Brussels’ effect on the art world, one artist at a time

Left: Self-portrait by Françoise Courtoy McDermott; Right: Françoise Courtoy McDermott in her home.

Left: Self-portrait by Françoise Courtoy McDermott; Right: Françoise Courtoy McDermott in her home.

Françoise Courtoy McDermott is an admirable Belgian artist, who takes time and love to make her paintings realistic and inspiring.

Françoise Courtoy McDermott is a 61-year-old artist living in Brussels. She has always loved the idea of becoming an artist and finds inspiration everywhere she goes. A married woman with three children, she loves to focus on women and aging as some of the main themes for her art as she feels she can really relate. It’s obvious how passionate she is about her art and she speaks so enthusiastically about her paintings, why she chose to live in Brussels and her favourite artist.

McDermott has been an artist for all of her life and explains how it all started, “All I really wanted to do was paint to be honest with you. From a young age I was always drawing and painting everything. My father used to love sitting in at night after he had finished work, taking out his paints and painting all night. This is where my original inspiration came from. I saw how happy it made him and wanted to continue in his footsteps. It was always something I wanted to make a career out of and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do that, but I have managed so far.”

She recalls the first piece of art that she sold, “The story of the first drawing I sold is actually very funny. I was nine and I sold a nude picture to one of my male classmates. I had to start somewhere!” Since then, nude portraits have become a large part of her artwork, “I love doing nude portraits because you get to see a person as they are, with nothing there to cover them up or hide their true personality. I always make the person feel at ease, and it becomes almost a lesson in self-confidence for them.”

McDermott admits she had some trouble deciding where to settle so her art could flourish but she thinks she made the right decision by choosing Brussels, “I think Brussels is a great place for an artist to settle, I was born in Leuven, which is a small university town about an hour outside (the city). It was a lovely place to live but I wasn’t getting the business I needed to survive as an artist. I decided to live with a friend in Brussels for three weeks when I was 20 to really experience the city and see if I could have a future there. It was during that time that I met my current husband of 31 years, which changed a lot. He’s Irish and I’m obviously Belgian so it took a lot of time for us to decide where to live, but eventually we settled in Brussels and have never looked back.”

Left: Mother and Child, by Françoise Courtoy McDermott; Right: Flower Seller, by Françoise Courtoy McDermott

Left: Mother and Child, by Françoise Courtoy McDermott; Right: Flower Seller, by Françoise Courtoy McDermott

The art scene in Brussels is an active and exciting one. McDermott believes that is important to help and nurture the existing artists in Brussels and Belgium as well as supporting and teaching the younger artists, “There is a vibrant and lively art scene in Brussels, which is why I decided to move here in the first place. As everyone knows, we Belgians are known for our talent in the comic strip world. Some people may laugh at this but this is real art and it really attracts many tourists to the country! We also have the Museum of Modern Art, which showcases some of our most famous artists like Rene Magritte and Auguste Oleffe. There are so many art festivals like Kunstenfestivaldesarts and Art Brussels. The Brussels art scene is really positive at helping young artists realise their dreams and helping them to become better. We are all there to aid each other.”

For some artists however, it can be difficult to make money out of their passion, McDermott claims that she has been lucky, and “I work based on people commissioning paintings from me, mainly. It could be a friend or family member wanting a birthday present for a loved one, or a restaurant wanting a new image. It depends really, I could have nothing to do one week and the next week I could have three paintings to begin, to redecorate a home or even a café. I never know what I will be doing from week to week. I have been blessed with the amount of interest in my work.”

McDermott explains where she gets the inspiration for her art, “The main theme that runs through my artwork is women and aging. I like to depict different women that I see or come across in my paintings. I could be walking through Grand Place and see an old woman selling flowers that inspires me or a young couple who are in love. It’s exciting because you never know who or what will grab your attention.”

The Goose Girl, by Françoise Courtoy McDermott

The Goose Girl, by Françoise Courtoy McDermott

She also explains how she can even get inspiration from other artists; “I like to give my rendition of works by artists I admire as a way of possessing them a little more and understanding them a bit better. My favourite artist by far is Frida Kahlo, I loved her even before she was popular!” McDermott goes on to explain why she admires Kahlo so much, “She is a very inspirational woman who went through a lot in her life. After being involved in a bus crash, she was left in a full body cast for months and never truly recovered. What I admire most is that she turned to painting in her time of need, when she felt completely lost otherwise. She always painted reality and often showed the pain she was suffering in her works, this is so emotive and thought provoking, in my opinion.”

She explains her unique method of getting the most out of her subjects for her art, “I have been asked in the past to paint people’s family members for an occasion and I love these type of commissions. I like to spend time getting to know the person before I paint them first and then I can really get a sense of that person themselves in the artwork. I will always spend at least a half an hour talking to the person before I can start, this is what really makes my paintings real.”

McDermott is keen to help and motivate young aspiring artists, “If you look for inspiration you won’t find it, artists have something built inside them that makes them notice little gems that maybe other people wouldn’t. Art is a passion and a joy; young artists should remember this when they are starting out. If you lose your passion, the art will suffer.” 

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