Arkansas Sketchbook: Joëlle Storet

"Wakarusa"

There was a shift and a rebirth, that much can be said. It’s not that what’s there now wasn’t there before. It was. It was in the murals that made her a household name in Fayetteville (namely those on the white fence along the Razorback Greenway). It was in the T-shirts she designed with bears going fishing, it was in the bodies she painted, and the portraits she painted of familiar-faced celebrities rendered in shocks of loud colors. It was always there—the suggestion of the work she’d eventually do for herself later—but it wasn’t until recently that it came to the surface. But first, a few words about Joëlle Storet.Though she’s called Fayetteville home since 2000, her roots stem from far-flung places that are decidedly not Arkansas. The daughter of a Belgian father and a Congolese mother, she spent much of her childhood growing up in large European cities (principally, Brussels and Vienna). Although it was very much an immersion in many cultures, Joëlle says, the European influence was often the dominant thread.

Over the years, various media and ideas spoke to her. At high school in Fayetteville, she found murals; at the University of Arkansas, anthropology and semiotics. All of this, combined with a litany of other influences—notably, comic books, which she’d grown up reading—all eventually coalesced as she came to know herself as an artist. The most recent element, however—the element that’s lent her work more depth and personal ties—has been her exploration of her mother’s African roots. Here there are African figures, long and lithe in blues and bright colors, and they feel seamless.

Although it’s somewhat difficult to pin down an exact reason for the shift, the accelerating agent that shifted and repositioned her work with a greater focus on her Congolese roots doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’d always been there, and that it didn’t so much need developing as it did delivering. And while there’s little doubt her work is complete as is, one can only wonder, knowing the depths of Joëlle’s creative spirit, what else is there just below the surface. —jph

A Sense of Place, an exhibition featuring Joëlle’s work along with that of Cory Perry, Brandon Watts, Morgan Bame, Donovon Brutus and MJ Fentis, opens Feb. 2 at Fayetteville Underground.

Posted in A&E

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