by Leah Draffen
CONSIDER OUR HANDS. Most of us use our hands to do just about everything in our day-to-day lives. Artist Christy Boutte uses her hands in bit more powerful ways—to finger paint, and to speak in sign language.
Spinal meningitis left Christy profoundly deaf at 13 months old. And today, her paintings are just as much a form of communication as they are a form of self- expression. “I use my hands to express myself through my second language of signing, and finger painting,” Christy says. “Being deaf, I feel that my art breaks down the communication barrier between myself and the hearing world. While I can read lips and chat, my art is like an ice breaker. It speaks my voice.”
It was in high school that Christy realized her natural ability to draw and create. She knew then that she wanted to be an artist. “Art gave me the self-confidence and strength to push through academically. As a deaf student in a mainstream environment, school was tough, but art class was my happy place. It still is!” Christy went on to become the first deaf graduate from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2000.
Fresh out of college and a starving artist, Christy traded her first original painting for rent. She earned a living and inspired young students as an Art Director at a Montessori School in Austin while continuing to paint and sell her pieces. Three short years later, she was asked to create her first poster for the 2003 Gretna Heritage Festival. That poster opened the door to her nearly two-decade career as a festival poster artist, creating over 50 posters for various festivals in Louisiana and across the country. A Gretna native, Christy captures the playful spirit of our local traditions, wildlife and architecture in her paintings.
Christy’s oldest and most popular series is her Mardi Gras Tree, like the one on our cover. She says, “A friend told me a while back, ‘New Orleans is so fabulous, even the trees wear jewelry.’ I use that a lot when talking about them. The tree roots represent how we New Orleanians are so deeply rooted in our culture.” Her Petunia the Pelican is also popular with Christy’s collectors. Petunia can be seen dressed in all sorts of professional garb and cleverly placed headwear. She is so well-loved that Christy chose her for the Magazine Street gallery storefront.
Christy’s subjects often come from her experiences and feelings. “One night out with friends, the waiter asked if I would like a complimentary glass of house wine. I immediately envisioned an old shotgun house built into a bottle of wine. That was how my House Wine and Home Brew paintings came to life. We live in such a vibrant city with inspiration at every turn.”
The idea or inspiration is only half the fun for Christy. She says: “The act of painting brings me love, joy, peace, comfort and healing. Sharing my art with the world brings me the kind of happiness that feeds my heart and soul. Knowing that my art makes people smile makes my heart flutter.” While painting has always brought Christy joy, her method of doing so has changed over her long career. In the early 2000s, Christy used oils and a palette knife to create thickly laid pieces. But as the market became saturated with this style, Christy decided to stretch her creative wings and grow into a new style of her own.
She reflects: “With so many palette knife paintings and comparisons from one artist to another, I fell into darkness. I became frustrated and lost my passion as an artist. One day, I walked into my studio, sat on my artist’s stool, and became lost in deep thought. As I focused inward, I began to breathe in all the experiences and discoveries throughout my career. I asked myself, how do I return to that unique place that sets me apart from other artists?
“I gathered materials that I had used in many stages of my art education and career then combined them an entirely new style that I am so in love with. I thought, ‘I use sign language to speak, why not use my hands to speak volumes through my art?’”
Christy quickly discovered that painting with her hands came more naturally and beautifully than it did with brushes and palette knives. Currently, Christy continues to use her fingers to paint with unconventional mediums and materials. Her latest favorites are chalk paint and finished plywood. She is currently working on Petunia’s Fashion Week on Magazine Street, which will debut in December at the Uptown Gallery.
Next on Christy’s art journey, she hopes to tackle sculpture. Something tells me that she will be a natural. She concludes, “I want viewers to feel that their hearts are at peace when they look at my art. I want them to smile and chuckle. If it speaks to them and they connect, I have done my job.”
Meet Christy on December 9, 6-8pm at Art by Christy Gallery located at 4616 Magazine Street. Art by Christy Studio is located at 603 Lafayette Street in Gretna. artbychristy.com. Follow along Facebook and Instagram @artbychristy.