Vancouver-based artist, Donna Giraud recently launched a new solo show, “Together is Always Better” which is inspired by and a direct response to the current pandemic and the impact it has had. As a former St. Paul Hospital nurse, Donna has been able to instill some of her own perspective and experiences into this collection. The virtually available show challenges people to set their differences aside, identify shared experiences of the pandemic and walk away with the understanding that moving forward together will make us stronger.

I had the chance to interview her (virtually of course!) and I’m excited to share her story with you all!
(Photo Credit: Charles Zuckerman)
Tell us about you!  Where are you from, what was life like growing up?

My name is Donna Giraud and I am an abstract painter who grew up and is currently living and working in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. My childhood was filled with a ton of love, family camping trips and taking me to whatever sport related event that I was participating in that weekend. Eventually my devotion to soccer lead into a collegiate level career playing for the Capilano College Blues Woman’s Soccer Team where I earned both a Gold and Silver National medal. I put myself through nursing school by bartending at the always delicious Cactus Club Cafe and became a Head Nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital. Whenever I had a little extra money and time, I was always off on some sort of world adventure as travelling is the one thing that feeds my soul the most. I have been to every continent except for Antarctica but my husband and I are planning for that as we speak.

Is there anything specifically about the Pacific Northwest lifestyle that inspires you?

I feel like I was destined to be an inhabitant of the Pacific North West. When most people complain about the dreariness of the colder and wet seasons, I find absolute inspiration, calm and energy from those wet and stormy, grey days. You will often find me walking in the pouring rain down by the water or up in the mountains and I am at my happiest. Nature brings something out in me that definitely gets seen in the art that I create. Whether it’s colour palates from the trees I see on my walks or textures I discover on rotten wood in the middle of a trail, I take all those experiences and naturally create works of art that bare similar imagery and evoke feelings of tranquility and hope. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. The Pacific North West is the best place on earth.

(Photo Credit: Byron Dauncey)

What around you inspires you most when you are creating one of your large-scale, textural abstract paintings?

As I mentioned in the question above, nature has an integral role in the inspiration behind the compositions and textures of what I create. My husband and I travel extensively and there is no doubt that those experiences find their way into my work as well. Add on the intention or stories behind my work, I find that the inspiration for that comes from every day conversations and feelings I have as a human. My goal with every piece of art is to create something beautifully pleasing to look at, coupled with a positive and hopeful message that invites the viewer to take a deeper look into themselves. With every painting I create I ask myself, “How will this serve others and be a beacon of light in an often dark world?

What made you decide to pursue art as your life passion?

As cliche as it sounds, I didn’t pursue art at all, it sort of just found me. I had a 14 year career as a head nurse at St Paul’s Hospital but I gave it up when I discovered that I could still heal and comfort through the art that I created. Over the last 20 years, I have mastered a unique style that seems to start conversations and stir emotions in people. Finding out that I could bring people to (happy) tears with just a brush stroke or start a mini movement of kindness through an art exhibition, I knew I had to pursue this as a life’s passion.

(Photo Credit: Jasalyn Thorne)

What’s it like for you personally when your pieces are displayed in a gallery, like in New York City?

Every artist dreams of having an art show in New York City and when my opportunity came about, I knew everything would be different. It was quite early on in my career so there was a very steep learning curve as I had to navigate many new scenarios including international shipping and marketing, painting on a deadline and the overwhelming expense it takes to put on such an endeavour. Despite the journey it took me on to get there, the opening night show was one of the greatest and most proud experiences of my life thus far. I will never forget the feeling of being able to share that moment with my parents. The show became the motivation I needed to know that I could make it as an artist. I had been validated in a way that would carry my career to the next level and I am so grateful someone believed my art had a noteworthy story to tell.

What artists from the past or present inspire you the most?

I have an extreme affinity towards anything abstract so that is the realm where I spend most of my time admiring and discovering. My favourite artists currently practising are Greg BenzBlu Smith and Janna Watson to name a few. It is truly hard to make a name for yourself in the world of art, but these three provide a mountain of inspiration and help keep me aiming for more!

(Photo Credit: Byron Dauncey)

Get us into your head when you are painting. What’s it like from a blank canvas to a finished piece?

A blank canvas is a pretty intimidating thing to stand in front of (especially since I typically paint pieces that are 5 feet by 6 feet tall or larger). But there is also something very exciting about starting a new artwork. My process is very organic and I try to let my emotions or intention of the piece dictate how it unfolds. I have a story I want to tell with every work and that influences the shape and texture I use to tell that story. My work is most known for it’s texture and every piece starts with the texture being laid down in it’s intended shape. It has to dry for about 24 hours and then it is ready for me to add the paint. Each piece takes a varying amount of time, often dependent on that moment’s energy flow and perhaps how good the bottle of wine I am drinking is. My very favourite part of the process is when I am signing my name. This signifies the completion of the new work and I know I am that much closer to having people feel the emotions the painting has to offer when they get a chance to look at it.

Since this is What’s Up NW, where are your favorite places to hang out (eat, drink, chill, have fun, etc) in BC?

When I am not in the trails of the North Shore mountains (and when there is no COVID-19), I am at my happiest when I am surrounded by friends, food and cocktails. Hosting dinner parties at home is a weekly occurrence, but when I venture out, the following places are where I feel most comfortable and at home…

Favorite Cocktails: A fancy cocktail at the Botanist Restaurant in the Pacific Rim Hotel or a cozy experience at the Gerrard Lounge in the Sutton Place Hotel are the perfect date night locations.

Favorite Restaurant: AnnaLena may just be one of the best dining experiences in town!

Favorite Coffee bar: You will always feel at home at Coo Coo Coffee in Yaletown.

Favorite Place to Work out: Innovative Fitness North Vancouver is where you will find both a brilliant sense of community and an awesome workout!

(Photo Credit: Jasalyn Thorne)

Are there any charities that are near and dear to your heart that you work with and why?

I think donating art to events and causes is a beautiful way to get involved and a way to help make a difference. Something as simple as taking proceeds from my latest art show sales and purchasing something for the nurses at Lions Gate Hospital was the least I could do for everything they have been doing the last 8 months. On a more regular basis, I have had the pleasure and honour of participating in the Crystal Ball which is a yearly gala that raises money for the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. To add a little fun to the evening, I usually paint live in front of the Galla guests and they auction off the painting at the end of the evening. There are so many deserving causes and I look forward to the opportunity to helping as many as I can through my art in the years to come.

With an insane year almost behind us, what are you looking forward to in 2021?

I look forward to nothing more than putting the insanity of 2020 behind us. What I am most excited about for 2021 is getting back on a plane so my husband and I can continue exploring the world and getting inspired to create more work. Being the eternal optimists we are, we have already booked flights to Japan, England, Denmark, Italy, Austria and Toronto. Fingers crossed the world goes back to “normal” as soon as possible!!

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