An Artist's Path by Rita Goldman (Gold Coast 2003)
An Artist's Path
by Rita Goldman
There's a painting JoŽlle wants me to look at, a vibrant peony in
shades of pink and coral. "Tell me what you see," she says. I try to
sound like I know what I'm talking about: the meticulous skill with
which she has captured this radiant flower that fills the visual field,
the delicate petals in counterpoint to their bold color. "How'm I doing
"Keep looking," she says.
Then I see it: the way the painting moves from an abstract background .
. . to outer leaves that are more defined, but still stylized and
expressive . . . to the precise and realistic detail at the flower's
core. "Lightness and Passion," acrylic on paper, is a metaphor for the
journey JoŽlle Chicheportiche Perz has traveled over the years. Most
artists begin with figurative work and evolve (if at all) toward
abstraction. JoŽlle went the other way.
When she welcomed me into her small, sunny studio, I had surveyed the
varied works on those walls, monoprints, lithographs, watercolors on
paper, acrylics on canvas, plaster on wood, and asked, "Which are
"All of them," she had replied. "Each one represents a different
period in my artistic journey. I consider myself an explorer of the
She grew up in Paris, surrounded by intellectualism and art. At the age
of five, only slightly precociously, she realized that art was her
passion; after high school, she studied fine art and art history at the
University of Aix-en-Provence. "I wanted to be a professor of art at
the university level," she says. "I thought that was the one way to
make a living at art."
A visit to Montreal during her university years changed the course of
JoŽlle's life. "I saw my first mural paintings there and fell in love
with the idea of making art as a part of the urban landscape, art
touching people's lives on a grand scale." For a year she worked as a
waitress to pay her way to Mexico, arriving in the New World with only
a small pad of watercolor paper and a pint-sized box of paints. "My
first show was done with that," she says. "I was very conscious of
Mexico was artistically enriching, affording JoŽlle enormous
opportunities for expressive growth. Still, she felt keenly the loss of
a social support system, the kind of safety net France provides its
citizens. For a time, JoŽlle literally was a starving artist. She
persevered, and by 1975 had not only received her first mural
commission, she'd won first prize for a painting in honor of the
International Year of the Woman.
That's when she decided to leave. "I was twenty-four and it was
becoming too easy. I could see myself becoming better known, but I
wanted to keep learning. I longed for more challenges."
In 1977 JoŽlle moved to San Francisco, and studied printmaking, a craft
she has continued to develop throughout her artistic career. She also
found herself plunging into the melting pot, trying to adapt to a new
country, a new language, and survival in the big city. "Each time I
have moved to a new country, I have had to let go of patterns and
prejudices. The robes of cultural conditioning fall away, and you
become naked. I have had to let go of a lot of things to follow my
In 1982, longing for a reconnection with nature, JoŽlle arrived on
Maui'an island on its way to becoming one of the hottest art markets in
Throughout her years of study, JoŽlle had sold very little of her work.
She'd been in no hurry to "make a statement" in the art world,
preferring to pursue her quest for knowledge. "This slow growth enabled
me to enjoy not only the product of creation but also the process," she
"The galleries wanted me to do the underwater paintings that were so
popular. I had no money, and still I said no. I would never have gotten
to the places I need to be if I had said yes."
To support herself, JoŽlle taught. She worked on boats. And always, she
studied. "I learned to let the work guide me, to choose materials and
techniques according to the essence of the subject."
Her willingness to let go, and the training that enables her to "bring
all the tools to the task," have combined in JoŽlle to create an
openness and readiness that seem to draw serendipity's blessings like a
magnet. Each time she risks, she advances on the path to deeper
"In the past I had huge revelations. Now they are more subtle. Some
you might not notice at first, and yet to me they can be stunning or
simply delightful. Like the way a color that appeared dull suddenly
brightens and becomes luminous when associated with another color; or
the change of mood an object evokes, depending on the light that shines
on it. I also found that if you focus on beauty, beauty will surround
you. That is the greatest reward of my work."
It's a vision and reward she shares with her husband, Oliver Perz, a
mechanical engineer who has become her manager and her partner in
creating the environment they call home. Seven years ago the couple
purchased two acres in Kula along the edge of a ravine. They cleared
out scrub and planted beds of flowers, fruit trees, and vegetable
gardens. A terraced path leads down to the canyon floor, and the gazebo
that is JoŽlle's sometime studio. A pohaku wall, the remains of an
ancient route to the crater summit, lies along the dramatic cliffs at
the property's far boundary. A rocky depression an unexpected feature
revealed during the clearing will form a natural basin for the lily
pond JoŽlle and Oliver have planned; the transformation is ongoing.
As is JoŽlle's.
"I draw a lot of inspiration from my garden," she says, "but I don't
necessarily paint it. Some things I like to leave alone, letting the
stones keep their secret and giving me a chance to discover them with
new eyes every day. The passing moment, the joy and playfulness of the
light, the mystery of shadows, the universal quality of a single
flower, this I like to capture."
Light. Enlightenment. I should have known. I remember that JoŽlle is
an avid student of aikido, a martial art that teaches you to center
your being and focus your energy. From this source, too, JoŽlle has
drawn the confidence to trust.
"What I am looking for is simplicity," she says, "the balance and peace
of mind that enable me to do my art, express my passion for life, and
create a little more happiness in this world. I love when people tell
me they find a healing in my work."
JoŽlle Chicheportiche (Maui News 1990)
"Uninhibited, unencumbered artist covers amazing amount of territory"
by Marcia Godinez
FOR YEARS I had been aware of JoŽlle Chicheportiche. I saw bits and
pieces of her work in a variety of places, but never enough together in
one area to form an impression of who she is. The work was always in a
different medium, and in varying intensities.
All that has changed now. After a two hour interview and a good look
through Chicheportiche's portfolios, I realized her present course and
style is indefinable. Labels and categorizations simply slide off her
shoulders and land on the ground at her feet - or where her feet once
were. She's already off to her next project.
Chicheportiche has covered an amazing amount of territory, and
covered it well. Somewhere along the line an art teacher advised her,
"Don't be in a rush to make a statement," and she took the advice to
"I'm not in a hurry. I'm happy with what I'm doing and I'm free,"
explains the artist. Looking around her studio I was forced to agree.
She was free to produce the most expressive, refined statement on
marine art I have ever seen, capturing the true essence of the ocean
with the delicate touch of a master. This was not the hackneyed,
garish, souped-up version of Maui whales, but a quiet, mixed media
expression of natural peace and order.
In another piece, she was free to create an extraordinary view of
what it might look like underwater, when molten lava plunges into the
ocean - a view I'd never contemplated. Again, it was not a Hollywood
production of explosiveness, but rather a quiet meeting of primal
Although Chicheportiche herself is an outstanding teacher in several
styles of expression and media, she felt totally free to study figure
drawing with another local teacher. The resulting piece, a pastel
entitled "Red Hair Woman with Blue Ribbon" is breathtaking.
Chicheportiche is perhaps one of the most uninhibited and
unencumbered artists I've ever
met. She is on a quest, but not a
frenzied one. In talking with her one gets a feeling of an unlimited
expanse of time and possibilities stretched out before her. The past
has unfurled itself with opportune, and occasionally, miraculous
precision, and it seems the future will also find her in the right
place at the right time.
The artist originally hails from Paris, France. At the age of
sixteen she moved to the French Alps, and then to the south to attend
the University of Aix-en-Provence. From her earliest childhood, she
remembers thinking " Being an artist was the best you could be." By the
time she reached college age, she had modified her vision. Finding the
possibility of the "starving artist" unappealing, she set her sights on
becoming an art professor, and went on to earn a degree in fine arts.
A vacation to America changed her life. After a visit in New York,
she traveled to Montreal, Canada, where she saw her first full-scale
mural. "I looked up and thought 'This is it - this is what I want to
Returning to the South of France, she began to research murals.
Finding the world's great muralists were from the Mexican school of
painters, she made up her mind to attend Mexico's University of
Guadalajara in the following year. For the next several months
Chicheportiche worked as a waitress to earn money for her tuition.
One week before the young artist was to leave her job and head for
Mexico, a group of Mexican tourists came into the restaurant where she
worked. In talking with the visitors, she found out that one man was
engaged to the daughter of the professor with whom she would study in
Guadalajara. Another man was a former director of the same school.
Delighted with the chance encounter, the gentlemen arranged for
Chicheportiche to attend school tuition-free, and be provided with a
place to live.
Looking through the artist's photographs of work from this period
reveals a side of Chicheportiche that few here on Maui could imagine.
Her diversity, and willingness to leap into new dimensions, colors and
forms is awe-inspiring.
At the end of her first year in Guadalajara, she was given the honor
of painting a mural at the school where she studied, and was later
commissioned by the Mexican government to paint another mural in a
newly-constructed experimental school. She had several shows of her
work, and in 1975 was awarded first prize at the "International Year of
the Woman" in Mexico.
Chicheportiche's work was warmly received by even the harshest
critics. One man described her mural (translated from Spanish): "In one
of the most difficult forms of expression, the mural painting, she
achieved impressive results in attacking the thorny problem of joining
a monumental message, rich in its spiritual content, with an aesthetic
formula, valuable, accessible, and easily understandable, without
falling into popular demagogic painting so often found in the works of
so many mural painters."
Chicheportiche has now directed her talents to island landscapes and
plant life. In her upcoming show at the Lahaina Arts Society, "Maui
Land, Light and Colors," she will express the side of Hawaii that "most
touches her heart." The show will include recent multi-media works
utilizing oil, mono-print, and hand-made paper.
It is a pleasure to see an artist move with such consummate skill
through so many mediums. A sense of celebration, a recognition of the
profound order of the natural world, and a fundamental feeling of peace
are somewhere present in each of the artist's works.