by Carolyn Edlund
Chelle DeStefano is an Australian artist. She also happens to be deaf, but has found ways to move beyond her disability to pursue her dreams. I recently interviewed her about her experience.
AS: As a visual artist, your work can compete on a level playing field in an exhibition, in a gallery or online. But as a deaf artist, what are the biggest challenges you have in marketing and selling your work?
CD: As a deaf artist, the challenge I face in marketing and selling my work is being unable to ring radio stations directly to announce news about my art exhibitions or the like. Other challenges are communicating clearly with magazines, galleries, and viewers. I have been lucky to have interpreters who volunteered their time when the gallery was able to book one.
My partner sometimes accompanies me, who is a fantastic communicator and understands the business side of things. They also taught me how to communicate effectively in emails and on Facebook. I overcome many challenges by learning, asking questions and asking for help from friends and supporters. The thing I must say is, never ever be afraid to ask questions or for help! The internet is our best friend these days.
AS: Have you been inspired or supported by other artists who are in the deaf community?
CD: Yes, there is a particularly notable deaf artist in Melbourne who has been working for a number of years. Asphyxia is her name, and she has been an inspiration to many of us with the way she markets her art. She used to be a circus acrobat, and now paints. She is an amazing role model for many deaf artists. Asphyxia has travelled with her art over the years, and encourages me with my work. She attended a few of my art exhibitions when I held them in Melbourne.
AS: Why did you decide to become an artist, and what was your experience starting out?
CD: I always loved creating since I was a child. It was my outlet while growing up on a farm in the sticks in Melbourne, where I didn’t get to socialise much. After finishing a food science course that I didn’t enjoy and moving interstate to Adelaide, I spotted an Arts course and said “I need to follow my dream and forget jobs that make money!” I took the plunge and started the course in 2001.
I found I enjoyed painting most. When I finished the course, I did not know where to go. I worked on my own, practicing with acrylic before I took a break for a year and then I fell in love with watercolour and the illustrative style. I started to work with watercolour and grew from it, especially when I had my first solo exhibition in Adelaide in 2012.
Things have gone upwards from there, particularly when I met my wonderful partner in 2013 who wanted to see me succeed, gave me ideas for my business, and became my mentor for painting themes. I also started to enter art competitions and grab as many art opportunities as I could.
AS: In your experience, what was the biggest “breakout moment” that you have had with your art business?
CD: It would have to be when I did the Port Noarlunga town project in May 2014, illustrating in watercolour the shops along the main street of the coastal suburb Port Noarlunga, South Australia. The exhibition had a great turnout with some of the shop owners buying artwork and various locals and interstate buyers snapping up a Port Noarlunga piece. After Port Noarlunga, the council of the historical inner-city suburb Thebarton commissioned me to paint various buildings including houses in the area, and we had an exhibition for these commissioned pieces last June.
AS: What suggestions or encouragement can you share with other artists who may be dealing with a disability or other obstacle in their life?
CD: Never let your disability be the barrier to following your dreams; there is always a way. Today with internet and technology easily at hand, there are so many avenues to explore. So get excited, grab the bull by the horns and go for your dreams! Let absolutely no one tell you otherwise or let any negative opinions stop you ever.
Follow Chelle Destefano on Facebook to learn more about her as an artist.