We had the good fortune of connecting with Charmaine French and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Charmaine, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Art has always pursued me. Anytime I think back to me not being in art, I think of me resting or searching. And when I was searching or overthinking, I found myself constantly in the midst of art. Whether it is spoken arts, fine arts, or the art of teaching, art is me. And when I stopped trying to be everything but that art, it opened so many doors that I was never expecting. But more specifically, my pursuit of a creative career happened at my rock bottom. When I decided that if I was going to embrace life, I chose to live it to the fullest. And the only way that I was going to experience the true meaning of what life is, was to get lost in my heart, which is art.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My art is the birth of what has been buried in my pain. My art is the imperfections that have haunted me throughout my life. The art I create is me taking ownership of my insecurities that have replayed in my dreams. My art is a symbol of my birthright to be on Earth. What sets me apart from others is my uniqueness. Through trial and error, I’ve accepted my presence takes up space. Once I stopped subconsciously apologizing for being peculiar, I became one with my thoughts and intent. I am unapologetic for who I am and who I am becoming. And in my becoming, I encourage others to take pride in their weakness because it gives others strength.
I believe what I am most proud of are my integrity and my dignity. And the foundation of my integrity is my humility. I understand that everyone in this world will need help or needs help. And it is my responsibility as a servant to extend my service without passing judgment or projecting my perspective. It is my role to create a platform for people to speak their truth and seek their peace. My art, which is embodied in my actions, gives space for others to take command of their life so that they can also add to this community of being. My excitement resides in being the first in my family to chase after their heart’s calling. It is scary, and the roads are unpaved, yet it allows me to venture onto a journey that has yet to be told.
I did not get here by choice; this profession was my saving grace (this story I tell was chosen for me by my God.) In 2018, I realized I was living at my rock bottom for too long. I was fed up with being in the profession of teaching elementary children. And even though I obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degree with the highest recognition from Georgia State University, I still felt this sense of unfulfillment. I knew the year 2019 would be my last year of teaching, but I was not prepared for the rollercoaster ride attached to me leaving the classroom. Heartbreak, court cases, and therapy were the start of my year. And on April 1, 2019, I was rushed to have emergency surgery on my hip at Grady Hospital.
March 31, 2019, at one in the morning, on my way home, traveling at a speed of 65 miles per hour, I hit a parked car in the middle of 285 Westbound with no lights on. My car spun out of control, and debris spewed everywhere, my airbags deployed, and fumes seeped throughout from the impact of the accident. The car driver and
passenger I hit abandoned the stolen car and left one other passenger in their car and me in my vehicle stranded. At the time of the accident, I was in a survival mood and whole-heartedly believed there were children in the other car, and I needed to save them. Not fully aware of what had just taken place, I exited my totaled vehicle in hopes of saving the next person. Huge mistake. As soon as I pried open my door, I plummeted into the asphalt. Regaining my composure, placing one hand on the ground and the other on the doorway of my car, I tried to stand unsuccessfully. Before I could process if I had broken any bones, I had to figure out how to get out of oncoming traffic. Prayer and my upper body strength were the only tools I had to escape the beaming headlights. My adrenalin kicked in, and I was able to use my hands and my forearms to move out of harm’s way and into the emergency shoulder. Two women, who I call my guardian angels, parked their car on the side of the road and came to my rescue. I did not know what happened or how I was in an accident. I had no source of communication to contact any of my loved ones because my phone shattered in the wreck. These two women were driving in the car before me and had enough time to swerve out of the way, avoiding the parked car in the middle of the highway. These women contacted my family members, communicated with the police and ambulance, and did not leave my side until they knew I was on my way to Grady Hospital.
The emergency room was a challenge on its own. The adrenalin wore off, and the pain of what was happening sunk in. I was scared, alone, and in an unbearable amount of pain. There was blood everywhere, and my arms hurt from all of the glass stuck in them. Several doctors were by my side, trying to aid in my excruciating pain. After many hours, x-rays, and MRI, the doctors informed me that I needed to have immediate surgery the next day because I broke the ball of my femur and dislocated and fractured pieces of my hipbone. I stayed in Grady for five days; there were stitches in my hand and staples that were inserted from the top back portion of my leg all the way down to my thigh. I was told I would be on bed rest for the next three months and needed three months of physical therapy. I was not allowed to bear any pressure on my right leg for the next three months.
I wish I could say this accident erased all of the other challenges I was facing at the moment, but that would be a lie. Me being on bed rest required me to face my demons head-on. Since I was not allowed and could not walk up to any steps, my family created a makeshift room in our family room for me. Forever thankful for their accommodations, yet that meant my lowest moments would be faced in front of the world to see. The luxury of hiding my depression, panic attacks, and anxiety was taken from me and now put on full display. My bills did not stop because I was in an accident; in fact, they increased. Feeling helpless and in despair, I turned inwardly. All I had was my laptop, my sketchbook, and color pencils. It was my responsibility to create peace in chaos. My accident required me to explore the uncharted areas of my fears. It taught me that the only perspective we can focus on is one step at a time. When no one understood my pain, I was forced to realize it on my own. In my aloneness, I found strength in being one with my thoughts. I was able to find beauty in asking for help.
Trying to avoid and escape my problems was my comfort zone before my accident. Living in my unorganized chaos was a hindrance to my faith, and the only way I could control my sanity was by focusing on thoughts instead of my circumstances. Shifting my perspective took discipline and time. I realized I could only believe in what I know is true, and in my limitations, I read to expand my thinking. After finishing my physical therapy, I read a book, “As a Woman, Thinketh”, by James Allen transcribed by Dorothy Haulst. My dad gifted me with this book when he witnessed me struggling with being present in the moment. This book, among many others, has changed my life for the best. And now I share it with the world. A small pocket-sized book taught me the power of my thoughts, words, and the reasoning behind my actions. Once I altered my thoughts, my reality shifted. I want the world to know about my brand Unapologetically Char is the world you want does exist. The peace you seek is at the palm of your hand. And within my palm is my art and the world is my canvas which I paint vividly.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
This is a challenging question because, typically, I’m a homebody. But if I had the opportunity to go out and explore where I’m from, there would be hikes, parks, museums, and painting involved.
Sunday-Morning: Online church at Transformation Church. Breakfast at flying biscuit. Evening: Medlock Park exploring trails.
Monday- Day Event: Atlanta Vintage Bookstore. Dinner: Paschal’s
Tuesday- Day Event: Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. Dinner: Sushi at Ra San’s
Wednesday- National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Dinner: The Garden Room
Thursday- Brunch: The Real Milk & Honey, Dinner: Broadway Atlanta. Dessert: Sublime Donuts
Friday- Day event: Panther Creek Waterfall. Dinner: Krab Queenz Atl
Saturday- Day Event: Fernbank Dinner: Krog Street Market
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My family is my foundation. They are the source of light that keeps me grounded and humbled. As I venture through this journey of becoming, they are my providers spiritually, mentally, and financially. When my cup feels empty, I trust and believe they will uplift me, encourage me, and remind me of my worth and excellence. And when I use the word family, I mean anyone who is an extension of me—my loved ones who have active participation and investment in my well-being.
**Image with all black on and purple cape** Image was taken at Spectacular Black Girl Art Show, May 8-9, 2021 ***Images with green paints and white floral cape** Image was taken at the Atlanta Selfie Museum