Chanel Thervil 
Flow Into Stillness: Portrait of Guy

Photograph of a painted portrait seen against a tan backdrop. The portrait is of a bearded Black man in his 20s with hair pulled back into a ponytail and several short locs hanging around his face. The man is seen in profile from the shoulders up, wearing a greenish gray shirt that has been collaged with overlapping squares of paper and is painted on a blue tablecloth background cut into a triangle with one side curved. There are red half circles and lines collaged onto the background, as well as a tan rectangle of fabric, a strip of bubble wrap, and a rectangular piece of paper with images of clocks. Squiggly yellow lines surround the man.
Flow Into Stillness: Portrait of Guy, Tablecloth, bubble wrap, acrylic, plastic, assorted papers, masking tape, 42in X 42in, 2020. Photo: Owen Angote

[Image Description: A photograph of a portrait of a young Black man on a triangular blue fabric background with collaged elements, mounted on the wall.]

Haitian-American visual artist Chanel Thervil aims to destigmatize pervasive stereotypes surrounding mental health with the Quarantine Self Care Series. She takes a granular approach to portraiture, beautifully capturing people of color indulging in restorative acts of self-care. The materials Thervil employs include tablecloths, bubble wrap, acrylic and masking tape. 

On the surface, “Flow Into Stillness: Portrait of Guy” celebrates the simplicity of self-care and how it can include music, meditation and dance. However, she showcases the complexity of her creative process through YouTube videos documenting each composition from start to finish. This transparency is not only valuable but refreshing; a glimpse into Thervil’s ingenuity proves just how unique and accessible it truly is. 

Instagram Live interviews with each one of her subjects illuminate the misconceptions that continuously plague marginalized communities when it comes to the notion of wellness. She intentionally and skillfully works to erode the archetype that equates Blackness with strength. “Flow Into Stillness: Portrait of Guy” addresses the importance of vulnerability and how wealth informs health. 

Self-care differs from person to person and the artist emphasizes this message with her dynamic use of vibrant colors, assorted mixed media and razorlike precision to detail. This particular image asserts that basic, unadorned activities such as taking or nap or enjoying a hot shower, can be considered acts of renewal. 

Thervil’s rich imagination is the perfect platform for individualized forms of rejuvenation to take flight. The Quarantine Self Care Series is an innovative and bold reminder of how brilliant Black folks can be when they are given the space and time to reclaim their narrative. 

— Candace McDuffie

Making Guy’s Portrait, Process Video, 2020, 6:20 min.

For a transcript of the video, click here.
The artist explains the process of creating a portrait. A feminine voice narrates the steps in making the artwork, starting with a green outline of the subject seen from the perspective of the narrator. She shows reference images and the portrait, showing the depth and dimensions of the image. She starts with the lips and eyes and moves on to the skin, blending shades of brown to create a rich skin tone and before moving onto the black locs painted on a clear sheet of plastic. Once the figurative portrait is done, the frame changes to show the artist, a young Black woman dressed in black and a green apron, on the floor as she collages the image onto a blue piece of fabric in the shape of a quarter of a circle. She adds elements such as bubble wrap and red and tan fabric, and then covers the work with fabric and kneels on the work, pressing down. The frame changes to show the final portrait, and closes with the words "Thanks for Watching!" shown on the bottom left of the screen as the portrait fills the frame.
Four photos form a square. The top two photos depict a Black woman in round glasses from the shoulders up. She is on the left side of the top left picture and on the right side of the top right picture, her face partially cut out of the frame. She is wearing a black and white patterned shirt and her magenta hair is tied up with a pink scarf. She is smiling and is caught in the act of speaking. There is artwork on the wall behind her of a bearded Black man with pulled back locs, pictured on a triangular blue background. The bottom two pictures show a Black man in a blue hoodie with a yellow pattern on the front sitting in a blue room with a fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling and turquoise tube lighting where the ceiling meets the walls. He is the man seen in the artwork in the top two images. In the bottom left image he is in profile, and in the bottom right image he is facing the camera and smiling, caught in motion with his hand in the air by his shoulder.
Screen captures from IG live Interview with Guyclaude, 2020

[Image Description: Two photos of a young Black woman talking towards the camera and smiling and two photos of a young Black, one where he's in repose and one in which he's talking into the camera and grinning, form a square.]

Artist Biography

Chanel Thervil is a Haitian American artist and educator who uses varying combinations of abstraction and portraiture to convene communal dialogue around culture, social issues, and existential questions. At the core of her practice lies a desire to empower and inspire tenderness and healing among communities of color through the arts. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Pace University and a Master’s Degree in Art Education from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She's been making a splash in Boston via her educational collaborations, public art, and residencies with institutions like The Museum of Fine Arts, The Boston Children's Museum, The DeCordova Museum, The Harvard Ed Portal, and The Cambridge Public Library. Her work has been featured by PBS Kids, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, The Bay State Banner, WBUR's ARTery, WGBH, and Hyperallergic.