Lélia - Mother and artist
Kalia Pissarro-Stern


It is difficult to pass judgment on something when you do not understand the reasons behind it.

Even when you do understand, it can still be difficult.

The mind of an artist is, in every sense, a minefield. Even when you think you have them figured out, it is only because they want you to think that is the case.

Judging art can be challenging enough from an outsider’s point of view, but when you are close to the creator, it can be even tougher. Sometimes you must separate yourself from what you think you know and simply look.

I have been watching my mother paint since as far back as I can remember ; my whole life has evolved around the works she produces.

When she says she paints in isolation, physically this may be true but emotionally it is not. Her whole family, her friends, her heroes, her muses are with her always, as is obvious when you look at the works she has created.

How does one make a flat canvas covered with paint become emotionally charged for the viewer? My guess is that it happens through passion and love of the medium. It doesn’t matter if the subject conveys nothing material; what the viewer feels depends on how the artist wants him to feel, how the artist himself felt.

When I look at my mother’s paintings I feel something far beyond rational understanding. I feel what she feels: I feel her freedom.

Being able to paint without inhibition, restrictions or judgments is presumably the hardest task for a creator seeking acceptance.

People are very quick to judge when they do not understand.

Furthermore, when you have a mountain of heritage and tradition on your shoulders, finding the strength to break away and paint simply because you love it and for its own enjoyment, is surely the bravest step you can take; to ignore what the buyers want and to paint for the sake of painting.

It is strange how moments of enlightenment often come in the times of emotional weakness and turmoil, how creativity seems to come as a by-product of suffering.

When my mother recovered from a potentially fatal illness, her life was turned upside-down. It seemed she began to question her ability to carry on living how she had been, working for the sake of it, attending parties, dinners, entertaining often only for the sake of a potential sale. This proved very draining and when the little energy she had was spent in trying to cope with daily life, it was no surprise to me that she stopped painting.

Some people are born artists and creators and when this is your whole essence rather than simply a choice of career, it is something you will do for life.This is why I knew my mother would star t painting again. I knew it would take some time but I did not worry for long.

When one day my brother Dotahn needed help with a school art project, she put aside her insecurities about painting, in order to give her son an example. She picked up a paintbrush for the first time in months, forgot who she was for a moment and drew a few circles on a page. This opportunity to paint with the freedom of a child seemed to rekindle a long-lost passion. A few months later, when an old friend asked her to produce a painting for a cancer charity depicting what femininity meant to her, she produced a single glittering bright red shoe. The chance to paint without restrictions, purely for the love of it, reminded her why she had first started.

This new-found freedom of expression now allowed her to experiment with her choice of mediums and to reflect upon alternative directions, as well as fresh approaches to earlier subjects.

Yeyette’s house, a familiar memory from her upbringing and years of learning with Paulémile, acted as the subject which would bridge the gap between her changes of style. Bringing abstract expression to a figurative subject allowed Lélia to step outside the conformities and rules of her traditional impressionist teachings whilst having the chance to revisit her past and pay homage to her heritage.

Subsequently, her exploration with almost childlike use of vivid colours, glitters and their obvious connotations of femininity, brought renewed enthusiasm. She added the palette knife to her brushes, becoming absorbed in fresh styles and patterns, which in turn allowed her to investigate new flows of ideas, some instinctive and free, some rational and analytical, but all honest and genuine.

Now, when I look at her earlier figurative paintings, I see that she has evolved into a completely different artist.

I remember nights of trying to get to sleep, hearing the sounds of pumping drum and bass filtering through the floorboards from the ““painters only members club”” in the studio above. Occasionally my sister and I, with the excuse of stomach aches and desperate thirst, would climb the stairs to the studio at the top of the house to try and see what was going on in there. I remember thinking of Daddy sound asleep for an early start to work the next day, being very aware of mine for school and thinking that she must have the best kind of career in the world, sitting in her cosy house with her family all day, listening to whatever music she wanted, working when she wanted, to try and inspire her to paint a window into another world through which others can gain an insight into her life, her thoughts, who she was and how this work came to be.

Little did I know the hardships that this choice would entail. When you are your own boss, you must also be your harshest critic.

All I know is I saw struggle, difficulty and inspiration through bravery. My mother’s ability to stick to her ideas despite what everyone else might have said has, in turn, inspired me.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I would like to finish by thanking my mother for standing her ground through the hardships life sent her way. I am inspired by her everyday and so proud of how far she has come.