It probably won’t be a surprise to those who know her, but art class was Tarra Louis-Charles’ favorite elective when she was in high school. The Brooklyn-born visual artist and jewelry designer remembers being particularly encouraged by the two electives she sat through. She tried to repeat the experience in college, but felt stifled by the confinements of a university-level art class that emphasized drawing “proper”, harsh critique sessions, and student-artist-eat-student-artist competition.
Tarra felt more liberated learning on her own, and I must say that looking at her paintings, all her independent study sessions really—really—paid off. In her painting “Earth”, she depicts humanity’s home as a woman with scarlet-sun-tinted dreadlocks—enveloped by the bright blues of her oceans. On her chest are the sturdy branches of a tree, which no doubt symbolizes her children. Her downcast, purple-lidded eyes are a reminder of the selflessness she displays towards her children.
This motif of self-denial manifests itself in “Reach Within”, another of Tarra’s paintings. The figure depicted in “Reach Within” has her wooly hair draped over her face. She’s illuminated in lime green, and wears the garb of a West African queen.
A recurring aspect of Tarra’s style is her use bold colors. Could she have picked this up at a graffiti museum? Most likely she got it from her stepfather. “He is—was—an artist and I was the curious child lurking behind him and wishing that I could transform a blank canvas into something bold and colorful someday,” she recalls.
Well, someday is finally here, and Tarra Louis-Charles is no longer a painter-wanna-be watching from the sidelines—she is one.
Girl, I have to start out by telling you how awesome your work is. How long have you been painting?
Thank you Kat, I truly appreciate it! I’ve been drawing since I was four years old, but I’ve been painting for about eight years now.
Kreyolicious: You grew up in Brooklyn. What sort of memories do you picture when you think of your childhood?
I left [Brooklyn] when I was five years old. I lived in Massachusetts and Florida for a little bit before moving to Haiti. I lived in Haiti for four years—from ages nine to thirteen, then moved back to Massachusetts and lived there for fifteen years. Because of all the moving around, I think of my childhood as a turbulent adventure and constantly having to adapt to change. I believe that is why my paintings aren’t distinguishable. One of the critics I’ve received is that my paintings are all over the place and that I need a consistent style. However, there’s a reason why my style is versatile. It is due to my experiences and it is a representative of who I am as a person. And because my artworks are an extension of who I am, they must adapt to my current mood and environment.
“Reach Within”, A Tarra Louis-Charles creation. This painting and all others copyright Tarra Louis-Charles.
Kreyolicious: And you also . Now, do you usually create the jewelry first, and then do a painting? I saw a necklace with one of your paintings in the cameo, so I was just wondering…
Glad you asked. I started morphing my paintings into jewelry about a year ago. I wanted to accessorize my artwork and give women a chance to wear art, thus all my jewelry has one of my paintings in the cameo. I create the painting first, then resize the artwork to fit the corresponding cameo. I then design the jewelry by repurposing some of my old pieces, or by buying random jewelry items and putting them together however I see fit. The whole process is like piecing a puzzle and making something that looks appealing.
Kreyolicious: Not everyone receives parental encouragement when they decide to head towards an artistic path. What was the case with you?
That was definitely the case for me. I was a senior in high school when I told my mother I wanted to go to art school and…she had a moment. She freaked out, called her sisters, brothers, friends, pastor to complain that I was heading on a suicide mission and to please help her talk some sense into me. Unfortunately, I was very obedient back then, so I decided to major in Legal Studies just so that my mother wouldn’t have a heart attack. I realized a lot of Haitian parents have limited views when it comes to choosing a career path. They tell their daughters to become a nurse, doctor, or lawyer and their sons to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Not to say there’s anything wrong with those choices, but our nation is too creative to restrict ourselves to choices that are considered “safe”. My passion for art was too strong to completely abandon it, so I continued working on my artistry without my mother’s knowledge. She always assumed I was going to law school to become a lawyer. It was when I had my first in January 2014, that she realized I made my decision to head towards an artistic path years ago and masked it with my BA in Legal Studies. My mother was taken by surprise and repeatedly asked, “Who, what when, where, how did you learn how to paint?!” She’s now starting to see that there are other career paths beyond the medicine and law field, and I think she admires my tenacity and commitment to follow what is in my heart.
Kreyolicious: This is a staple question here…so, like, when was the last time you went to Haiti, chile?
Shamefully, fifteen years ago [bows head]. I spent my formative years there, and although I didn’t enjoy living with limited electricity and all the other things we take for granted in the USA, in retrospect, that was the beginning of my spiritual journey. My experience there shaped me artistically and as a person. I learned to have a sense a humor and to be kind. I developed empathy and compassion, and learned to be grateful at all times. Therefore, I am embarrassed for never making the effort to go back. However, in my heart Haiti is home—so I know I will go back someday…maybe even permanently…when the time is right.
Another Tarra Louis-Charles creation. This one is appropriately-titled “Selfie”.
Kreyolicious: What sort of environment do you thrive in? There are people who are able to create regardless of what’s happening around them. Then there are those who have to be alone, or who have to have music on.
Painting without music is like working in complete darkness. It’s imperative for me to create with music in the background. Sometimes I’ll experiment and try to create something without music, but it’s impossible to evoke my imagination without it. There has to be some type of background noise weather that’s being around chatter or having the T.V. on. I also discovered that people gravitate more towards my paintings that were created with music than any other background noise. I believe music is what guides and seduces me to be more expressive; it turns on my internal light switch.
Kreyolicious: Do you feel particularly attached to anything you’ve created…to the point where you’d rather not part with it?
Why yes. Most (perhaps all) of my pieces from 2006-2010 are paintings that I cannot and will not part with. Mostly because it was when I started teaching myself how to paint, and it is in these pieces where I see my raw and uncooked vision. My earlier paintings are bookmarks of my visual creations at its purest; therefore, it is hard for me to detach myself from my amateurish stage of life. I hold them dear to my heart.
Kreyolicious: Procrastination and creativity seem to go hand in hand. Your thoughts?
I have to agree with this. I believe procrastination is a time for self reflection. It’s a chance to come back with fresher ideas. It’s a moment of releasing whatever is pent up inside you, unlocking your creative flow, and evolving into your new Self. I’m a procrastinator and ironically extremely productive. I need time to recover and recharge my mind, body, and spirit. When I’m not in the mood to paint, I usually take long walks in nature, turn to writing and journaling, or spending days and nights listening to music and dancing. I think forcing your creativity complicates things and leaves you feeling stressed and exhausted.
“Fly” by Tarra Louis-Charles…
Kreyolicious: Who’s your biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspiration is a tie between my great-aunt Manyi—real name Lumena—and my grandfather—Papi Lou Lou. I lived with both of them during my stay in Haiti and consider them role models for different reasons. Manyi was the sweetest person I’ve ever met and her kindness inspired me to always see the good in people and to never lose faith in humanity. My grandfather, on the other hand, was tough and intimidating. Yet, I was inspired by his resilience and perseverance against all odds. He never backed down and kept going no matter what. They both passed away years ago and I honor them by adding the “Lu” behind my artist name Tarra Lu as a remembrance of their presence.
Kreyolicious: You are a self-described nomad. When you think of all the places you’ve been, which has proven to be the most conducive to you as an artist?
Definitely Haiti. I fell in love with the warm Caribbean color palette during my stay in Haiti and now incorporate them into my paintings. I remember being in awe by the vibrant paintings from the street vendors. These paintings captured the spirit of the people in Haiti and imprinted on my mind.
Kreyolicious: There’s this painting that you have…when one visits your website…it’s the third on the slider…It’s of a swarthy woman with yellow lipstick. I think it looks so cool. It just caught my eye. I was wondering…what inspired you to paint it?
Thank you! That painting is actually my own essence: my self-portrait. I wanted to experiment with a different technique and I thought it was appropriate to use myself as the subject. I wanted to take a step back to see aspects of my identity that are weak, unexplored, and/or misunderstood. It’s like going to therapy. I wanted to explore and better understand myself as well as see the polarities in my personality.
Kreyolicious: Agreed…What’s next for you?
To continue growing as an artist, share my vision, and be an inspiration. I still struggle with adding meanings behind my work because I do not wish to influence how viewers choose to see my art pieces. I prefer the inquiring minds to enter the painting and see where it takes them. Nevertheless, there are special stories of what I was going through and the emotions I was feeling behind each of my paintings. Creating art in itself is a vulnerable experience, but revealing my emotions is something I have yet to feel comfortable with—it’s a work in progress. I’m also working on getting more exposure for my paintings and online handcrafted jewelry shop. I also hope brand my name Tarra Lu, expand to textiles, garments, and fabrics someday. And last but not least, I wish to collaborate with other artists, musicians, fashion designers…have my own team, and develop a worldwide presence.
[All images furnished by the artist, and are used with consent. ]
Last Updated on April 7, 2023 by kreyolicious