For artist Mireille Des Rosiers, it’s all about the eyes. After catching a glimpse on the street of a stranger’s intriguing facial expression, the Cardiff resident often feels compelled to capture that expression on canvas.
“It’s not about creating a loyal copy of a picture or a photo; it’s more about the expression in their eyes or the way I use the colors,” Des Rosiers said.
Always on the alert for interesting faces, Des Rosiers was captivated by the tennis players’ expressions in the recent World Cup match.
“When someone is impassioned by something, there is so much intensity and complete commitment and it’s all in their eyes,” she said.
Des Rosiers, who paints in both acrylics and oils with palette knives, studied the chiaroscuro technique to enhance her portraits and, according to her, that technique enables her to build facial expressions that depict both perspective and depth.
“If you know the person, you will recognize him in my paintings, but my goal is more about the expression,” she said. “I try to look at the angles and planes of the face, and I love working with color. My faces are very colorful.”
She admires the work of contemporary portrait artist, Lucian Freud, who is well-known for his portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
“His portraits are not about being very complimentary; he goes for the creases,” Des Rosiers said, “but I really like the atmosphere of his paintings. They’re not about looking good and smiling.”
Born in Haiti, Des Rosiers left the island with her family at age 12 and moved to Montreal, where she later earned a degree in fine arts from the University of Montreal. A painter for most of her life, she considers her family members her primary mentors.
“Every family in Haiti has a member who paints and, when I was young, we used to go out as a group in the countryside and we painted cornfields, horses and mango trees,” she said.
Des Rosiers specializes in using the ancient iconography technique so often seen in the gilded religious works of Eastern European orthodox churches.
“I went to Turkey 14 times to learn the iconography technique,” she said. “I don’t do religious subject matter, but I use the technique for my own contemporary work.”
According to Des Rosiers, the time-consuming technique involves mixing an egg yolk with a natural pigment that has a charcoal-like consistency. After placing a piece of gauze atop a piece of wood, the artist begins applying layers of the mixture.
“You get a texture like chalk and it’s very delicate,” she said. “You must apply 12 very thin layers and then wait for each layer to dry naturally so it won’t crack.”
Des Rosiers said that the chalk-like texture creates a transparent effect that can’t be achieved with gesso because the iconography technique texture is so porous that it absorbs the pigment and keeps the layer there.
“It is almost like watercolor,” she said.
Her oil and acrylic works are usually 24-by-36-inches or 18-by-24-inches, but her iconographic works are usually much smaller (12-by-14-inches) because of the technique’s time-consuming process.
As the mother of newborn twins, Des Rosiers manages to squeeze in some painting time while they sleep. But despite her busy life, she finds that making time to paint is essential to her own well-being.
“Painting helps me get in touch and be grounded, and it helps me put things in perspective about what’s important in life,” she said.
One day Des Rosiers hopes to publish a book of her paintings that includes her own stories about the inspiration behind each work.
Des Rosiers is now painting a portrait of Felicia Shaw, director of the San Diego Arts Foundation, for the upcoming Movers and Shakers exhibition at the Patrick Moore Gallery (2400 Kettner Blvd. in San Diego). The show opens on Sept. 5 and runs through until Oct. 4.
“It’s all about portraits,” Des Rosiers said. “It was the idea of the director Patricia Frischer to pair a key San Diego art patron with an artist who paints their portrait.”
Des Rosiers, a member of the San Diego Visual Arts Network and the San Diego Art Institute, is currently exhibiting paintings inspired by the Haitian seacoast and countryside at the Zanzibar Gallery in Montreal.
She will also display her work at the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild’s “Finer Art Affaire” on Sept. 7.
To view Des Rosier’s work, visit her Web site at