It was a celebration of various sorts for Valerie Perreault, the artist and owner of Portside Studio and Gallery in Islamorada. With her gallery recently marking its second-year anniversary at the Morada Way Arts District, she also celebrated a successful exhibition at The Other Art Fair, an invitation-only art fair in New York with some of the world’s up-and-coming art stars.
“I felt scared opening an art gallery in a fishing community, but this community has been so good,” the artist said. “I’m tucked away in a corner of Morada Way, so this only exists because people care about me and talk nice about me behind my back. That’s not lost on me.”
For Perreault, a seasoned poet and visual artist, the next-level successes result from a lifetime of cultivated creativity. “I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was really young,” Perreault said. “I definitely knew it was a thing.” Perreault recalls asking for an easel when she was 6 or 7 as a birthday present and having her dad read her Edgar Allan Poe at night.
These childhood stimuli evolved as she tried to figure out what her path was going to be. At first, she thought she wanted to make films and write music. “I had 1000 journals full of song lyrics and emotions,” she says. Perreault explains how she came to recognize the poetry within herself. “In my early 20s, I was moving out of living with someone, and he said, ‘And take your poems with you!’” The quip, meant as a stinging final farewell, catalyzed Perreault. “It was completely eye-opening. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, you’re a poet; you’re writing poems.’”
Perreault wrote poetry “obsessively” for the next 12 years, finding success but also feeling stifled by the medium. She recalls getting published and feeling like she’d finally arrived. “But, it was also a strange letdown,” she adds. “You feel like you’ve cracked your chest open and discovered light, and you put it out there, but it just goes in this little book on a shelf and only your mom reads it.”
The pages were literally too small for Perreault’s big heart and life-sized emotions. Rather than remain successful-but-stagnant, Perreault rebelled. “I got this idea to write my most favorite poems, my wild pieces from all my journals, on these gigantic pieces – really messy, really raw, not organized, and not on paper,” she says. “I wanted them to look how they felt when I was writing them.”
Initially for her own satisfaction and release, the pieces soon caught the attention of the art world. Perreault was invited to show this side of herself at the Other Art Fair. She exhibited “Astral Luggage,” a collection of 30 similar monotype pieces. “They reflect our internal dialogue,” explains Perreault. “It’s the way we all talk to ourselves; the songs we have on repeat in our heads; the things our parents have said. Astral luggage is what we carry around with ourselves. Hence the huge fabric.”
The ink-on-fabric works are raw honesty. Perreault talks about her dreams, childhood and violence. “When I was flying up to New York,” she said, “I was like, ‘I am going to put my whole bleeding heart out there on 6-foot canvases and hang them up in New York, the apex of culture, and let people see me.’ It’s so vulnerable. Wicked vulnerable.”
Her work was well-received in New York. “I had great conversations with people who knew what I was doing, and I wasn’t even sure what I was doing. I just knew it was true to me,” she says. Andy, her husband, recounts, “She had people crying. They would sit there reading for 5 to 10 minutes, and they’d just start crying. One gal just bawling her face out came up to me and said, ‘I really need to meet your wife.’”
Back in her Islamorada studio, Perreault giggles, confessing, “I’m still shy to share them here in the Keys. I haven’t shown them locally, because I live here and people already know me a certain way, but these, these are who I am.”
Talking herself through her vulnerability, Perreault said, “I should show it. People have been really supportive and loving to me, and I think I need to honor that. I have to show them this part of me.”
She continued. “Being an artist is putting your heart out there anyways, and shouldn’t we all? None of us is getting out of this alive, so shouldn’t we all just put it out there and crack it open?”
“Okay,” she concluded. “Wait until you see what my new stuff will be.”