Meditating Away from Expectations

Raphaella Vaisseau favors the transcendent moment.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

The 1960s was a time of change for many young Americans, and particularly so for Asheville artist Raphaella Vaisseau, whose career sprang from those tumultuous years. “My parents were strict — life as an artist was not an option,” reveals the self-taught Vaisseau, reflecting on her years growing up in Minneapolis. Her parents believed a young woman’s purpose, even after college, was to get married and be supportive of her husband. “By the time I graduated from high school in 1965,” says Vaisseau, “I was angry at this.”  


And by the early ’70s, Vaisseau was living on the West Coast, a card-carrying hippie drawn to the spiritual and transcendent imagery still much in evidence in her brilliantly colored work in watercolor and acrylic.

Flower Power

“There was no family support for actually being an artist, but I did enjoy painting as an adult, especially making mandalas,” Vaisseau says. Hand-painted greeting cards were her first efforts at self-support, and in the early ’80s, Vaisseau began experimenting with watercolor as a medium, learning how to apply layers of color to produce a depth and texture unusual for the medium. “Creating art is always an organic, meditative experience for me,” she says of her intuitive, abstract-inspired work. “I give over to the process, beginning in the center of the back or the bottom layer and continuing brushstroke by brushstroke.” She paints, as she points out, “from my heart rather than my head,” the basis of her “Heartful Art” collection. “Painting feels like a moving meditation, like a dance or Tai Chi. I don’t judge the process. If I’m not flowing in harmony with the creation, I take a walk or do something different.”

Nature’s Gift

Vaisseau marks her full artistic flowering with the breast-cancer diagnosis she received more than 30 years ago. “It shocked me out of thinking I had it all figured out,” she says. “Instead of giving in to depression and accepting the ten years the doctor said I had left to live, I got angry and expressed it. I changed everything about my life, from my diet to learning how to swear, which was hilarious.” It was then that Vaisseau’s work took on the intensity and emotion that continues to flow across her canvases. She draws on her Norwegian heritage for inspiration, particularly a traditional form of 18th-century Scandinavian folk art called rosemaling — highly detailed and colored designs rendered in oil paint. Vaisseau also acknowledges a debt to the Impressionists, especially Monet, for the movement’s immediacy and experimental palettes. “Color bathes us in beauty; [it] blesses and heals,” Vaisseau says. “Like beautiful music, color can lift our spirits to touch the divine.”

Bird Of Paradise
Ruby Earth Goddess

That lifting of the spirit has brought about a popular collection of work that Vaisseau offers online and at her Heartful Art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. She was drawn to the mountains for inspiration in 2018 and opened her gallery the following year. “The beauty of nature here nourishes my being-ness on all levels,” she says. “For me, my Heartful Art is an expression of my inner essence. I’m just a vessel for that expression.”

Autumn Vortex
Summer Flowers

Raphaella Vaisseau, Asheville. Vaisseau’s gallery is located at Riverview Station, 191 Lyman St., in the River Arts District; see also and on IG @heartfulartgallery

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