Born in 1986, Aleah Chapin grew up on an island north of Seattle. After receiving her BFA from Cornish College of the Arts in 2009 she moved to NYC to complete her MFA. Since then, Aleah attended a residency at the Leipzig International Art Programme in Germany and in the fall of 2013 she will be a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. Aleah has been the recipient of several awards including the Posey Foundation Scholarship and the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant. Most recently she won first place in the BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. She has exhibited her work in the US, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK.
Though Aleah currently lives and works Brooklyn, NY, the place and people of her childhood on the west coast are the subjects of her work. It is through this personnal lens that she aims to discover stories that are beyond her own experience.
You are still very young and already had numerous awards like the Posey foundation scholarship ,the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant ,the BP portrait award at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Is there one that is more significant for you?
Yeah, I’ve been really lucky do receive all of these. Each of them have been incredibly important and have given me the support to take the work further. Looking back, I think the BP has had the biggest impact on my life and career. But I could not have gotten to where I am without each of them.
What was the reason behind moving to Brooklyn, while you were already successful home, on the west coast?
I moved to NYC to go to graduate school at the New York Academy of Art. Although I had exhibited on the west coast, I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be in terms of my work and career. I know now that I needed to move across the country for more reasons than just to get an MFA, and those few years in graduate school were life changing. Something happened here on the east coast that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was forced to look at my life and my self and try to answer very hard questions about who I am, what do I want to put out into the world? The answer took me by surprise, being so heavily rooted in my home and the people there. I don’t think I ever would have found this had I not left.
Can you tell us what goes into the process of creating a painting, how do you proceed ?
It begins with gathering a group of people together, outside in the woods or field, on my home island on the west coast. We take hundreds of photos. I see this part as a collaboration. Although I guide them a bit, my aim is to capture them when they are fully themselves, and in those unexpected, in-between moments. I don’t want to dictate emotions or force poses in any way. After a long process of going through each image, I choose one or two to work from. I prepare the canvas for the specific image, and begin with paint, loosely roughing in the ‘drawing’. Usually on the larger canvases (such as 7 x 10 ft) I will paint in a 1×1 ft grid to help with basic proportions, but the rest is a lot of free hand trial and error. There’s something about this struggle and the slight inaccuracies in the final painting, that I really love and find quite important. The piece is built up through layer after layer of tiny brush strokes alternated with larger transparent washes until it weaves together and the paint sings. Although I aim for a high level of realism, I want it to be a handmade image. To me, this is where so much of the power comes from.
How do you choose the subject of a painting?
From painting my mom to childhood friends, I prefer to have a personal relationship to the people I paint. In this way, I’m not only painting a person, but our relationship and our history to each other.
Do you have any desire to work with other medium? Clay? stone? Other?
Clay. I love sculpture. Perhaps I will attempt it in the future.
What are you working on theses days ?
I’m working on a series of paintings for an upcoming solo show in London at Flowers Gallery, October 2014. I’m interested in observing people and their bodies, how they change as they travel through different stages of life and the complex and beautiful relationships between generations.
Your male subject in “our minds as we lose” is quite different than the female ones. Why is it ?
Probably because it’s a collaboration. It didn’t begin this way though. It began as a straight forward portrait of my childhood friend’s dad. It wasn’t quite working so I asked my close friend, an incredible artist Nicolas Holiber if he wanted to work on it. I loved what he did, and it transformed that painting into something exciting and different for both of us.
Where would you like to see your work going from now on ?
I want to continue to push each painting to be the very best it can be. I always want to paint the body and in a way that speaks to the persons history and life just as much as their physical appearance. I want to explore different types of people and their relationships with others and themselves. Beyond this, I want to leave things open to happen as they happen.
Any upcoming exhibition, or private commission you can tell us about ?
The show in London that I mentioned before at Flowers Gallery in October. It will be my 2nd solo exhibition and first in the UK. They are a wonderful gallery and I’m very excited about it! http://www.flowersgallery.com