Fierce Woman: Micaela Levesque
Levesque has known that art was her calling for some time. “A couple months ago I found my middle school yearbook and there it was — under dream job I wrote ‘artist.’”
Last August, Micaela Levesque ’17 (CLAS) was commissioned to paint her first mural, and admits she was overwhelmed. Up until that point in her career, she had done oil paintings and portraits on a much smaller scale. But Levesque says she lives for a good challenge. So she got certified to use a scissor lift, put on her harness, and took a chance.
The result, unveiled in November, is Hartford’s newest mural, honoring the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and four other trailblazers in women’s history: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; former First Lady Michelle Obama; and former Connecticut Governor Ella Grasso, who was the first elected female governor in the United States.
The vibrant two-story mural sits on the side of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Women’s Empowerment Center, a resource hub for women in Central Connecticut. Levesque says this project was personal to her because women’s rights and diversity have always been at the core of her work. She was inspired to push through her initial nerves thanks to the fierce women on the wall, and hopes viewers young and old can do the same when faced with their own battles.
“I feel amazing,” she says. “I feel like I created my own personal billboard.”
How tough was it to paint at this scale for the first time?
I went from painting on 2-by-3-foot canvases to painting on a 30-by-100- foot wall. But just like I would with any other painting, I broke down everything into smaller sections and just took a chance. You could find me there at least six times a week looking at it from the roof across the street or on my scissor lift fine-tuning every little detail. It took a lot of painter’s tape and patience, but I got it done.
The mural is loaded with symbols and details. What was your favorite to paint?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She’s the anchor and the one that draws in viewers. Throughout her lifetime she was a champion for several causes, and I wanted to convey that.
So I started off with her expression — her gaze is both fierce and wise because she was always ready to get down to business. She’s wearing gender symbol earrings to portray her commitment to equality. Her dissent collar is the last one she wore during her lifetime. It portrays her commitment to justice and making a space for women.
Lastly, she’s holding a book. She wrote a lot about her law experience, and I wanted to add a reference to that with my own twist. The book is empty and invites the viewers to write their own stories, like Ginsburg and the other four icons did despite all roadblocks.
You worked on the mural for almost two months and people stopped by throughout the process. Who was the most memorable?
I had a lot of people come up to me and share personal stories or spark conversation about the mural. A little kid came up and I asked him if he knew who Kamala Harris was. He innocently said “Yeah, that’s Joe Biden’s wife.” That was an educational moment. So I hope this mural encourages people, especially kids, to ask questions about these role models and their importance in history.
You majored in psychology at UConn. How does that seep into your art today?
I’ve always liked art, but didn’t know how to make a career out of it when I was younger. Psychology was my second option and I’m so glad I took that step. It completely ties into my art today.
It would be so easy to just paint a pretty picture, but I want people to feel certain emotions when they look at my pieces. I want them to be drawn in by the expressions and symbolism. When people look at this mural I want them to connect to the women, reflect, and realize their own power.
Where did you spend most of your time on campus?
I was a transfer student so I only did two years at UConn and I was often working. But when I was on campus, you could often find me under the Diana Taurasi painting in Homer Babbidge Library studying, snacking on an M&M cookie from Insomnia Cookies, or at the Colombian Student Association.
What’s next for you?
I’m off to Spain to study hyperrealism under international artist Marissa Oosterlee. Art for me is always about challenging myself. I want to dedicate my life to it and see how good I can get. What better way to do that than by traveling and expanding my understanding of the world? It’s not your typical 9-5 job, but I like to say I’m a free spirit. As for the money, I know that will come eventually.
By Camilla Valejo ’19 (CLAS)
Photo by Peter Morenus