INTERVIEW : ALEAH CHAPIN

Resides: Brooklyn, NY
Work: Contemporary, Nude, Realism Painter
Links: Website, Facebook, Instagram

“I remind myself that getting harsh criticism means that I’m making work that is worthy of a conversation.”

Some would call the works of Aleah Chapin “tough” or “repellent”, but what do they know. The talent and brilliance behind her contemporary nude paintings make some say, “is this a photograph?”. Realism at its finest. Aleah was raised outside of Seattle, where she discovered art and has since moved to New York to study and continue making one of a kind pieces. Here we discuss being comfortable in your own skin, her small hometown, and her BP Portrait Award.

Aleah, let’s get this going. You’re currently living in the amazing and incredible New York City, but you’re a West Coaster originally. What brought you over?

I came for graduate school at the New York Academy of Art. I actually didn’t really want to move here, but after a few months I realized I loved it. I’ve been here a little over four years, but I miss the West Coast quite a bit.

Do you make it back often?

Yeah. As often as possible. Its like a re-start button for me.

What’s the art scene like in your hometown?

My hometown has 1,000 people, but all are very creative so its relatively good.

Outside of Seattle, yes?

Yes, on an island north of Seattle. It was a great place to grow up in and I was surrounded by interesting, artsy people, which was not only inspiring, but as a young child I knew that I could grow up and do anything I wanted. I had a lot of good examples of what was possible.

Is that what sparked your interest?

I think so. All kids draw, I just never stopped. My mom is also an artist, so I knew that it was possible. I was really lucky that way. I think a lot of kids love to create, but parents don’t always encourage it because they feel like it won’t be a supportive career. While I admit, it is difficult, it absolutely can be a career.

There must be a span of several years in between drawing as a child to drawing realistic nudes. What attracts you to this style of painting?

(laughs)

Yeah, true. Since I was a little kid, really since I can remember, I was fascinated by “making things look real”, and I always loved drawing people. It was pretty frustrating because there’s only so much a five year old can do in terms of realism. I remember my mom showing me how to draw a face when I was probably that age. In terms of the nude thing, there’s so much that is said through the clothes that we wear, and I was never really interested in that when it came to making work. I wanted to have a sort of timelessness, and we all have bodies.

Do you still have these creations lying around somewhere?

My parents have a box in their basement. Probably quite a few boxes.

(laughs)

You make a great point. We do all have bodies. You’ve said before that “women are not supposed to show that they have lived”. Society has seemed to create this image of the perfect man and perfect woman, and that’s all we see. You’re absolutely knocking that barrier down with your work.

Thanks. I hope so. We can also hide under clothes, but we can’t hide what our bodies show, and I don’t think we should. Of course, I don’t think we should go being naked all the time. I love clothes! I just think we should be more accepting and compassionate towards our bodies.

Comfortable in your own skin.

Exactly. We hear that term a lot, I think, but its easier said than done.

Of course. On the other side, you’ve got some tough critics out there calling your work “tough” and “repellent”. What do you say to them?

Yeah. Not sure what to say to them actually. It can be hard to hear, but then I remind myself that getting harsh criticism means that I’m making work that is worthy of a conversation. I suppose its also because of those people that I continue to make the work that I make. If our culture will call a healthy (yet not unrealistically perfect) body “repellent”, then its something we as a society need to look at.

In a way you’re creating conversation, which is always great. Get people talking, thinking about ourselves as a society. Art and criticism go hand in hand.

Yeah, they do. I think art can be a mirror to how a society thinks.

Also, in a way, you’re a photographer. What is your process from start to finish?

I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, but I love photography and I do use it in my work. I have found that a camera can be an incredible way to discover complex aspects of an individual. One of the reasons I use a camera is because I can see the person as they are, and their personality can come through instead of me imposing an idea on them by way of making them stand in a certain pose for 100+ hours. The camera lets the project be a collaboration between myself and the person I am painting. So, I will often take hundreds of photos. Then, I will choose one or two to become paintings. I then draw the composition on the canvas with paint, trying to get the under painting done in one day before it dries, which can sometimes be difficult, especially with the big ones. Then, layer after layer of color until the painting breaths.

Do you set the scene for them, or are all their movements and poses their own?

I will sometimes suggest a bit, but I like to leave a lot open to the moment and the environment.

Such a natural feel to your work, almost palpable. Let’s talk about your BP Portrait Award. How did it feel receiving that?

Amazing, and really surreal, and thank you! I was just hoping to get into that show. Getting shortlisted was insane, then being there and finding out that my painting, a naked painting of this woman I’ve known all my life (literally, she was in the room when I was born), had won. I still can’t believe it sometimes.

Thats amazing. Was she there?

No. She almost came, but decided not to. She was really supportive of the whole thing. It was a lot for both of us to handle at times, in very different ways of course. Neither of us knew how big of a deal it would be though.

What a surreal feeling. So you have a show in London coming to an end soon. How has it been?

Yeah, it ends on the 8th. It’s been amazing. Having a solo show there is a bit of a dream come true. Everyone at Flowers Gallery are such wonderful people that its been a great experience.

What are your top 3 “dream-come-trues”?

Well, besides everything that’s happened with my work already, which is more than I could have dreamed of 10 years ago, build my own house (or renovate one), have a family, and continue to make the work I want to make and have opportunities to put it out in the world.

Keep doing what you’re doing, Aleah. Any last words for readers to know?

Maybe just a sincere thank you to everyone who has supported what I’m doing. It means so much to know that my work is bigger than just me in my studio trying to make beautiful things. It helps me continue when I have doubts and when it gets difficult. So, thank you, thank you!

All work Copyright (c) Aleah Chapin. You can check out more from Aleah on her website and Facebook.

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Copyright (c) The Kind Artist. 2014.

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SPOTLIGHT: Gordon Parks

American Photographer Gordon Parks has been called “the most important black photographer in the history of photojournalism” – the man who taught himself how to take pictures at the age of twenty-five with a Voigtländer Brillant that he purchased at a pawn shop.

In 1948, after a stint with the Farm Security Administration (F.S.A.) covering the nation’s social conditions, he garnered attention with his photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader that won him widespread acclaim and a place as the first African-American staff photographer and writer for Life Magazine – where he stayed for two decades. Parks work captures some of the most iconic moments in American Culture from the early 1940’s up until his death in 2006.  As a humanitarian, he seemed most passionate about capturing the nation in its moments of social upheaval with an air of timelessness. His lens so often found the dignity and pride of the people whose portraits accompanied these stories.

 

Parks was multi-faceted man – he was also a humanitarian, a musician, a film director, and a writer. “He spent much of the last three decades of his life expanding his style, conducting experiments with color photography. He continued working up until his death in 2006, winning many awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988, and over fifty honorary doctorates. He was also a noted composer and author, and in 1969, became the first African-American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film based on his bestselling novel The Learning Tree. This was followed in 1971 by the hugely successful motion picture Shaft. The core of his accomplishment, however, remains his photography the scope, quality, and enduring national significance of which is reflected throughout the Collection. According to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Center at Harvard University, “Gordon Parks is the most important black photographer in the history of photojournalism. Long after the events that he photographed have been forgotten, his images will stay with us, testaments to the genius of his art, transcending time, place and subject.”**

You can become better acquainted with his legacy of work at The Gordon Parks Foundation.

*Come follow us on Twitter today (@hahamag #spotlightseries) as we tweet links to Gordon Park’s work online.

 

 

Gordon Parks, “Untitled,” Alabama (1956), Archival Pigment Print, 12 × 18 inches (© Gordon Parks Foundation, courtesy of the Foundation and Salon 94)

*images courtesy of Time Magazine. **quote from Biography of Parks at Gates Foundation website.

POTHOLES

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New York based Photographer Davide Luciano turns those infamous car wrecking potholes into street art with his photo series, Potholes. Luciano used locations in New York, Montreal, and Los Angeles as his backdrop, often driving around for hours to find the perfect pothole. The most amazing thing is that he found the time to set up these shots on busy streets since none of the photos are photo-shopped. This imaginative photo series that turns bad into good proves that with a little creativity – the sky is the limit.

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Potholes

Sara Cwynar’s COLOR GROUPING PHOTO SERIES

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There’s something so calming about everything in its right place. Perhaps that’s why I’m favoring the color grouping photos of Brooklyn-based photographer Sara Cwynar. Cwynar uses her own continually changing horde of objects to create these photo dialogues.

Those lemon yellow tones and monochromatic shades of black and gray eclectic items play on me like the work of other artists (see Michael Johansson) who obsessively group and catalog items in this artistic time capsule form transforming the everyday objects into discussions of our society’s obsession to have more things and the value we place on them.

Sara Cwynar’s COLOR GROUPING PHOTO SERIES  via artist website & Featureshoot

Sara Cwynar's COLOR GROUPING PHOTO SERIES

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Sara Cwynar's COLOR GROUPING PHOTO SERIES

Sara Cwynar's COLOR GROUPING PHOTO SERIES

Sara Cwynar's COLOR GROUPING PHOTO SERIES

Going at it with William Hundley

by Ginger Rudolph

When I first contacted photographer William Hundley, I had a hunch that he didn’t take himself too seriously. I was hard-pressed to believe that anyone putting a Chihuahua on top of cheeseburgers had an ego complex. Hundley’s photo series has a run of eccentric themes with simple titles. Because of the nature of the photographs, I wanted Hundley to have fun with his interview answers. “Let your personality shine through – think ‘humor with a splash of serious’,” I told him. So, without a spectacular setup, you’re about to read our informal back and forth.

HAHA Magazine: Let’s do a review of your past photographs – a ‘mini retrospective,’ if you will. What comes to mind when you look back at “Things I Do in My Garage”?

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“The Oblivion of Sleep” from the photo series, Things I Do In My Garage

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“Wet Balls” from the photo series, Things I Do In My Garage

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“Little Clouds” from the photo series, Things I Do In My Garage

William Hundley: Going into my garage and doing some more things.

HM: I left myself wide open for that…

WH: Yeah, you did. No, seriously, I am currently working on some things in my garage for an installation in Austin on July 17th at Co-Lab.

HM: There’s a particular piece in that series that grabbed my attention; it’s entitled “This Business of Art”.

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“This Business of Art” from Things I Do In My Garage

WH: It was a collaboration with Paul Moncus and Peter Von Diest. I bought the trucks at a garage sale that morning, and Paul picked out the book at a nearby Goodwill. After making this piece, we envisioned a machine that would put wheels on any book that was run through it. Like an assembly line scenario that could be used to turn every book in a library into a huge population of books on wheels.

HM: Books seem to be a running theme in your work – there’s one in the series “w/ cheeseburgers” as well. The books you choose all have really great titles by the way – great conversation starters. Do they serve a purpose?

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“Chihuahua on Cheeseburgers” from the photo series, w/cheeseburgers

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“Art Now Vol. 2 on Cheeseburgers” from the photo series, w/cheeseburgers

WH: Convenience.

HM: Convenience? I have to say I was looking for something more, you know…meaningful. But I can live with that. And what about the cheeseburgers, because I could amuse myself all day long by taking wild guesses at what “w/ cheeseburgers” is about. But something tells me that your explanation for this series will be much more entertaining. Please do ramble on about how you came up with this piece – there are cheeseburgers under chairs and fake Easter Island statues. Were you smoking anything weird as you conceived it? Or did you give that to the dog?

WH: I’m not too sure how the cheeseburger series started, but I know that when I began to show the photos to others, it perplexed them. It is ridiculous. It is a waste of food. Why would you do such a thing? What does it mean? Do you eat them afterward? Is the Chihuahua real? Were you drunk when you thought of this? Are you drunk right now? Are you trying to look at my ass? Are you even paying attention to me?

Seriously, these are all valid questions, but I prefer to let the images do the talking. Enjoy.

HM: “Little Naked Person Storage” is some of your more recent work. I have to tell you; every time I look at the pictures, I wonder how you persuaded them to be a part of this. Are the spots they’re cradled in important or just unused space now filled by warm bodies?

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Little Naked Person Storage (TW)

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Little Naked Person Storage (JP)

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Little Naked Person Storage (WS)

WH: Sometimes when I talk to people, I look at their size and then think of the different places I could put them. I interacted with a man at the store the other day and I wanted to put him in a nearby recycle bin. He would have been a perfect fit.

HM: Have you noticed that certain elements are recycled in other series? Do the separate series have an intertwining meaning?

WH: I don’t know; do they?

HM: I asked you first.

WH: Then yes, there are some recycled elements in my photographic work. “Meaning” is something that the viewer should apply to what they see or try to find in something that they don’t understand.

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“Dress for Less” from the photo series, Entopic Phenomena

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“Tommy Gun” from the photo series, Friends

HM: I feel guilty for enjoying this chat so much. Now I feel obligated to punish you with clichéd questions so that people will feel like they’re conferring with the artist in you…

What do you see as your strongest period of work? Why?

WH: I am probably stronger today than I have ever been.

HM: How long does it typically take to plan out a photo series?

WH: I am not big on planning.

HM: All these photos seem like they took some pretty intense setup time…any good stories? The shot that just didn’t happen? The dog that wouldn’t stay put?

WH: Yeah, there have been so many silly, scary, and downright ridiculous encounters along the way…I guess my favorite would be when we almost got knifed on the east side by a crazy old woman.

HM: I’d like to hear more about the crazy old woman, please.

WH: She was old, crazy and did not speak English. She kept yapping at us and pointing for us to go away. We might have been on her property, but I couldn’t tell. I just kept smiling and saying “OK” and continued to shoot photos. She went away and came back with a huge kitchen knife and started swinging it through the air. It was really a beautifully bizarre moment.

HM: Ok, enough of that. Here’s series of silly questions: Just what you do in the garage when no one is looking?

WH: Sing.

HM: If a cheeseburger was slated to be your last meal, what are you going to have it with?

WH: Ipecac

HM: It’s a “Little Naked Person Storage” horror shot…where would you be terrified to be put naked for the shot?

WH: A heated oven

HM: We just met at a party, and you’re trying to impress me by explaining the series “Entoptic Phenomena”. Sell it to me in two short sentences.

WH: I’m wasted! Here is my card.

It you’d like to see more of William Hundley’s work, check it out at  www.williamhundley.com
 


all photos courtesy of William Hundley