Freedom of Expression

Chantal Hardy—English department staff assistant by day, artist by night—doesn’t need to know where she’s going to find her way

When Chantal Hardy applies paint to canvas, she may have an image in mind, yet she never quite knows where it will take her as she experiments with line, color and pigment. “I’m not an artist who plans out work ahead of time,” she says. “I don’t do studies and drawings. I don’t know where I’ll end up. I just begin.”

In much the same way, she remains uncertain of what path she will ultimately take in her own life. A staff assistant in the English department, she provides administrative support for the first-year writing program, among other responsibilities. Away from Tufts, she is immersed in the art world, painting in her studio in South Boston. She often spends Sundays in the company of other artists at a workshop or working on her art at home.

This month Hardy is having her first solo exhibition, at the Kingston Gallery in Boston’s South End. She is currently an artist-in-residence at the gallery; last summer she was a resident artist at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson. There, as part of a community of artists, she says she drew inspiration from their work and conversation. Not that such influences are likely to change her basic artistic process. “I’m not interested in having a vision and executing it,” she says. “I feel really comfortable living in the not-knowing; I find that exciting.”

Consider her recent oil paintings. Hardy says her work is often inspired by images and photographs. She had been browsing through a book that contained Japanese Haniwa sculptures, hollow-eyed clay figures dating from the 3rd to the 6th century and found at burial sites.

In the studio, she continued to think about the Haniwa as she experimented with different colors and areas of thick and thin pigments. She had what she describes as a dialogue with both the figures and their creators. The images in the paintings that resulted echo their clay counterparts with a vacant, haunting stare.

“These figures felt like some sort of friendly ghosts to me, with a life of their own,” Hardy says. “Looking at work made by another artist, speaking to me through time and space, was really amazing.”

Now she is pursuing a new direction, one that has evolved from looking at the human figure as a suggestion of lines, shapes and forms. Using charcoal, she first noticed that her renderings were beginning to resemble land masses. Intrigued, she introduced marks and texture for variation. Then, shifting to pen and ink, she adopted a limited palette of earthy greens, browns and purples. Her most recent work forms topographical maps of sorts, with an accretion of dots, dashes and tick marks.

Secret Life of an Artist

Hardy, 36, grew up in Manhattan. Her mother, a Japanese artist, came to this country not knowing a word of English and made her way from California to Manhattan because it was the center of the art world. There she met and married a Belgian lawyer.

Hardy grew up in the artsy neighborhood of the West Village and later the now-trendy NoHo neighborhood, named for the area north of Houston Street. As a child she painted and drew and stayed up late to work on her art projects. Her parents encouraged her, but when it came time to go to college, they suggested she pursue a liberal arts education instead of attending art school. She graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in environmental studies.

Afterward, she began taking art classes whenever she could afford it, first at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, then at the Massachusetts College of Art or the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She came to Tufts in 2002, and first worked in the mathematics department.

Initially, she didn’t tell anyone about her life as an artist. Then a friend who had a studio offered to let Hardy show some of her work. Hardy decided it was time to let her Tufts colleagues know what she did in her spare time. “I sent invitations out, and everybody was so lovely and sweet and supportive,” she says. “They came to the show, and it was very exciting and gratifying.”

About a year and a half ago she began to think of her art as more than a hobby and applied to be an associate member of the Kingston Gallery. She was accepted, and her work was included as part of a group show. She has also participated in open studio weekends at the space she shares with three other artists at the Distillery, a building in South Boston that houses some 140 artists and artisans.

Hardy says she doesn’t know where her art will take her next, but she knows full well that it’s tough to make a living as a full-time artist. “It’s scary,” she says. “There are moments where you think, What will I do next? But I love when I’m working. It’s exciting. I’ve got all this possibility.”

Chantal Hardy’s work will be on display at the Kingston Gallery through July 31. The gallery is located at 450 Harrison Ave., Boston and is open from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, or by appointment. Call 617-423-4113.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at

Back to Top