Michelle Lassaline has always liked making things with her hands. As a child, she enjoyed woodworking and crafts, exploring tools and, above all, drawing. That early interest was fueled by talent, curiosity, strong mentors and a studio art degree that has led to a life of robust creativity. They continue to fuel Lassaline’s passions in her “pop-up” performance art experience called “You as an Animal.”
For love of the inner animal
During performances, Lassaline dons colorful animal masks created from papier-mâché and other materials as well as homemade clothing. She then paints vibrant watercolor portraits of people — children and adults alike — depicted as their favorite animal. Performances take place at markets, public events, private parties, fundraisers and other venues. Check the artist’s website, youasananimal.com
Lassaline says the spark for “You as an Animal” came from her love of animals, her reverence for nature, and her interest in the rich history of mask performance.
“When I make a mask, I don’t know what character it will be until I put it on and start wearing it,” she says. “That’s part of the transformational power for the wearer, but also for the viewer. I become something else.
Masks for storytelling
“The masks invite storytelling, because I become some imaginative character,” the Vashon Island-based artist adds. “I wanted to open up a space for storytelling and I came up with the idea of other people maybe wanting to explore their inner identity as an animal.”
Over the past eight years, she has painted more than 3,000 portraits, each completed in just a few minutes by Lassaline’s deft, delicate hands. Lassaline does not choose the animals for those who sit for a painting. Participants choose the animals they want to be in the moment of the art-making.
“I make it more about the story of the day, or what they’re feeling about themselves, or what they wish they could be in terms of the animal world,” Lassaline says. “It’s really less about what someone looks like for me and more about what they feel like they wish they could do or be, or what they want to express.
Find your animal of the day
“I’m just there to listen and really emphasize that this could just be like an animal of the day,” she adds. “I imagined it as like the first page of a storybook, an illustrated book about that person’s day or life or whatever they want it to be. They get to fill in the rest.”
During “You as an Animal” performances, participants make requests from the conventional to the fantastical — and sometimes they go outside the animal kingdom to see themselves as a cedar tree, a cake or a trillium flower.
Doing portraits of children is especially rewarding for Lassaline. She recalls the girl who took great care to describe a magical unicorn of great power and rainbow scales. It was also invisible.
Rewards for the artist
Once during a fair event, a child Lassaline illustrated returned to her performance station later in the day, surprising her with his own drawing of her. Lassaline holds dear this reciprocal rendering. She’s also learned a lot about animals from kids as they spout information they’ve gleaned from classrooms or books.
Outside of “You as an Animal,” Lassaline’s interdisciplinary work spans diverse mediums including video, textiles, found-object sculpture, painting, and illustration. She has created art for nonprofits, Seattle parks, Tacoma Art Museum, Seattle Mayor’s Arts Awards and more.
A collaborative experience
“You as an Animal” performance/portrait creations can be found at public markets in both Seattle and on Vashon, where Lassaline is part of the island’s thriving artist community.
Lassaline considers “You as an Animal” a collaborative experience.
“Each person that sits for a portrait has to enter that creative space,” she says. “They’ve already done the hard work just by deciding to participate.
“They’ve already engaged in some creative way.”
For more information go to youasananimal.com