Northwest Arkansas visual artist Joelle Storet is having a moment, with two shows going on at the same time. One is at the Press Room on the Downtown Bentonville square. The other is at Fayetteville Underground, as part of an April exhibit called Artists of Color: Crossing Borders.
She’s also a Tinkering Lead at the new Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville, where she helps kids of all ages unleash their creativity.
She spoke with us during First Thursday Fayetteville about some of the local inspirations for her work, and what she sees for the future of art in Northwest Arkansas.
Joelle: “I was thrilled to be invited to take part in First Thursday here at Fayetteville Underground. They’ve focused the show on artists of exotic backgrounds who migrated to Northwest Arkansas and have picked up influences from it.
I immediately thought I was a good fit. I’m not originally from Northwest Arkansas, but I’ve been calling it my home for the last 15 years. A lot of my art is heavily inspired by that.
I am originally from Belgium. We have an African household from my mother’s side, and Belgian from the other side. I grew up traveling quite a lot in different countries and different parts of the world. That has exposed me to a lot. I’ve accumulated a lot from these places. My family moved here in 2000 from Vienna, Austria. Northwest Arkansas is probably where I’ve matured into a collage artists collecting memories from my past and highlighting that in my work.”
Star Shopper: You went to University of Arkansas?
Joelle: “Yes, I did. I graduated in 2010 and I went back for about two years to do some independent studies. I didn’t study art. I graduated with a degree in anthropology and German studies. I’ve always been fond of other cultures and people in general. People are my biggest inspiration. That’s an important influence in my life”.
Star Shopper: Does the anthropology fit into your artwork?
Joelle: “Yes, absolutely. I consider myself more of a historical and documentary artist. With my anthropology background, I was able to understand my artistic style and how my it came to be based on my background – why I’m painting a certain way, why I’m using a certain style.
I taught myself to draw when I was very young. I realized as I got older that my style was mostly influenced by geometry and math, because I grew up learning art from observing, rather than being taught in a formal style.
Later, I went through a rebirth when I wanted to express my background through my art and expose that to the world. I wanted to embrace the same kind of art movement that happened in the 20th century during the time of Pablo Picasso, when Expressionism came into Europe. They used exotic art as an influence, rather than the more disciplined styles of art schools, which taught techniques from the masters and that sort of thing. Picasso used African masks as a major influence in his work. I decided to do the same thing with blending African art with Western art. It’s the Old World and the New World.
I paint every day after work. I just come home and immediately have the need for a canvas. I’m an educator at the moment and I get inspired from the things I hear from children and the visitors. I can’t wait to come home and portray it on the canvas.
Working at the Scott Family Amazeum has been great. It’s really opening doors for curiosity. It’s truly amazing the kids I see everyday from all schools, all backgrounds. Visitors from all over the country. It’s a great experience. And really it’s for kids of all ages – seven to 107.
I think everyone needs art in their lives, not as a novelty but as a discipline. It’s great for problem solving skills. It allows you to multi-task, and take multiple ideas and understand them by using comparative thinking.
Art has been a major help for me growing up in all these places, learning languages I didn’t know. I’m a visual person – that’s all I rely on. When I’m explaining something to someone, sometimes I have to draw it out. It’s gotten me through a lot of things. And I’m very thankful for that and I want to share that. I feel like I have something so great I want to share that, not just keep it to myself. I want to show everybody, because everybody can do art!”
Star Shopper: You’ve had three shows so far this year, including one in March. Has this been a gradual process in terms of visibility, or do you feel like you’ve suddenly gotten discovered?
Joelle: “I had shows before, but I was still kind of an amateur artist. I was still learning styles and putting them together. It wasn’t until recently that I really started pulling together my own interests and I was able to reflect on myself. I was able to say this is what it means to be an artist – it’s a reflection of yourself.
Being an artist to me is not the ability paint, but the ability to translate anything into any medium”.
Star Shopper: Did you graduate high school here?
Joelle: “I went to Fayetteville High School. I went back there for the first time in 10 years recently. I wanted to bring some Amazeum stuff and interact with older kids. It was wonderful – art as an educational platform. What I was able to provide and experiment with them was amazing. It was kind of interesting to switch from being the shy kid in class to standing up there and telling the students ‘this is what you can do'”.
Star Shopper: What do you see 2016 bringing?
Joelle: “Artistically, there’s a trend of maker spaces happening in Northwest Arkansas. And Crystal Bridges is continuing to have a major impact. They also provide free education, as well as the Amazeum. There are schools visiting all the time. I’m seeing a major cultural awakening in Northwest Arkansas.
I believe art is officially going to be an investment in this area rather than just being a painting on the wall. I think it’s going to be… a Renaissance, that’s the best way to put it”.