Meet the Artist: Paula Champagne
Through illustration, photography, videography and graphic design, Paula Champagne weaves narratives, exploring the connection between Blackness and nature. We’re proud to feature her as one of the first four artists in our Black Artists Print Shop.
You describe yourself as a “visual storyteller.” What does that term mean to you?
I have multiple mediums that I use. I’m a photographer, a video producer, an illustrator and a graphic designer, so I wanted a term that encompassed all of those things. I tell stories, but not with words.
Nature plays a huge part in your work. What is your connection to the great outdoors?
I’ve always liked being outside. As a kid, I was always climbing trees and playing outside. As I got older, I was separated from that connection and I’ve rediscovered it in my adult life in the past 10 years. Hiking was kind of the gateway back in. I really got into the hiking community and I ended up working for an outdoor organization. That helped expose a lot of the issues in the outdoor industry—the exclusion, lack of representation, and how it’s all very much marketed to white people. It’s very saturated with white people. I wanted to explore the connection with my identity and the outdoors in visual ways.
Being connected to nature is very restorative. Nature is like a big hug. It embraces people and figures in my work. I’m inspired by what I see, but I don’t necessarily depict. I’m more interested in the connection to nature.
What is it about the intersection of Blackness and nature that you find compelling?
I think it’s because of the restoration nature can give you. It’s very well known that being outdoors, commuting with nature can lower blood pressure, it can make you happier. My community just needs it more. It’s important we rediscover that connection and reclaim it. It’s not that we haven’t had that before, it just hasn’t been celebrated culturally. I believe in restoration for us.
The element of rest is clear in my latest collection. This idea of rest as a quiet form of resistance. My color palettes have changed. They feel bold but at the same time they’re kind of muted, earthier. Sometimes I will actually take a picture of a leaf or lichen or something I find on the rock.
A lot of your work focuses on Black women specifically. What do you think is important to convey them and their experiences in your work?
When people think about civil rights movements and any sort of big movement in our community, they think of a Black man. Those are great figures, but I want to uplift unsung people and I think that Black women are the most unsung people in America. I am a Black woman and I’m trying to put us at the forefront.
You focus so much on telling other people’s stories. How do you think your own identity appears in your work?
It’s not just the color of skin in the work. If you see my illustration work, there’s a level of brokenness in everything. There’s always a halo or some source of light and that’s sort of the sun. It represents how I have felt and how I’m trying to repair that brokenness. That’s how I reflect my experience as a Black woman.
Tell us about the two pieces you chose for the Print Shop.
In “I love a good dip”, I wanted to embody the feeling when you’re just floating in a body of water. It’s an escape—that idea of rest as resistance. The water is a subtle ripple, but I wanted that vibe. I wanted it to be very calming, an easy feeling of how I feel when I’m floating in water. I actually took a few weeks off recently and spent some time in the exact posture that’s in “I love a good dip.” It was very cleansing and restorative for my mental health. It’s been an exhausting year, for everyone but especially as a Black woman. So I embodied my work after I’d already created it.
The second one is Issa. You know Issa Rae? She’s known for hustling a lot. She works so hard. I saw this image by Deun Ivory of Issa for CRWN magazine and it had this restful posture. I hadn’t noticed a picture of Issa so calm. I was really moved by it. This was me honoring that calmness and restful posture that she has in that photo.
You can learn more about Paula on her Instagram page and listen to her speak about art and nature in this video.