Sometimes, we don’t realise the impact that one chance encounter can have on us. How meeting one particular person or experiencing one moment can change the trajectory of our lives or spawn an idea which impacts us forever.
For artist and Bordeaux resident Shirley Monestier, her love of art and her interest in France began after encountering her French art teacher who she calls “an inspiration”.
“My love for art began as a child – I loved colouring books and lots of colourful crayons but in high school, I had a wonderful French art teacher who inspired me to love and appreciate art,” she says.
“I am a firm believer that everyone comes into your life for a reason and Madame Larose made her imprint on me.”
Shirley was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland and spent many of her teenage years in Washington D.C.
“My sister and I lived with our parents until ages 5 and 6 when they divorced,” she recalls. “We then moved to our maternal grandparents’ home where we lived until my mom got a job in Washington.”
Shirley describes her upbringing as “happy,” where she gained a good sense of discipline and freedom from both parents.
“My mother was beautiful, quiet, dainty, fashionable and a gourmet cook. She instilled in me pride, poise, confidence, love of family and the importance of excelling in education,” says Shirley.
“My dad was my ‘king’ – he taught me so much about life, how to see it clearly and dealing with what was fair and what was unfair in life. He prepared me to be a strong, confident, loving and caring person.”
These lessons given to Shirley by both parents provided her with the tools to cope with some of the difficulties she’d face as she got older – especially growing up in 1960’s America.
“I grew up in the 60s, during riots and protest marches. My generation was the first to integrate into a segregated high schools, workforces and to break down barriers,” the artist states.
“These early experiences with racism certainly made me aware that it exists worldwide and as someone who travels frequently, I know there is racism in all the countries I have visited.”
Despite these challenges, Shirley continued to persevere and follow her childhood dream of being an artist – a passion which has taken her around the world – and in particular, to Bordeaux, France where she currently resides.
“I’ve been married to my husband for 29 years and lived in France for 30 years. I have deep ties to both the USA and France and I feel fortunate that I’m able to call two countries home.”
As an artist living in France, some may say that Shirley is living the dream – but with most things, it does still come with its difficulties.
“Mastering the French language has been very challenging. I am not fluent in French and it has hindered my ability to effectively communicate,” she says.
“But there is so much that I love about living here – the culture, support for the arts, cuisine, wine and preservation of the country’s natural beauty.”
Residing in the French port city has provided a source of inspiration for the artist who is also known for her bold colour palette and inspirational images depicting women of colour.
“I love laying down paints on a blank canvas and being guided by my choice of colours and women inspire me greatly.
“In my artworks, my mission is to pay homage and glorify them,” she affirms.
“Everything about women is inspirational to me – our beauty, strength, courage, nurturing nature, boldness, sweetness, kindness, our humanity, and so much more. Every fibre of womanhood inspires me and my artwork.”