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Marilyn Louis: Journey Into Art, An Interview

Painter Marilyn Louis’ biggest project at the time she’s being interviewed by is an art project for the Museum of Women’s Resistance to held at the Black Women’s Blueprint, in New York. Her life experiences certainly will lend a great deal to the project. Louis was born in Niger, West Africa to Haitian parents. Louis’ dentist father and stay-at-home mother had at first immigrated to Canada from Haiti.

Following a five-year stint in Montreal, the couple moved to Niger, where Father Louis worked as a dentist. When little Marilyn was six, the Louis family moved to Brooklyn, where she was raised. As a result of all this culture hopping, Louis says she identifies as “a Haitian Diasporan as well as a Afro-Francophone Diasporan”.

The painter is also a figure model, singer and actress. One of her goals is to become a student at a musical theater conservatory.

What are you up to now?

For the last year and a half, I have been working on a memoir about my journeys through womanhood, my relationship with my mother, and connecting with Haitian culture as a result. In the last few months, I’ve been exploring my family history and documenting that for my memoir.

Who was the first person to make you realize that you were pretty talented?

It was I! Not to sound arrogant or egotistical, but I knew I was talented long before others noticed or picked up on it. It was a self-awareness I had as a child; a kind of intuitive quality I sense. I never felt that I needed others to validate or approve my work, even though it felt nice to be complimented on it. I knew I had potential to always improve and grow. I still feel that way as an adult. Talent is a quality you know you have or not. It was also a work in progress that evolves over time. That’s what I’ve learned about myself.

I started called myself a renaissance “womyn” because I began to discover along the way that I had multiple talents and skills that would work to my advantage. My biggest concern right now is my struggles to monetize those talents.

Were you like the star student in your school’s art class?

In retrospect, I was a star student. My professors loved what I brought to class. My first painter professor once came up to me in class, inquiring about the length of time I’ve painted and I told him, “This is only my second semester”. He responded with an easy smile and said, “You’re a natural”.

What’s your favorite space to paint?

That’s a tough one to answer. I don’t have a favorite space to paint. Much of my artwork is focused on highlighting the diversity of women of African descent. To be frank, I haven’t painted in more than two years. All of my focus has been on writing and returning to my first love, the performing arts! Any visual artwork I have done or exhibited in the last year and half has been with MoWRe, where I had been a resident artist for over six months.

Artistic people tend to procrastinate at times.

That’s not always true. When I get a vision or an idea, I like to start on it right away. Depending on however much free time I have on my hands, I like to see my vision materialize promptly. Once I get inspired and my juices get flowing, I have to follow it. I have to follow my gut or else it might fade quickly or manifest itself into untapped energy that may come out in unhealthy ways at the most inappropriate time. [Laughter]

Does inspiration come easily to you?

Usually it does—depending on where I am in life, my surroundings—and the people I encounter everyday. Being a Brooklynite, I am privileged to have access to so many artistic resources, people and events, which makes it easy for me to get inspired.

Tell me about the inspiration for your painting “Brooklyn Botanic Garden 2”.

My inspiration for that came from an assignment that one of my painting professors assigned us to do which was to paint a landscape. Since I live about 15 to 20 minutes away from Prospect Park and the Botanic Garden, I decided to use these landscapes as my inspiration to paint them.

It was actually through that experience that I was able to recognize and appreciate the beauty of Brooklyn in a whole new perspective. I began to look at my neighborhood of Brooklyn and see that there was so much beauty in many parts of my borough. Whether it is it people, its parks, its streets or whatever it around, I love Brooklyn!

You love to travel. What happens if while you’re on a plane, you suddenly see something out of the window that you want to paint immediately. Or you’re walking through a street as a tourist and, poof, out of nowhere you see a scene that you feel would make a perfect painting?

I don’t operate in that way. If I see something that catches my eye, I will admire it but I won’t feel the urge to go out of my way to paint it. I’m no longer in that space. Usually when I see something that catches my eye, I photograph it with my cell phone cam, use it as a screen saver, and saves it as a pic-me-up for when I’m feeling down.

You’re also an aspiring actress. Does theatrer play a part in your creative process, somewhat?

Yes and no. When I was in college, I took acting to see how I would like it. By the end of that first semester, I discovered that I really like it. By the time I took Acting II, I was bitten by the acting bug. By my senior year, I performed in a musical theater production and absolutely loved it! I said to myself, “I’ve got to pursue this.”

Before I started college, I dance with a few choreographers here and then but never found anything that sustained me. Once I started college, I realize that there was more to me artistically than dance. Acting offered me insight into the psychology of why people do the things they do. It deepen my awareness about people and in the long run, it helped me to become mature. It made me a stronger performer and writer.

When was the last time you went to Haiti?

The last time I was in Haiti, I was too young to remember. When people ask me that, I usually say that I’ve never been to Haiti. But recently, I discovered, through conversations with my father, that I have been there. But it pains me to say that I have no memories of my experience. My goal is to one day visit Haiti where so much of my family are and get to know the cities that my parents came from: Grand-Goâve and Port-au-Prince.

If you could instill one principle in the minds of every aspiring painter out there, what would it be?

One principle I would instill is to never stop learning. In fact, I would instill more than one principle. Never stop being curious. Never stop being hungry. Never stop being open to new ideas and ways of thinking. More importantly, never believing that you have “arrived”. The moment you start thinking that, that’s when the jadedness, cynicism, and arrogance rear its ugly head.

I’ve learning over the years, especially being in college, that there’s more than one way to be an artist. There’s more than one way to be a creative-critical thinker. I’m still learning these traits even as an adult.

Connect with Marilyn Louis and learn more about her career by CLICKING HERE to visit her page on FACEBOOK.


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