I fortuitously came across the art of Charity Janisse while scrolling through my Twitter feed in early 2016, and I was immediately struck by the power of her abstract work. I quickly realized that her creativity was something to be reckoned with as the colors and images jumped off the screen and attacked my senses. After reaching out in hopes of possibly collaborating on a future project, I was graciously given permission to use one of her paintings for inspiration. The resulting ekphrastic poem which I wrote in response wound up being published alongside her work in an issue of GloMag several months back. At that time, I happily discovered that not only is Charity a wonderful painter, but she is also a photographer and poet (among the many other hats she wears). She also happens to be a genuinely decent human being, which is becoming more rare in this chaotic world we find ourselves living in. Her main website can be accessed here, and I highly recommend navigating through the pages where you’ll find links to all her social media accounts as well as information on her past and future endeavors. I’m proud to present our recent interview, along with a selection of her various modes of expression…
Scott Thomas Outlar: Before diving in to the questions, I’d first like to say thank you, Charity, for taking some of your time to participate in this interview. To begin with, I have to ask about your name. In many ways, it seems that artists provide an invaluable (and oftentimes underappreciated) service to society through the work they create which winds up touching peoples’ lives in any number of ways. The name Charity synchronizes with this idea perfectly. Is there a story behind it?
Charity Janisse: Thank you Scott, I truly appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed by you and to have my poetry and artwork featured in The Blue Mountain Review.
In your question you have made a beautiful statement about artists, the arts and my name. I want to thank you for that, because up until just now I have never seen a connection between my name and my art career. I could not agree more about what an artist adds to society and the name Charity stands for love, giving, personal sacrifice and caring, which does represent the true soul of so many artists I know. There is a story behind my name, and it is not a short one but I will try to tell it as simply as I can. Charity is my real name. My parents were Hippies that had just become Christians and I was their first child born after a huge change in their lives and lifestyles. They named me Charity Joy, I’m pretty sure in hopes that I would follow in their newly discovered spiritual path. I took a very different road. I moved out young and because for me my birth name represented everything I felt like my parents had wanted me to be and every religious/parental expectation I’d chosen not to live up to, I changed my name, both legally, among friends, and on social media, multiple times. Over the years I have used several variations of my birth and various legal names to share my art and my poetry. Much of my work has been very provocative and experimental, and the name Charity (for me) felt much too churchy to represent the kind of work I was creating at various points in my life, so I chose different names to better represent myself and my projects. It was only about a year and a half ago that I made peace with my given name: Charity Joy Janisse. It was a huge personal breakthrough for me to realize that the person I truly am, despite my failure to live up to the expectations of others, is unique and precious in its own right.
I made peace with finding a balance between the person I had been raised to be, and who I had chosen to become. I deleted all my social media that I had created under my various pen-names and I made a fresh start writing, painting and publishing books under my given name, Charity Janisse. I have always loved the name Charity and have used it with my closest friends and family of course, but I never felt like it fit with my work as an artist and writer until recently. Now, after reading your question, I see the connection between the name Charity and the life of an artist and I feel even more confident that I have made the right choice in giving up my many pen-names and choosing to use my birth name and simply be exactly Charity.
Outlar: It sounds as if you’ve had an interesting path to reach this point. Art definitely has that power to take us on a spiritual journey. On that note, what are your thoughts on the role/responsibility that an artist has in society today?
Janisse: That for me is rather challenging question because I believe every artist creates from a unique perspective, for different reasons and purposes, with various goals; which means we play a huge variety of roles in society. I can only speak about the reason I create and what I believe to be my own responsibility to others. The role/responsibility I personally take as an artist in society is to be as authentic as possible; to set an example that we as people, artists or not, have the freedom to make our own personal choices about the direction of our lives. My responsibility is to honor my soul, to be my true self, and to inspire others to do the same. I believe it gives people hope to see someone sacrificing the comforts of an average income/ lifestyle to follow a dream. But to be very honest I don’t often think about my role or responsibility as an artist, I mostly make art and write to express my emotions and because I am driven, beyond all reason, to create. When I try to be anything other than a writer or an artist, I am lost and utterly miserable. So I create because I must, in order to be happy, and I share it because on some level I believe expressing my true soul may help others to embrace and express their own authenticity.
Outlar: Have you always been drawn toward artistic pursuits? Or was there a specific moment in your life that propelled you into the creative mindset?
Janisse: Yes & Yes. I have always been drawn towards artistic pursuits. I come from a family of artists. My mother is a professional artist as are several other family members. I spent my childhood traveling to art shows, galleries and art museums. I have adored the arts my whole life. Finding my own place in the world of arts was admittedly more challenging for me though. In my childhood and teen years I created a tremendous amount of art and participated / won awards in multiple youth art exhibits. Once I had children of my own, I changed my life direction considerably. I had been raised by an artist and knew well the ups and downs of an artist’s lifestyle. There were times we had it all and there were times we truly struggled tremendously. I wanted to give my kids more consistency, so while I continued to write poetry, create art and make and sell jewelry, I also held several cooperate jobs over the years, up until about 4 years ago. In 2012 I had… a breakdown; I was overwhelmed working outside the home 40 hours a week, being a single parent and staying up late night after night working on my creative pursuits, which were always on the side! It was taking a toll on my health and my family life.
I had no peace, I was miserable in the cooperate world, and I was exhausted all the time. So I took a huge leap of faith, quit my office job and began traveling and pursuing a completely different / much more creative life style.
It took a major breakdown for me to have my creative breakthrough, but in my heart I knew it had to happen, and I know I made the right choice. It has not been easy, there have been some major personal and financial challenges, but I am so much happier than I was 4 years ago. Now I am self-employed, I have published two books and I write and/or create art daily. I exhibit my artwork, but I am not sure I will ever choose to sell art. My books and my small business pay the rent… my painting and photography (for me) is a break from it all. My artwork is a release, it is emotional expression, it is relaxation. I’m not sure that if I tried to sell my art whether I would continue to find the joy that I do in my work; but who knows what the future holds. As you can see though, I have always had the creative mindset, but there was definitely a moment in my life that propelled me towards making that mindset a priority and sincerely pursuing a creative lifestyle.
Outlar: You’ve just recently published a new book, “We Are The Artists”, which includes your poetry, prose, and paintings. Would you like to share a bit about the process of bringing this project to fruition and what the book means to you? How do you feel now that it’s been released out into the world?
Janisse: This is hard for me to talk about, as the creation of a book is a deeply personal experience, but I will do my best. Writing the content of the book was relatively effortless and I felt very inspired as I worked. I have been writing my whole life. I have mountains of poetry and short stories, blogs, etc. I easily have the material on hand to create 10 books right now, if I had the time and self-discipline to do the work and the editing. So I had most of the content already finished before I even began to put the book together. The challenge for me was deciding a theme for the book, a cover design, which of my poems to include, if I would add artwork, would I include prose or not, and then of course the editing. I felt very inspired, very guided, once I began writing and choosing content for the book. The theme and title came to me in moments of spontaneous inspiration. I then added the already written poetry and the book in many ways felt as if it was writing itself. The majority of the work I did over a four day weekend and though it was rather exhausting work, I enjoyed it very much. The most difficult part came in the months to follow.
The editing was so challenging… it took several months to complete. I am a writer, I am not an editor. I had three people help with the editing and yet I continued to find small errors even months after publishing the book! I went back and forth on cover choices (even after the initial publication) which mostly just confused my readers, but I had to get it just right. I launched the book at the end of March, but it was not truly complete until the end of July. Now that it is done, I am extremely happy with the finished product. I have published two books, one independently and one through a publishing company. The book I published with help was a wonderful experience and it is selling beautifully. The book We Are The Artists that I published on my own was more difficult and time consuming than any other project I have ever taken on. Ultimately though I love the way the book came together. I am thankful for the support I have received and the sales I have made, and I am thrilled that I had total creative control, which to me is the greatest perk of self-publication.
How do I feel now that the book is released into the world…? Relieved! I am just so happy to have it done! I am working on self-publishing three separate books at present, and I am so glad to have published one of them! At the same time I feel incredibly vulnerable. I shared my heart in that book, and now I feel like a piece of my heart is out in the world for anyone to read… that is both comforting and frightening all at once.
Outlar: I certainly wish you much success with this latest book as well as the others you have lined up for the future. Thank you again, Charity, for taking some of your time to speak with me. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to express concerning future projects or your art in general? I’ll leave the last word to you, and will urge the readers to hang around afterwards to read one of your poems.
Janisse: Thanks Scott! It’s my pleasure and I wish you much success with your present and future projects as well. As for the future of my art, absolutely anything is possible. I work as I am inspired. I have some goals of course, but I find my best poetry and artwork comes to me when I don’t plan… and when I least expect it. At this present moment I have recently accomplished a few of my greatest goals as an artist and writer, so now I am simply looking forward to unexpected, spontaneous moments of artistic creation, and when the next inspiration comes to me I will let it flow from my heart and mind, through my hands, and out into the world. Thank you again for asking these questions, you have helped me to step back and see my name and my work as an artist from a new perspective and that is always a good thing!
Charity Janisse was interviewed by Scott Thomas Outlar on September 4 – October 1, 2016
The interview first appeared in The Blue Mountain Review issue 5.
by Charity Janisse
To show my art
Is to show my madness
To let it be revealed
For what it is
The need that gnaws at us
Am I alone in this?
Emily Dickinson hid in white dresses and lived in a quiet room
Away from anyone
Who would seek to know her more…
Behind this electric screen
The walls are the same
Life goes on outside
And I swear to join it again
But what am I to do
What am I to bring when I leave this place
If not my words
If not my art
I have nothing to offer.
And yet to share my art is to share my madness
And this unusual world that I see
Where ancient trees wave and smile at me
Surrounded in shimmering colors of life
And brilliant energy
As I walk
Through the street
Emily Dickinson hid out
In a white dress
And an upstairs bedroom
Well I have this screen.
Scott Thomas Outlar hosts 17Numa.wordpress.com where links to his published poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, reviews, and books can be found. He is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee. His books include: Songs of a Dissident (Transcendent Zero Press, 2015), Chaos Songs (Weasel Press, 2016), and Happy Hour Hallelujah (CTU Publishing, 2016).
Charity Janisse is an author, poet, children’s author and versatile artist. Charity comes from a family of artists and grew up traveling the country, camping, exploring, running barefoot around art shows and lingering in galleries and museums. A life in the arts has given Charity a passion for supporting the arts not only as an artist and writer, but also as an online curator and social media expert. In her free time Charity can often be found painting with her daughter outdoors, or curled up with coffee and a book. Her favorite time to scribble poetry or work on a novel is around 4 a.m. when the world feels quiet and the sun begins to rise, bringing with it crisp morning air and a sense of hope.