From Neon to Lilac

After 12 years of hard work and sacrifice, Josiane Lanthier is just starting to make a living off her paintings. We offer a portrait of a sparkling artist who’s more and more at ease.

Text—Mélanie Gagné
Photos—Eliane Cadieux

The lower sky
has colours
that will want you.

— Guillevic

 

September, Charlevoix: I’m on the road, and the landscape too is on its way somewhere. The greens are fading, and the sky is dishing out colours—a myriad of yellows, oranges, and reds. The call of geese travels over the mountains. I make a promise to remember this beauty. I’m thinking about Josiane Lanthier; I’m eager to hear her talk about her art and about how she records the landscape with her senses.

Lanthier is 30 years old and has been a painter since the age of 18. The Montrealer is in Baie-Saint-Paul for an artist’s residency at the Maison Mère, a former convent of the Petites Franciscaines de Marie, which was transformed into workspaces and art studios in 2017.

When she greets me on this autumn Saturday, she’s blooming. She’s wearing a black hoodie and pastel pants covered in paint stains. She suggests we take a tour of the Maison Mère before we climb to the top floor where she works. We survey the chapel, its hallways covered in artworks and photos of nuns, before going up to the roof for the view. Lanthier’s borrowed studio is a white room with a high ceiling and two windows, through which a few geese are visible on a cloudy day. Wildflowers are drying with their heads pointed downwards near the door. Paint jars and cans, brushes, sketchbooks, an iridescent pencil case, and palettes are laid out on a table. There are about a dozen paintings in progress; some are almost finished, others are just beginning to take shape.

It’s a stark contrast to her studio in Montréal, set up in her basement. Facing skyrocketing prices, Lanthier recently gave up renting a studio space. She’s trying to save as much as possible so that she can devote herself entirely to painting. Last April she took another important step: where she once delivered art and tended bar, she has now decided to stop taking side jobs.

In Baie-Saint-Paul, the artist takes nature walks, then comes back to paint at the end of the day. “It’s important to see the land. I went to Parc des Grands-Jardins for a hike. There were pistachio lichen, lilac-grey lichen, and little burgundy plants. It was beautiful.” Impressionism is her preferred artistic movement. I’d figured as much; Lanthier is in love with light, colour, and landscapes. “I think I chose nature because I come from Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines and Lac des Cornes, up north. The composition of trees in space, the brightness of waves in the water, and holes of sky made by branches and leaves… There’s something to be had in these shapes.”

Why doesn’t she return to the countryside, then? The idea simmers in the back of her mind. “I dream of having a huge, 2,000-square-foot yellow cabin and a white and blue house,” she confesses. “I just need a bit of courage—and money—to make the leap.”

In fact, Lanthier has courage to spare. Choosing to become an artist takes a lot of guts and determination. “I sacrificed everything! This year, for the first time, I have no credit-card debt. I have like $7,000 in my account. I’ve never had that much money in my life. I’ve gone to bed hungry before. I’ve freaked out.

When you’re broke, you worry and ask yourself whether you should have chosen this line of work. I’ve had a dozen existential crises.

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I’m doing something that doesn’t fit with my social class… If I wanted to, I couldn’t afford to buy one of my own paintings.” In tough times Lanthier would dream up contingency plans; she could become a hairdresser, massage therapist, or nurse. But she always came back to painting.

She developed her interest at CEGEP (post- secondary, pre-university college in Québec) and studied art in university. Twelve years later, she’s finally able to make a living off her art, finding buyers by word of mouth or through Instagram. Lauded Canadian artist Marc Séguin discovered her work, contacted her, and bought three paintings. “It vouched for my work in the eyes of people who don’t know much about art. It was like, ‘If Marc Séguin buys your paintings, it means they’re good.’”

Lanthier is mostly silent while she’s creating. Sometimes she forgets to breathe, she’s so immersed in her work. She’ll occasionally walk from one end of the studio to the other, looking at her paintings. “They help each other out. One painting can give me the solution for another one. I always have a few in pro- gress, and they’re always talking to each other.” She’s often asked herself if her solitary, precarious, passion-driven lifestyle would allow her to start a family. Many times, she thought about giving up on a family for the sake of her work. That was before she met the painter Françoise Sullivan: “I’ve felt reassured ever since I ran into her at her opening at Galerie Simon Blais. She’s 96 years old and has four children. So it’s possible to balance family and work in my field.”

Lanthier is mostly silent while she’s creating. Sometimes she forgets to breathe, she’s so immersed in her work. She’ll occasionally walk from one end of the studio to the other, looking at her paintings. “They help each other out. One painting can give me the solution for another one. I always have a few in pro- gress, and they’re always talking to each other.” She’s often asked herself if her solitary, precarious, passion-driven lifestyle would allow her to start a family. Many times, she thought about giving up on a family for the sake of her work. That was before she met the painter Françoise Sullivan:

“I’ve felt reassured ever since I ran into her at her opening at Galerie Simon Blais. She’s 96 years old and has four children. So it’s possible to balance family and work in my field.”

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Mélanie Gagné‭ ‬is a Matane-based content creator and teacher‭. ‬She loves life in the country with her family‭, ‬hikes along the shore and up the mountain‭, ‬public markets‭, ‬poetry‭, ‬and cafés‭.‬

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This article is featured in Issue 07.

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