“I’m blessed with a happy disposition, a lot of energy, and a genuine love for people. It shows in the colorful exuberance of my paintings, and in the expression and movement of my sculptures. When I make art I feel aligned with my purpose.”
Valérie Chaussonnet is a French-American visual artist based in Austin and in Aix-en-Provence, France. While a museum anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC in the 1980s, a specialist of Siberian and American Arctic women’s art and shamanism, she trained in sculpture at the Corcoran Art School, and so has been working in sculpture and painting for over 30 years. Her 2-D work in oil, pastel, charcoal, watercolor, and india ink is joyful and whimsical. Her favored medium in sculpture is steel, mostly reclaimed, re-cut, forged and re-welded into expressive stylised busts, landscapes inspired by Asian sumi ink paintings on paper, fantastic birds, goddesses from ancient times, and abstract pieces full of movement.
Her anthropological research and her interest in world cultures greatly inform themes and aesthetics in her artwork to this day. They include our attachment to our landscape, to our ancestral, prehistoric and biological origins, and to one another as humans.
Her work has been exhibited in a solo show at Midland Arts Council in 2020, and over 45 group exhibitions since 2017, in art spaces such as the Austin Museum of Art, with the Mona Lisa Project, which traveled to the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Michigan, as well; the Neill-Cochran House Museum in Austin; the Lawndale Art Center and the Art Car Museum in Houston; the Contemporary Art Museum in Plainview Texas; Artspace111 in Fort Worth; the Biblical Arts Museum in Dallas, in a show curated by James Surls; Dimension Gallery in Austin, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, where she was awarded First Place (Best of Show) for a sculpture during Austin Museum Day in 2019. Her work was selected in the Richard and Pam Salmon International Sculpture Competition in San Angelo for a two-year exhibit in 2019. Her work is in private collections in the US and in France.
What does intersectional feminism mean to you and how does activism show up in your work?
I have a passion for people, in an inclusive way, in their many expressions — except in behaviors that oppress others, which is where my feminism and activism is defined. I am supportive of the many voices from all my sisters, in the widest definition of females, as long as these voices are not exclusional and reductive. I believe that acceptance of the differences and cooperation between victims and allies will help us all repair and heal patriarchal, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and racist injustices.
In my life I have mostly ignored or defied oppressive gender stereotypes and have simultaneously pursued activities classically considered feminine and masculine, as I felt I wanted to. These categories are fortunately eroding, so I’m clearly not alone. Pioneers are my models, I am solidifying their trails. I am feminine, I sew, own over a hundred dresses and proudly wear my hair very long. I cook and paint, and I also cut and weld my steel sculptures and enjoy blacksmithing, the only times I don’t actually wear a dress. As a girl I was feisty and chose judo over ballet without hesitation, and am grateful I was given the choice. I have loved my pregnancies, nursing my sons, being a mother. I have owned 3 motorcycles before I had a car, on my fourth now. Those childhood judo rolls proved useful the few times I ended up having to fly off the bike and land on hard grounds (never my fault, I can drive). I once landed on a cow while parachuting, which might not vouch for my parachuting skills but goes to show that I don’t choose to live my life, if anything, in a boring way.
My new frontiers are less physically reckless, as it hurts more now when I fall, but I continue designing my life with as much freedom as I can have, while hopefully modeling kindness, cooperation and inclusion. Designing my life is part of my artwork.
I created and taught a French daycare out of my now-officially-labeled “Weird Home”, in the Weird Homes of Austin book. Now I teach adults “French Over Dinner” classes, in my school which is still La Petite Provence Austin. Jan Stinchcomb, a writer living in LA, whose children were my students once, and who creates feminist flash literature, wrote this paragraph in her piece “Your Face Will Stay That Way”:
“Do you want to play with Snow White?”
Valérie hands my child the doll to distract her as I leave. She does not tell her to stop crying. Valérie calls the doll Blanche-Neige because this is French school. I have chosen to leave my children with a transgressor, a liberal from Provence who has a husband and a lover. A metal sculptor who never apologizes for herself. She would never tell a girl to smile.