be so many things at the same time and do everything right. I’m trying to let go of my own cages, but it’s really hard and that’s probably why I’m still doing this.
Being an artist and a single-mom, how does it come into play while raising a son?
S – I’m just trying to be the happiest person I can, so that when my son looks at me, he’ll be happy for me. I wish that it will inspire him to follow his dreams. I just hope he will be as passionate about something as I am with art. Passion is something really rare, not every person on earth has a passion. It’s the best gift that I have… that I love something so much, it makes me dream.
Do you have a lot of support from your family?
S – Yeah, my family is always there when I have shows. They’ve never told me that I shouldn’t do this because it’ll be a hard life or an impossible dream to want to live off of art. I just think they saw that this was the only thing that I wanted to do, so they let me do my thing. I don’t think they expected me to be as successful as I am right now, I didn’t even think it was possible. But yeah, they’re super proud of me and always there. It’s the best thing to know that you are not alone and that people appreciate your art even when you’re just starting and the things you are doing are not that great. I remember, as a teenager, the art I was making wasn’t that great. [laughter]
What was it like growing up in your household? Was art present?
S – My father has always been into collecting art, which I think helped me become who I am. He was the one always bringing me to galleries. That’s probably how I came to this revelation.
What do you feel like your biggest accomplishment has been so far?
S – Just being able to travel and to meet so many art collectors, artists and gallerists. Going to countries where I never imagined I could go, that’s a big accomplishment for me. It’s fulfilling. There’s so many things that happened in the past years that I’m grateful for.
Have you met anyone through your work that stood out to you?
S – The first person to buy my art, who wasn’t from Montreal, was Martin Reed. He’s a gallerist from Norway. I showed my work twice there. We became friends and he’s such an inspiration, so passionate. It was really weird, the first time we met we had an interview and it was hard for me to talk about my art so he just started to say things about my world, about my art. Even if we didn’t know each other at that point, he totally understood everything about me, and that was crazy. Just by looking at what I created he could describe me. It was amazing. I will surely keep him in my life forever. But yeah, I’ve gotten to meet people I never thought I could meet. Social media, like Instagram and Facebook, are so perfect for artists. I think that’s why things are working great for me. The first collectors to buy my work were from elsewhere, from the international market, and they saw my work on social media. Now I’m friends with Swizz Beats and he’s a super great visionary. He’s a true fan of art but he wants to help artists also. It’s surreal when you reach people you never thought you could reach and they want to help you.
What is your greatest ambition, what do you strive for?
S – I try not to have too many high expectations because I don’t want to be disappointed. But of course, I have goals. I never imagined I could live what I’m living right now, so I’m just waiting for life to surprise me. Every week, I experience surprises that come out of nowhere. Life goes by and I’ll see what she has for me.
Why do you think you love flea markets and collecting?
S – I don’t know, I see all these objects and I just feel like they are filled with stories, secrets, and that they saw something that I didn’t. I don’t like buying new things. I think at some point it becomes a sickness, [laughter] I see something and my heart starts beating and I’m just like, “I WANT IT! I WANT IT!” It’s the same thing with art, I started to collect paintings from different artists. I try to buy art from Montreal artists. When I like someone’s work, I buy like 10 of them, even if I don’t have any space on my walls.
Why do you think it’s important to be ambitious?
S – There are no limits in life so you should never limit your imagination. It’s important to just do things for yourself even if it’s hard. It will never be as you thought it would be, but it’ll probably be something better or you will learn something out of the experience. That’s what is good in life, you never know what’s going to happen that day, but in the end you always learn something. It’s important to be ambitious. It’s really hard to have self-confidence, I’m surely not a great example. I’m always questioning myself, not sure if what I’m doing is right or wrong. But in the end, I just do it because I want to do it.
What would you say to an aspiring artist?
S – I know that I’m a very, very lucky person. I met some people in my life that helped me a lot. I’m working with a partner, Jean-Pascal Fournier who opened the C.O.A gallery in Montreal, and he helped me a lot. He had all the contacts, the connections and the knowledge of the art world that I didn’t really have at that point. I don’t know if things would be how they are now if we never crossed paths. Maybe I’m just lucky. I see a lot of artists struggling and being so desperate because things are not working out, but I don’t know, I think that if you have a passion then you have the greatest gift ever. You should just believe in what you do, in your dreams, and if it’s not working then continue to do it anyways… because it’s what makes you happy.