Artist, photographer, and writer Leila A. Fortier resides on the remote island of Okinawa, Japan. Her poetry blurs into abstract visual designs, often accompanied by multi-media and performance. Her art is a rich interplay of layered media arranged to provoke raw emotion. She “manifests the formless” in what she calls “Painting Emotion,” which “arises from restlessness.”
Fortier expresses emotions and sensuality with colorful forms boldly brushed across canvas. At the same time, her work evokes meditation, mysticism. The paintings transcend place and time, as do her macro-photographs. Some of her photographic portraits, like one of her son, peer past surfaces: they look into the subject’s eyes.
Would you characterize your work as abstract expressionism?
Defining or categorizing my work has always been a challenge for me. I can relate to the notion that abstract expressionism arises from emotional intensity, where works birth from a spontaneous and even subconscious state. What separates me from this movement is the tendency for abstract expressionism to become highly anarchic or nihilistic.
I feel strongly about creating works of beauty–even if beauty emerges from trauma. I can only make sense of life’s cruelty by transforming it to its original state of subtle beauty, penetrating the superficial layers of what we perceive as “ending” to reveal a “beginning.” For example, my macro photography collages transcend rust and decay to reveal interconnectedness.
Rather than being nihilistic, I believe in spirit, transcendence, emergence, and emotion. I must create rather than destroy. Soul-searching and soul-revealing qualities put us in intimate communion with our own creator. To create art that is monstrous or meaningless denies our ability to transcend the chaos of this circumstantial world.
“Painting emotion” is the spontaneous manifestation of everything I experience inwardly. It is not the story revealed in the work, but the resulting emotion; its only concern is “this moment,” not the path here or from here. I enter that emotional state—at times, a subconscious release of emotions I had yet to understand or identify. I process emotion through art when even words and poetry fail me. Emotions are abstract. They cannot be confined to stagnant objects, symbols, and words that neglect the subtle, unseen, intricate layers and meanings.
I must have that essence of spontaneity and freedom that moves through me of its own accord. I often have very little influence in my creations because they come from a place so deep inside of me that it is not from me. This irony often convinces me that I have no artistic merit whatsoever. The disastrous results of any work I attempt to create in a methodical, organized, or premeditated fashion only confirms this to me.
How has living in Okinawa shaped and influenced your work?
Some of my earliest works had an Asian influence, for example, “Drenched Garden.” I have always held deep appreciation for different countries’ cultures that manifested in subtle undertones long before I knew I would travel to those countries. Subtle differences in faith also interest me. In a way, I feel that putting that energy into the universe was a subconscious prophecy.
However, I am always expressing emotion in my work and inward journeys, so my travels have less to do with my artworks than one would expect. Yet, my travels and experiences have everything to do with the pivotal sources of what shapes and transforms my heart, mind, and spirit. As a result of working as an advocate and traveling abroad to expand these efforts, I have witnessed extreme forms of poverty, disease, and suffering—as well as unexplainable, profound joy and grace that tore me open, forming deeper understanding.
These experiences were a conduit for my own healing. My art is not a story line of events, but it certainly is the emotional fruit of those labors. Okinawa itself has given me so much peace, beauty, and solitude to be able to create freely.
How do you see your art evolving?
The process itself fulfills me. A deep appetite for new experiences and expressions fills me. I anticipate change in my self and my surroundings, which will influence my art. My latest endeavor blends mixed media and photography in collage. This excites me. One day, I hope to try sculpting. There are never enough hours to devote to creation.
View Fortier’s work in two other posts in this week’s The River (Monet and Drenched Garden; Utopia and Patina Rain). Visit her online gallery. Learn more about her, hear and read some of her poetry on her website.