This week’s cover by painter Baret Boisson captures the artist’s love for whimsy, dogs and all things French. Boisson lets us into her creative world with stories of travel, art, commissions for celebrities and finding her passion in painting.
It’s funny how the French have so many words for love. What’s the story behind this piece?
My father was French, I went to boarding school in France as a child and then to the Lycée Français in New York. I spend a lot of time in France and am always impressed by just how much romance is a part of their culture. Paris truly is the “city of love,” and whether I’m actually in France or not, it is always inside me!
My client Susie wanted to commission me to paint an anniversary gift for her husband, Jacques, who happens to be French. One of the expressions that I love that I hadn’t used in a piece is “Je suis sous le charme.” It literally means “I’ve fallen in love.” But it’s almost as if the person in love were powerless to feel otherwise, that they’ve fallen under a spell and can’t help but be in love.
There is a folk-art quality to your work, which actually a lot of contemporary artists are doing, but yours seems unique and natural. How did your style evolve?
I was actually born in Florence, Italy, to parents who were trained artists. There is a photo of newborn me in the arms of my father, standing in front of Michelangelo’s David. My mom’s medium was mostly pen and ink, although she sculpted, did mosaics, and later became a celebrated quilt designer. She owned a quilt shop in Southampton for years. We lived in South America when I was very young [and] I was becoming influenced by the vibrant colors and primitive art.
I never took an art class, and never even picked up a paintbrush until I was 30 years old! I had just moved to Los Angeles and was having a really challenging time finding the sense of community that is so important to me. It was during this period that a new friend invited me over for dinner. He had great music on, wine, and paints spread out on the floor. He thrust a paintbrush in my hand and I was hooked. Within months I was getting commissions.
You’ve done commissions for a lot of interesting people for their weddings. How did this come about?
Like everything else, it’s happened completely organically. One of the first commissions I received was to paint [Viacom chairman] Sumner Redstone’s wedding portrait. My clients wanted to give him something truly unique, so they gave him and his wife a portrait that I created just for them, and it became Mr. Redstone’s favorite painting.
Jimmy Fallon and his wife, Nancy, are a wonderful couple who have commissioned me to paint a number of portraits for their close friends and family. They have my work in almost every room of their house both in New York City and in the Hamptons.
I was recently commissioned to paint a “Welcome to the World” painting for Shonda Rhimes, who was adopting her third child. My clients were thrilled that they had rendered today’s most successful television writer, in her words, “speechless.” That I can bring joy is as much a gift to me as it is to the person receiving a commissioned painting.
Where do you find inspiration for your creativity?
I am constantly inspired by my subjects, and I think it comes through in my work, whether it’s a family portrait, a feeling like “La Vie en Rose” or something clever and cheeky, like “Smoking in the Boy’s Room.” I love being a part of a love story, when someone commissions me for an anniversary or wedding gift. I love creating work that honors those who have fought for our rights, like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk or even Billie Jean King. I think that my passion comes across in the pieces.