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By Chere Di Boscio
The daughter of artist Marcel Debreuil and married to Grinspoon bassist Joe Hansen, Carmel Debreuil is making a name for herself in the world of art with her depictions of defiant childhood.
A self-confessed ‘people person’, Debreuil is especially fascinated by the early years of human life. The mother of two says: “I like to capture the innocence of childhood with its beauty, confusion, vulnerability and uncertainty, but also the bravado and swagger and confidence too. It’s almost like a slyly dark look at an awesome time of life. I know the story behind each piece, but everyone will interpret them differently, often as a reaction to their own childhood.” She gives us her take on childhood through the medium of acrylic and Posca acrylic paint texters, often smoothed onto sanded plywood thanks to its hard surface, interesting knots and grainy texture.
Here, she tells Eluxe about her own childhood and more, through her Vie en Vert.
What is the earliest memory you have of being in nature?
Probably one of my earliest memories of being in nature would be when I was a little girl and we lived up north on a reservation, Cross Lake. We went to school in a boat in the summer and by bombardier in the winter. The reservation was made up a number of islands, some inhabited, some not. We often took boat trips to explore the islands, go fishing and camping and to look at historical rock paintings and natural wonders like The Devil’s ladder. It was very beautiful and pristine.
I also have an early memory of living out in the country south of Winnipeg. It was one of those hazy, dusty summer days. I had been stung by a bee and mum had bundled me up in hammock and I lay there swinging looking at the dappled sunlight sparkling through the trees. It’s my only real memory of living at that place. I must have been two or three? But the memory is still strong forty years later!
Has the natural world inspired your work, in any way?
I never think of myself as someone who paints landscapes or animals, yet I realise that they play a huge part in my art. The kids are always interacting with oversized animals and living in these fantasy landscapes. I also incorporate the wood grain and knots into my work so that the natural beauty of the plywood becomes part of the art. I love camping and I live surrounded by national park and the ocean and being that close to green and blue calms me and energizes me at the same time. I think being in nature keeps you young in a way. There is nothing like sand between your toes, rain on your face, and sunshine on your shoulders.
What’s the most positive thing you do for the environment in your daily life?
I live in Australia now which is a very dry country. We live in a small village that has no town water. The entire town lives on rainwater. That means we are responsible for rationing water and using it sensibly. Our washing machine is five star rated, our showers are short and even the kids know not to leave the tap running! It annoys me when we are in a drought and people who have the “endless” supply of water have to be told not to water the lawn or wash the car. We have a tank in the yard and it’s very clear for us when we are running low. People who have the luxury of town water don’t see the reservoirs getting lower and lower and I don’t think they realise how serious the situation could become.
What’s your greatest eco ‘sin’?
Not composting. I know I should do it, but here in Australia where it’s so hot most of the year… well, sometimes I just put it in the green bin. The government supplies this little bins that are supposed to sit on your counter to put scraps in but I find they attract cockroaches and flies and sometimes you get maggots and it’s disgusting.
What would be your eco-friendly dream travel destination?
I haven’t been to Tasmania or the Kimberleys in Western Australia so those would be fabulous destinations. As I mentioned, I love camping and so my dream destination would have to include bonfires, sleeping in a tent and the sounds of nature. But if we are thinking big? Well in Western Australia I would go to Eco Beach just outside of Broome. It’s on the ocean and it’s camping but it’s a very glamorous version of sleeping under the stars. And in Tasmania? Well the whole state is amazing and a natural wonder. I just found this place the other day cos some friends went for their anniversary. It’s called The Pumphouse and it’s just breathtaking. Tasmania is very fresh and crisp at certain times of the year. The idea of sleeping in a renovated pump house in the middle of a lake surrounded by these old growth trees is just divine. I wouldn’t even need to celebrate an anniversary to make that a special holiday!
What are you proudest of so far in your career?
My biggest achievement so far is being a finalist in the Portia Geach Memorial Award. It’s a portraiture based painting juried competition for female artists only with a $30,000 prize. It was established in the early sixties and only a select number of women make it into the finals and the show is hung in a gorgeous old public gallery in the Rocks of Sydney. It’s on the top of Observatory Hill overlooking Sydney Harbour and is breathtaking. This was my first time entering and to be chosen to be hung was a thrill. My goal for next year? To win it!
What are your favourite ‘green’ skincare, food, home or fashion brands?
I have a very low key beauty routine, but one of my favorite products is rosehip oil. I get it from a local market from a small company that brews it organically. I love it on my face when it’s hot and humid because it doesn’t feel like it’s going to clog my pores and doesn’t contain anything but the natural oils. In the winter when my skin is dry, it’s a perfect antidote for flaky patches of dry skin. I also love supporting local businesses.
Which high profile person trying to make a difference do you most admire, and why?
There is a street artist from France named JR. He does amazingly beautiful work with a social message. I found him through TED Talks but he continues to grow and change and inspire. His work is all about people and about neighbourhoods and about connections. His work also encourages the public to get involved and participate. I love how he encourages unification and an appreciation for people as unique individuals, each with their own story that is fascinating and special. He uses beauty, humour and juxtaposition to break down social barriers and share love. I am such a huge fan of his work and how he influences and changes the world through art.
When and where are you happiest?
I am most happy when I’m at home in my studio painting or hanging my kids, my husband and my friends on our deck. Our home is always filled with laughter and the doors are always open for visitors. Painting is a very solitary line of work for me so I like to balance it out with a robust social life. There is this fantastic moment when a painting comes to life and it’s only matched by the sound of the laughter of loved ones.
For which cause would you die, if any?
Hmm. Well, being a mother, I think I would die for my kids, but I’m not sure other than that, what causes are worth dying for. Death makes a statement but it’s very final and people end up forgetting. I think I would rather live and put more energy into whatever cause I felt that strongly about. I’ve experienced death and loss and it’s very life changing. It’s inevitable for all of us. I’m not sure rushing it to become a martyr for a cause is how I want to celebrate life. I think there are other more constructive ways to be supportive of beliefs!
Which environmental issues are most important to you?
I guess the most important issues for me at the moment are to stop Coal Seam Gas exploration. I live in such a beautiful pristine part of the world, and even in Australia the area I call home is quite unique. They have tried to start Coal Seam Gas exploration here and were met with blockades and resistance that was so powerful, they gave up. It brought all types of people together from old farmers to hippies and professional protesters. It was quite amazing to see all these disparate folk come together for a united cause. It was a bit David and Goliath and it was beautiful to see the tail end of those people. Greed blows my mind, but it’s our consumerism that drives the machine. I suppose if we could all live a little more simple and a little more green we would start seeing a difference. I’m so surprised that Australia is still looking at coal for energy and not harnessing the sun. We have lots of empty space and more sunshine than most places. It seems obvious and simple but it is sure slow progress.
What’s the main thing you think we all need to do to ensure a better future?
I think the biggest thing is we could continue to think. I think the world is changing for the better. Things have certainly changed from when I was a kid where people had to be encouraged to throw their garbage in the bin and instead of out of the car window on a road trip! Now recycling is a norm, I can’t imagine anyone purposefully littering, and we think about what goes into our earth and our bodies.
I do think we should start considering our throw away society that is very consumer based. I love the idea of people buying bespoke items rather than stuff that can be chucked out when we are “over” it. Whether it’s a classic pair of jeans, a gorgeous piece of furniture or one of a kind art, I think people should go for quality and something they will cherish rather than something cheap and mass produced. We are so lucky to live where we do and in the time that we do. We want to make sure the next generations enjoy the same beauty. This sentiment hasn’t changed for generations, I’m sure!