Virmarie DePoyster’s subjects glow, seemingly able to leap from the canvas, but the artist herself, with strong Latin American roots, takes centerstage in her upcoming exhibit, “Beyond Labels | Más Allá De Las Etiquetas.” DePoyster’s exhibit opens Thursday, Oct. 28, at the Arts & Sciences Center for Southeast Arkansas with a drop-in reception with the artist from 5-7 p.m. The exhibit is open through Jan. 29.
In her self-portrait, titled “Empathetic,” DePoyster is cloaked in an American flag. DePoyster isn’t looking at the viewer but beyond, seriously and thoughtfully — contemplating the promised future it embodies.
“The viewer feels the weight of the flag’s fabric, of the concept of being American, and what labels society puts on us,” ASC Curator Jessica Lenehan said.
DePoyster was born an American citizen in Puerto Rico before moving to the U.S. “Empathetic” had to be the focal painting of the exhibit and is used on the ASC’s advertisement of the exhibit, Lenehan said.
COLOR IS POWER
Former ASC Curator Chaney Jewell, who approached DePoyster about a show this summer, said of the artist’s portraits: “I was struck by the power of her subjects’ gaze. Their eyes hold a sparkle, captured by DePoyster, that is often lost in the process of a subject’s image being transferred from life onto paper.” After a conversation with DePoyster, Jewell said, “It became obvious that this spark is maintained because the artist herself holds a light, charisma, and joy for art and her subjects that is contagious.” After Jewell left ASC, Lenehan was named curator in September and took over putting the DePoyster exhibit together. This included details such as the artist’s statement, and the design and installment of the pieces in the ASC’s main building.
She was instrumental in deciding on the exhibit’s signature piece.
Lenehan said, it, along with her other 16 pieces that are included in the exhibit, aren’t about presenting “one’s best self but your most real self,” Lenehan said.
THE LAYERS OF LIFE
Like the Latina artist, there’s complexity to DePoyster’s subjects, even more pronounced by her method of “coloring.” Her unique technique is achieved by her repeated applications of pastels, changing the hues and colors of the under- and over-layers. These create contrast, adding dimension to her pieces, she said. It often brings an ethereal quality to her subjects.
In a sense, this method represents DePoyster and her life. Her mother and two sisters left Puerto Rico in 1993 because her father, a minister, “had abandoned us,” she recalled.
The family was promised a temporary home in El Dorado until her mother started teaching, and young De-Poyster didn’t speak English but held tightly to a Spanish-to-English dictionary as they boarded the plane.
“Looking back, that little paperback became an invaluable bridge in my new hometown — opening many doors and giving me a means to communicate, connect, and build relationships,” she said.
Although Puerto Rico is an American territory and its residents are American citizens, the family was treated badly. The four lived in a single room for a year until her mother got a job teaching world history and Spanish at a local high school.
“The remedial kids would make fun of my accent so I had a hard time with that,” DePoyster remembered.
It was around this time that DePoyster began to avoid the spotlight because often people weren’t shy about commenting on her accent or questioning whether she was a citizen or not. Their words could sting, she said with no animosity to her voice.
A few years later, she earned a degree from the University of Arkansas in fashion design and merchandising. Still, without these early experiences, she said her art as it is “might not exist as it does,” and much like a quilt, “We’re all a little different.”
AN ARTIST’S LIGHT
As a painter, she learned to cope with the spotlight.
Often, she said, “People think I am confident and got it together. Most times I feel like a duck, calm on top of the water and paddling like hell under the water.” Because she has to be in front of people as an artist and teacher, people assume she is an extrovert, but, she said, “In reality I am highly introverted. I love my alone space, and I am most like a wallflower.”