SPEAK Season 2 Episode 2: Charisse’s Art Journey

A portrait of Charisse

Rachel: I’m Rachel Gray

Debbie: I’m Debbie Ratcliffe

And welcome to SPEAK. SPEAK is artists with developmental disabilities telling their own stories

Rachel: Today on SPEAK, you’ll be hearing from Charisse Rayne. Early on in creating this episode, Charisse said she wanted to tell the story of her journey with art and, at the same time, that she doesn’t like to talk about herself that she likes to let her art speak for her.

Debbie, I’ve heard you say the same thing: that you like to let your paintings speak for you. And I’m wondering why is that?

Debbie: For me, I think my artworks speak louder than I can on what I want to say.If I talk about my innermost feelings, sometimes I get very emotional. So I let my artwork speak for me most of the time.

Rachel: Charisse’s episode is an exploration of how to talk about yourself without talking about yourself. The tension between being seen and hiding. Charisse has woven together a story about her own journey with art, through the voices of others, through her artwork and through her own voice, too.

The idea of letting your visual arts speak for you is hard in this non visual medium. And this episode you’ll be hearing from Charisse, from M, her support in the studio, and from Charisse’s mom, Cheryl. You’ll also be hearing from Charisse’s work through the voices of people experiencing it. Okay. Here we go.

Charisse: Hi, my name is Charisse Rayne. I like to do art. I do painting and digital art and photography. I’ve had challenges, but I’ve always found a way to adapt and create.

Rachel: Part 1: Charisse and M

M: Okay, so we’re going, so this is the question for you: What is the relationship between you, Charisse, and myself, M Southwood, at BEING Studio. What is our relationship?

Like, is there a reason why you chose me to be a part of your podcast, which I am so honored to be part of that?

Charisse: Because you’ve seen me grow as an artist.

M: I wanted to let you know what I thought about our relationship. I had to think about it because it just seemed like we clicked right away. Right. So I can say that the relationship between Charisse and I began as a sort of partnership with a mutual purpose: experimentation and discovery.

It was like, that was the goal. And I knew that was your goal as soon as you rolled into the room, because of that initial unspoken agreement, a raport came easily. There was this amazing sense of humor. And we just had fun all the time. And I think from that real trust started to build good. I love that you’re saying yes to all of that!

Charisse: What was your first day at BEING Studio like?

M: I came up the stairs and I opened the door and it was as if I had conjured it, like magically made this place, you know, come into life because it was what I wanted so badly, you know,

I’d been reading about different studios that were for people with disabilities and uh, thought, wow.

Where is that space in Ottawa? You know, designated for art, you know, and people can just come in and it’s, it’s just all about them and what their creativity. And when I walked in, that’s exactly what I saw. And it felt like it like a dream come true. And I just felt so lucky, and then I realized that this was the first place that I had felt that I belonged in a really long time. And that sense of, that feeling of belonging. I hope that everybody feels that because, it’s just such an amazing feeling to have feel that you fit in.

And not even that… I was thinking about that idea of fitting, not even that you fit, but that you can be whoever you are. And that doesn’t have to fit.

Charisse: How would you describe me?

M: So many amazing ways! So can I start with when I first met you? It was like a ray of sunshine had entered the room. You have such a joyful way about you. We found out like, I think right from day one, how curious you are about art and everything creative. You were, you know, open to trying, every technique you could possibly try. So whatever was suggested the answer was, “Yes, please!”

When I see your art, I feel happy, energized; I think it’s one of those things that if you saw it at the start of the day, it would give you, you know, what you needed, like good dose of like sunshine, because like I said, you were like sunshine walking in.

Charisse: Thank you!

M: And I think that all of that comes out in your art, no matter what it is.

Charisse: How does art make you feel?

M: How does art make me feel? Oh, wow. I think it does all those things that you joining the program do. It makes me energized and it makes me think. That’s what makes my day, every day. It makes my day definitely makes my life are things I can say that. Do you feel that for you? Yeah. How does art make you feel, Charisse?

Charisse: It makes me feel really happy.

Rachel: Image description: Here is how M sees Charisse’ photograph of a covered bridge in Wakefield.

M: Charisse’s photography is quite recent, though. Though the camera is physically positioned by someone supporting her, it is done under Charisse’s careful instruction until what is in the frame is what she wants in the frame. When I look at the photograph of the Wakefield landscape with the covered bridge, I am struck by the beautiful composition of how the color, lines, and form all come together.

Charisse has a wonderful eye for detail. I am also struck by her choice of vantage point that she has chosen to put the viewer on this winding roadway, not yet reaching the destination of the photograph’s focal point, the red covered bridge. It’s a little mysterious, not fully knowing what lies ahead.

Rachel: Part 2: Charisse and Cheryl

Cher: I’m Cheryl, I’m fortunate enough to be Charisse’s mom, and I’ve known Charisse for a few years, for 33 years. So yeah, I’m her mommy, Cheryl Antoine.

I describe myself as being grounded. I describe myself as being passionate and passionate about others, andin terms of my children definitely, 100 and,no matter how old they get, I’m still always, you know, looking out for them kind of thing. And in terms of what I am and what I do, I believe in people.

I don’t have too much patience with them right now, the world has changed and it’s a bit sad, but, I still want to be strong. I still don’t want to give up.

Because I think that tomorrow, I don’t know which tomorrow, we will see light. It won’t be the same light that we had seen before, but we will see light. And if I give up, I wouldn’t be there for it. I keep begging to be here for a long, long, long time, because I want to make sure that we feels independent.

Her growth is important to me. What she believes, what she thinks, how people perceive her is very, very important to me. And I want her to be that brilliant like that I know she is, but sometimes she hides, and so I don’t want to be championing her in front. I want to be able to champion from the side. So that’s the who I am, I guess I would, before I was the shovel.

Instead of the rake , you know, I guess that’s who I am.

Charisse: How would you describe me?

Cher: I describe you as a really brilliant, like, I describe you as somebody who is loving, who is smart, who is caring. Who is a little bit too shy, but I describe you as somebody who… Your’re so loyal, you don’t even know what it is to not be loyal, you know?

And what I find about you is that you cannot even kind tell a fib of somebody if you want to. You have to be sure you don’t want the truth. Like don’t even talk to her because she is going to speak the truth, you know, and, and you’re like that. And I don’t understand for as young as you’ve been and, and in terms of how you’ve gone into religion and taken it whole heartedly and how you see through things, you’re something else, you know, you really are the sum of a lot of things.

And so, as a person, I really see you as a friend, you know, like I like you. And not because you’re my daughter, I just like you. So I’ve usually I love you, but I

Charisse: Thank you for thinking that.

Cher: It’s true though. Yeah. Yeah. It’s true about you, you know, but you’re welcome. Yeah.

Charisse: What do you feel you when you look at my art?

I feel the little girl who knows what she wants, who’s a young lady who has a yearning to do, ready to develop more. And I see what is not in me.

Because I don’t have your skill. I see a lot of good stuff, I, you know, see a lot of positive and given the absolute right platform that your signature will be on the books in people’s homes, on people’s shoulder, on people’s backs or different things. That’s what I see for your work, with you.

Charisse: Thank you. How does art make you feel?

Cher: So I see art as something that a person expresses themselves and we are lucky to receive it. And that could become part of our space. I remember you, over Christmas time when we were home that “Charisse, we should be going to bed now.”

“Well, let me finish this now.” “You should be going to bed!” Then, it’s eight in the morning: you might as well have breakfast! Because I got her the big Art By Numbers, but it was intricate and it was massive. Yes, and she just looked like the clock kept ticking and ticking and ticking that mama just kept going.

So I see it as a whole lot of therapy, a whole lot of joy and as a positive, you know?

Rachel: Image description. Here is how M and Cheryl see Charisse’s digital portrait series

M: I see the joyful energy radiating from Charisse as well as her excitement and sense of playfulness expressed through the photographed image. There are many images in this self portrait series.

And I’ve seen versions where Charisse has chosen to almost completely conceal herself. So what strikes me most about these are the exuberance and revelation of herself. She’s not hiding, she’s put herself in the spotlight having either encircled herself or adding rays of color emanating from her as if she is the sun itself.

These photos remind me of a party: fireworks, confetti and Sherry’s looks as if she is celebrating herself.

Cher: Well, that looks like you, Charisse, caught up in a color, and as though you’re spewing color, you know, that’s my observation. It’s just as though it’s color virus, a virus. You have, you have no mask, no filter on your, on your artists and you just spewing out colors. They are different colors there, you know, and that’s what I see.

Rachel: Image description. Here is what M and Cheryl C and cheery says painting titled “Happy”.

M: The final piece. Oh my gosh, this wonderful acrylic painting. Charisse has an amazing sense of color and light and texture. And it’s on full display in this piece, seeing this painting, lights me up.

It has radiance and playfulness, but it’s also an example of her thoughtful consideration of her choices.

Cher: That, there, that’s the real deal. The other ones there, you were like, “okay, I’m just practicing. I’m just keeping my colors around me, where you put all the colors too.” And that’s an explosion of color, you know, it’s a, it’s just nothing. My kaleidoscope was an explosion of color and you know what?

Every color has its place. Every color stands on its own in there and yet, come together to make that lovely piece, you know? And that, that there, that, that is you, that’s the person I know. That’s the kind of work that I know that you couldn’t do it just anytime or, you know, and then some that’s it. Color color, color, blue pinks.

And nobody could not have that around them and not feel good and not enjoy it. Yellow, blue, orange, it’s just “wow!” I felt like I that’s my baby. Yeah. That’s you.

It’s such a love, you know, it makes you feel a certain type of love. I mean, I can’t compare to chocolate, which I love so much is just a level and a different level all by itself.

And it’s a piece that if you didn’t want that piece, something is wrong with you. You know, something’s really wrong with you because you have a taste of, a touch of everything that is good rabbit in the crazy, crazy, crazy world that we have. That’s the bright side of it. That’s the upside to what’s going on now, the upside in terms of fire, the upside in terms of water, the upside in terms of the sun is brilliant in terms of the blackness is muted.

So even if we have darkness going on around us now in the world, that is muted, it’s overtaken, it still has it’s place, but it’s overtaken by all that color and just mesmerizes with you.

Regardless, I know what you’re doing now in terms of…

Let’s call it the, um, the colorful virus, you know, that’s spewing around your face. What do you need to do to get back to that’s piece that before just now, that explosion and emerging of all that color and that kind of work. What do you need to get that to be your offering to the world day after day?

Charisse: There are different parts to my art. That is different, but it’s a different part of my art. I made all the art and I don’t want to say that there is just one kind of art.

Cher: Yeah. What do you think somebody would want to see in terms of where they were, where you want to go, right? Do you still want to do art? That will be like on stamps and on bags and different things like that. Do you still want to produce that kind of art? Do you still want to draw that way?

Charisse: Yes but I want people to see different versions of my art, not just one part of it.

Cher: I understand that, but you know what? What I’m looking at in terms of what… okay. Let’s say in terms of you wanted to do a commercial ad, for example, what do you think if, somebody come in and they would see a piece with you, your face, with the spikes of color coming in and they would see something with art? No, no, no. I understand what you said, but listen, try and listen to what I’m trying to say. What do you think would be the attractive thing? Because when we do something, we do something that we don’t do for ourselves, we do it for the perception for others, what they will receive. What is marketable? So how do you see yourself going forward in terms of having product that’s marketable?

Charisse: That self-portrait is still me. I like to see what kind of art comes from me, you know?

Cher: Okay. And what about the other one? Well, are you not sure that it comes from you as well, but don’t you picture being in it?

Charisse: Yes. But I create because I like to see that I make art around myself, too.

Cher: You know, as an artist, people, anything you do, people criticize and people will applaud, and people will have a different mindset. Right? How you feel if everybody doesn’t respond to your art in a positive way, how would that make you feel?

Charisse: That’s a good thing, because I know everybody will not like everything.

Cher: Okay. So you’re okay with that?

Charisse: Yes. I’m okay with that.

Cher: Okay. So that means that you’ll always continue to grow because if it doesn’t daunt you, you know that somebody isn’t reception and you understand what you say there, that you understand that everybody, that means you’ll always be growing because you wouldn’t let that phase you for that.

Charisse: Thank you.

Cher: You’re welcome.

Rachel: I feel like we are getting a good sense of who Charisse is from the people around her, but it also feels incomplete. It leaves me wondering what Charisse would say about herself, how she sees herself and her journey with art.

Cher: She’s always, all of us have known, in terms, like she never wants to blow their own horn. I mean, you didn’t take after your father. You understand why it is necessary, though?

Charisse: Yeah. I need to start talking about me.

Cher: Put it this way: It’s like going to the doctor and saying, what’s with you instead of saying, what’s wrong with you, you’re saying what’s good with you.

What’s right with you, so that people know who you are. Right?

I won’t keep you guys back on that, bu when she was small and we had to go to speech therapy and stuff like that, and she would go to the rehab for different things and, you know, she wouldn’t be, they’d be asking her things and she’d not answer and whatnot. And I remember one day, this guy Mark, remember Mark? he was the therapist and he had to go out of the room for something.

And she started talking as she normally went with me and tut-tut-tut-tut-tut, so Mark came back, but he had to come on this side. So he captured the real Charisse. And when he came back into the room he said “Wait a minute!” He said “You… are you saying you are talking different when I was gone?”

And she’s like, “Mommy, what is the matter with them?” Got to be the time she’s talking. And she’s just herself, you know? Because they really didn’t know who she was. You’re you, you have a lot that people would know and they’ll be surprised. And it could only know from you, you know what I mean?

Charisse: Yeah.

Cher: So like you went to the social doctor, not a medical doctor, so say who you are, but what’s good with you. Okay? All right.

Rachel: Part three: Charisse

Charisse: I let my art speak for itself. I’m a little bit shy when I first meet someone, but I can open up after getting to know them.

That’s why this podcast is a big accomplishment because I find it very, very challenging to do.I wanted people to see me, the woman behind the art. I want to show how my energy is like my art.

The photo of me that I did with colorful lines to make it seem like I’m bursting with color. I find inspiration all around. It makes me feel happy and proud to call myself an artist.

Rachel: This episode of SPEAK featured Charisse Rayne. SPEAK is hosted by Debbie Ratcliffe. Produced and co-hosted by Rachel Gray. The music is by Jesse Stewart, episode music by Mikkayla Gordon. Our consulting editor is Allie Graham. Our mix editor is Erin Flynn. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

“These photos remind me of a party: fireworks, confetti and Charisse’s looks as if she is celebrating herself.”

Sound design by Seiiizi