To kick off the new series, Rejection Chronicles, I am excited to talk with painter Aleah Chapin! I discovered her work a while back and was blown away by its intense honesty. Though I have not been fortunate enough to see her work in person I continue to return to her site, and others that feature her work, for the sheer pleasure of seeing these incredible paintings.
Aleah received her BFA from Cornish College of the Arts in 2009 and her MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2012. The recipient of numerous awards, among them the prestigious BP Portrait Award from the National Portrait Gallery in London, Chapin exhibits her work across the U.S., Europe and the U.K. and is represented by Flowers Gallery (N.Y & London).
I won’t lapse into art criticism, that’s not the intent of the interview, but for those of you not familiar with her work, Aleah creates large scale realistic paintings of women’s bodies that boldly defy the popular paradigm of the female form. By capturing women in every stage of maturity from youthful vigor to the epitome of the wizened crone Chapin grants validity, value and dignity without gratuitous staging and without being overtly sexual or confrontational.
When I began compiling my dream list of people I would love to sit down with and have a good chat over coffee-Aleah came to mind almost immediately! This is why I am so delighted to share this interview with you. While the coffee might be virtual-her experiences with rejection-like the rest of us- have been very real.
1. What is your favorite drink to unwind with?(it can be anything)
Probably a good, strong cup of black coffee. I know that sounds counter intuitive, but I’m not a big alcohol drinker and I love coffee.
2. What books are you reading now and why?
The most recent book I read was “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson. I think I read it as an escape. I live in NYC and although I love it here, I miss trees so much sometimes, so the next best thing is reading about them. Then, I also listen to audiobooks as I paint. I’ve found that they distract my brain so that I can paint form an intuitive place without second guessing every brush mark.
3. If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?
I’ve often asked myself this question when things are less than easy in the studio. The answer is: I have no idea. This might be a good thing because it keeps me painting. Art can be a pretty tough business, so not having a back-up plan can be good. Honestly, if I couldn’t make it work painting, I would probably be a barista. I worked in cafe’s for 7 years back in Seattle and enjoyed it, except that I did get tendinitis in my wrist.
4. What is something about yourself that people don’t know about you?
I’m just under 5 feet tall. This is probably the reason my paintings look so big when I’m standing in front of them.
5. Who/what is a major influence on your work that people might not realize?
Photography. I absolutely adore Emmet Gowin and Sally Mann.
6. What’s your biggest pet peeve about art criticism?
When what can be said about art supersedes what can be felt from art. I think we often get to read about work only because there is a witty or smart idea a critic can attach to it. I wish we could be comfortable enough as artists and critics to have gut reactions and not necessarily be able to explain them in a cerebral or analytical way. I think when an artist is too aware of what can be said about their work, it can kill creativity, and when critics favor this over intuitively strong work, it just perpetuates the problem.
7. What has been your most memorable rejection?
I’m not sure if this is in the category of rejection because it’s not something that I “applied” for, but I think the article by Brian Sewell was pretty memorable. I’ll let you be the judge of why: http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/exhibitions/wrong-on-so-many-levels-brian-sewell-on-the-bp-portrait-award-7938256.htmlAnd for something I did apply for, not getting an Elizabeth Greenshield’s Grant. But looking back, I’m not at all surprised. I’ve since received two grants from them, and am extremely grateful, so it just shows you have to keep trying!
SM- I am SO perplexed by Sewell’s take on your work! The only thing I can think of is that nothing confronts or terrorizes a man’s (and in this case one who appears to be about the same age as your subject) mortality more than seeing the aging female form in all its glory!
8. Has rejection changed how you thought about your work or changed your direction in any way?
It depends on the type of rejection I think. Sometimes your work needs to change, and getting a rejection can be the catalyst. Not getting grants or scholarships just make me work harder, not only on technique, but really trying to find my voice as an artist. But sometimes you need to just ignore what people say and get on with it. That was the case with Brian Sewell’s article. Comments like his hurt pretty deeply (not only me, but my models, which hurts even more) and it can be hard to block those words out when I’m in the studio. But on the other side, it just makes me realize how important it is to keep going and put images out in the world that challenge our culture’s unrealistic beauty standards.
9. Can rejection be seen as a positive thing?
Yes. It should be, but we don’t always see it that way at first. Once we get over our ego being trampled on, we can have a tremendous capacity to grow. Often we realize we were trying to be someone that we are not, and what we really need to do is be ourselves and make work from what we know and can honestly connect to.
10. What advice would you offer to other artist’s, or folks in general, about rejection?
Don’t ever stop putting your work out there and doing what you love to do. Rejection happens. It’s part of the game.
And knowing that everyone who has become someone has had a million rejections, they just didn’t let those rejections stop them.
That wraps it up for the first RC interview-thank you Aleah!! I am so honored to feature you for the Chronicles!!
Is there an artist. writer or anyone else you would like to see featured on Rejection Chronicles?? Drop me a note and let me know-I would love to keep the conversation going!