Art News

Speak Out: Ysabel Le May

“My art allows me to be heard.”

– Ysabel LeMay

On the occasion of Women’s History Month, Saatchi Art’s curators spoke with artists about their process, inspiration, and the ways in which their identity as a woman is relevant to their art.

French-Canadian artist Ysabel LeMay has been in more than 115 exhibitions globally, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. Her works have been acquired by the corporate collections of Chevron, Bloomingdale’s and Bacardi, and the permanent collections at the Museum of Photographic Arts in DC and the Morris Museum, New Jersey.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in art?

For me, it means an opportunity to express a part of me that can only awaken during the process of the creation of my art. A direct line of communication between me and the forces of life. It is to be a co-creator with the living world.

It means to be proud to be part of the evolution of opportunities for women. Through my dedication and commitment to my work, I am proud to say I have influenced many young and not-so-young women to break free from patriarchal traditional lifestyle and pursue their biggest dreams and achievements. My art allows me to be heard.

Which female artist inspires you most — past or present — and why?

Joan Mitchell first… when I was a painter. In the ’50s, she stood up as one of the best abstract expressionist painters among a completely male-dominated art movement. Her sensibility, combined with her ferocious paint strokes, provoked in me the desire to be better, stronger, bolder.

Here and now, so many female artists are at the forefront of the contemporary art world. To name a few, Annie Leibovitz, Marina Abramovic, Jenny Saville, Cecily Brown, Nan Goldin, Wangechi Mutu, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, all breaking standards and expressing their creative voices with force and courage, and making a successful career out of it. They are not breaking Sotheby’s sale records yet, but maybe… one day …

What is your advice to a young woman who aspires to be an artist?

Be prepared to isolate yourself from any kind of outside influence that will diminish or question you creative visions. There are a lot out there. To be authentic, I had to hide to create. It is very easy to be influenced negatively during the vulnerable process of creativity.

Don’t underestimate the value of your work. If you have a hard time with the business part of your career, seek help. Be mentored!

Think like a globalist! Find ways to show your work outside of your city, state and country. As we say, “ no-one is a prophet in their own land”.

Think outside the box when it is time to show your work. Don’t follow the conventions. Turn aside and find opportunities to connect with different groups of interest, not just the art world.

What are the themes you pursue in your work?

I entertain a dialogue with the living world and its consciousness which we are part of. Through my work, I create a bridge of communication between the viewer and nature’s consciousness.

Can you walk us through your process? Do you begin with a sketch, or do you just jump in? How long do you spend on one work? How do you know when it is finished?

My process is purely visceral. I start by bringing my attention to one particular flower or plant and I go from there. The story is revealed as I bring it to life.

How long do you spend on one work? How do you know when it is finished?

The time of production varies from one piece to another. In general, around five weeks, not counting the time of taking photographs. Some pieces take up to eight weeks. My largest commission to this day took four months.

The work is complete when I see no other way to improve the image. It’s like feng shui. You know when you reach perfect balance and harmony. Then, the work is complete.

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you do?

A chef, a designer, a singer, a mother.

About the Author

Monty Preston is the Assistant Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service at