Shape-shifting humans, grotesque beasts, benevolent animals and majestic birds – these are just some of the players in an arresting visual drama that springs from the uncommon depths of a defiant artist named Jeanne Brousseau. The drama is both tragedy and comedy, whimsical and horrifying, rendered with childlike imagination but with the precision and intensity of a grown-up who has something important to say. They are, in fact, a survivor’s deeply suppressed memories of child sexual abuse by her father.
The drawings started as therapy in the mid-1990s when Brousseau was in her 40s and beginning to piece together the details of her troubled past. The drawings are intricately detailed, mesmerizing accounts of her experiences and attempts to overcome them. Alluding to her abuse both directly and indirectly, Brousseau uses her own distinctive visual language to set up a classic dichotomy of Good vs. Evil.
After the initial 1990s burst of creativity and self-exploration, in which she executed mostly linear, monotoned compositions, Brousseau abruptly stopped drawing. It wasn’t until 2018 that she returned to the format, now with an almost joyous confidence and strength and breakout color announcing her victory. The characters remain – her hideous, menacing father, and complicit, controlling mother alongside a bestiary of both kind and evil creatures. But with her parents no longer living and her own life more stable and happier than ever before, the tone of Brousseau’s recent work is about freedom and overcoming her past. No longer fearful, these are sophisticated, fulsome statements of hard-won survival.
First shown by Hirschl & Adler Modern at the Outsider Art Fair New York 2020, this represented the artist’s debut before the general public, the first time these highly personal, intimate drawings had been seen outside her hometown of Penobscot, Maine.