First published: Winter 2022/23
When memories of childhood trauma emerged from her subconscious, Jeanne Brousseau’s unstoppable instinct was to draw tales of betrayal and revenge
Sometimes Jeanne Brousseau looks at her finished drawings and wonders, “Who made that?” A lifelong spiritual seeker, she creates artwork that is often populated by shape-shifting creatures enacting grim tales of innocence against evil. Her vision is affected by pareidolia: she sees eyes, faces, and patterns where none exist. Most nights, she has vivid dreams that feel, she says, as if she magically has a second life. She has always communed with animals, and country life suits her. She grows vegetables, raises chickens and makes art in her home which is surrounded by farmland and forests in rural Maine near the town of Penobscot.
Yellow Eye, 2020, 18 x 12 in. / 45.5 x 30.5 cm
all artwork shown: ink marker on paper; all images courtesy: Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York
Brousseau works with her hands, knitting, sewing, crocheting, making rugs, sculpting, and experimenting with art supplies. Drawing was not her focus until 1994, when she felt an urgent need to work with ink on paper. The artworks that emerged while she was in a near trancelike state are disturbing and accomplished, offering scenes of a child’s attempts to survive calamitous trauma and fathom a way forward.
Untitled, between 2018 and 2019, 10.5 x 14 in. / 27 x 35.5 cm
Born in May 1952 in Hartford and raised in nearby Suffield, Connecticut, Brousseau was the youngest of three sisters. Her mother stayed at home; her father was a repairman for a phone company but, injured by a drunk driver, was transferred to a desk job. All three sisters were sent to church, attending Sunday school and singing in the choir. Brousseau was dreamy, cherishing the company of birds and animals, and reading books about mysticism and the occult. She remembers her father telling people that she was crazy and wouldn’t amount to much. “I was uncomfortable with my dad all my life – I suspected things were not as they seemed,” she says.
The Gossips, between 2018 and 2019, 8.5 x 12 in. / 22 x 30.5 cm
She graduated from high school in 1970 and worked as a waitress, where she met the man who would become her first husband. He was a follower of Sri Chinmoy, a guru based in New York. By 1971 the couple had married and moved to the Sri Chinmoy Centre. Although ambivalent about the group, which some have labelled a cult, they were disciples for years. Brousseau, with fellow followers, helped with the guru’s projects, framing his artworks and making jewellery for him to sell. She and her husband left the Chinmoy group in 1977, divorcing the following year.
Brousseau continued her spiritual exploration, trying to understand her fragmented sense of self by attending various churches and working with psychics, hypnotists, and shamans. She married again and had three children. It was when this marriage broke down in 1990 that Brousseau started therapy. Two years later, she met her current partner; he remembers Brousseau’s father taking him aside and assuring him that she was crazy.
By EMILY B SCHILLING
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #113