J.J. L'Heureux was born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Through high school she was musically inclined but showed no particular interest in paintings, sculpture or photography. This changed when she was in her early twenty's in Boston and was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis that completely incapacitated her. Friends brought her art books covering their favorite artistic movements.
Seeking a cure she moved to New York City and rented the house of a famous artist while being cared for by an arthritis specialist. The artist not only had an extensive library but lent J.J. his museum membership cards. Because she was physically restricted in what she could do she began going to the Museum of Modern Art nearly everyday. J.J. generally took several books with her to study the art with. It was unclear whether she would have normal movement or be able to support herself with everyday jobs. As she spent more and more time in the museums she came to the overwhelming feeling that she could make art her career. Carrying the heavy books began to help straighten out her arms. After a year of care she was moving more normally again and decided to become a painter.
She moved to San Francisco and entered the San Francisco Art Institute. J.J. worked part time jobs to pursue her dreams. As her art developed, exhibitions started to come her way and these successes led to opportunities for her to follow another central interest; animals in their environments. She took the course that led to becoming a docent for the San Francisco Zoo. She traveled to Africa, South America, Galapagos Islands, North America and Antarctica in order to study the animals in their natural habitats.
Eventually this passion brought her to Tierra del Fuego and then across the Southern Ocean into the Antarctica wilderness. During these travels and observations she continued to paint and became an accomplished, well known abstract painter. The Antarctica photographs have been taken on six expeditions to Antarctica over a five year period. In order to gather additional portraits of penguins L’Heureux also spent independent study time in the Falkland Islands, and in December of 2007 returned from circumnavigating South Georgia Islands aboard the Golden Fleece, a private sailboat out of the Falklands.
Initially L’Heureux went to Antarctica to gather ice images for her abstract painting series. It was clear after the first efforts that the photographs would produce several different series unto themselves. Landscape is an important element in her paintings over the years, but the white on white wilderness of Antarctica and its amazing wildlife soon convinced L’Heureux that these photographs conveyed a more direct expression of the wind, cold, colors and basically industrial-soundlessness of the continent than the color field paintings.
It was an historic cruise into the Weddell Sea and along the ice shelves from Atka Bay to Halley Station that focused L’Heureux on Emperor Penguins and their incredible adaptation to this impressive landscape. She had already been to the Antarctica Peninsula several times and had photographed Adelie, Gentoo, Macaroni and King Penguins, but it was this first visit to the Emperors that was a course changing catalyst to create a broader image record of her impressions. Except for the sounds of the rookeries, the expansion and contraction of the ice, and the wind sounds Antarctica is very much like the soundless photographs we see. Virtually there is no “hand of humanity” present there except what one may know about the environmental damages, but not really see.
On some previous journeys to Antarctica L’Heureux has been an expedition artist. She has published one book using penguins as its focus and is working on another. After circumnavigating South Georgia, she is working on a project with images gathered while on the islands.