Artist Spotlight Series: Elizabeth Chapin

A few months ago I was wandering online gallery images at Wally Workman.  

I came across this portrait where I recognized the subject.

 It is a family friend and it all clicked. 

 This artist of the niece of this lovely lady and a cousin of a childhood friend.  

I am mesmerized by her vibrant work.

Enjoy getting to know the uber talented

Elizabeth Chapin

Austin, Texas

What is your training? 

 I got a fine arts degree at the University of Virginia and summered at Parsons in Paris and SACI in Florence, Italy.  I went to UVA thinking I would major in English, but my teacher in Paris shook me out of that plan.  

What inspires you and your designs?

I recently heard Jenny Saville describe herself as a scavenger of feelings.  And I think that is an apt description.  I am a visual scavenger.  And visual scavenging becomes emotional inspiration.    My current body of work is inspired by Botticelli’s Venus, annunciations by Simone Martini and Fra Angelico, the candy colors of Pontormo and Baronzino, the sensuousness of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa,

the spiritualism of Hilma af Klint.   Film inspires from the interiors of Gentleman Jack, Marie Antoinette, Far from the Madding Crowd, or the emotional drama of Youth, The Great Beauty, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  Fashion inspires me—from Alessandro Michele to Molly Goddard.  I grew up sewing and making my prom dresses and wedding dress.  And now, as my figures become sculptural, I am incorporating ruffles and fabric textures.  I am inspired by the visual exuberance of pop stars from Kanye and Cardi B to FKA Twigs.  

What is your favorite piece? 

 Usually my favorite piece is whatever I have just finished.  I am in the middle of several pieces right now for my show at Martine Chaisson in New Orleans in March.  But one that I can show you from my last show, Ultralight Beam, is my first piece where I started cutting my figures out and stuffing them and incorporporating other materials like plexiglass.  It is inspired by Van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross, and is an exploration in what we worship, how patriarchy has failed boys, and how whiteness has failed humanity.  My son and his friends posed for me, Kanye is the center, coming out of the clouds and rays of yellow mirrored plexiglass, which connotes altarpieces but also reflects the viewer.  

How has the your area influenced your work?

I live in Austin, Texas, which has given me a lot of psychic space to think about my childhood culture in Mississippi.  I think when I was younger,  I wanted to explore other cultures.  Then living in NYC and Austin made me realize there are aspects of Mississippi culture I wanted to hold onto—hospitality, beauty, decoration, congeniality, excess—but that I could hold onto it while deconstructing what felt problematic—whiteness, patriarchy, addiction, conformity, piety.  That in exploring my relationship to these constraints in the visual language of excess and decoration, I am taking care of myself.  And I think it is important to say that wherever I grew up, I would feel compelled to deconstruct that culture—that is what an artist does.  

What is your favorite restaurant in Austin, Texas ?

Nixta taqueria—which does everything with love, humility, dedication and originality 

What is your favorite cocktail?

 Coffee with jersey cream

How do you balance personal life and work?

I don’t.  It all bleeds together.  

Dream trip?

I was planning a trip to Rajasthan pre-Covid.  The colors really inspire me.  We shall see.  Also I am now planning a trip with my daughter (who is studying art history at Barnard) to visit Greek and Roman goddess temples.  

Dream commission?

To be given an apse at St John the Divine Cathedral 

Your favorite host / hostess gift to give?

 Maple syrup from our trees in Vermont 

Who is your style icon?

 Georgia O’Keefe.  She is much more spare and simple than I tend to be, but I admire the thorough rigor of her aesthetic— how every decision in her life—her gardening, her cooking, her dress, her Ferragamos, her stereo, her paint, is all connected and intentional.  

Your favorite up and coming artist?

 Jade Fadojutimi.  I mean she has already arrived.  But she throws paint and feelings around in a way that blows my mind

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t know—my coffee maker, my bathtub.  Those are replaceable though.  Probably my house—can I say that?  It was built in 1889 by an Austin merchant and I lived in it —rotting, leaning, no air,heat or insulation—- for 15 years until I could afford to renovate it properly. It is an ongoing manifestation of my art.  

What are you reading?

Poetry is a great source of inspiration, particularly Sharon Olds and Marie Howe’s immersion in what it is to be a woman, but also Rilke and David Whyte’s immersion in what it is to be everything, the way Rebecca Solnit writes about the color blue, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, Barbara Mor’s The Great Cosmic Mother has been a great source for understanding ancient goddess cultures for my current work.  

What are you listening to?

 I am utterly reliant on the mood and drama of music—from classical like Schubert, Dvorak, David Lang to Kanye and rap.  For my recent work I have been inspired by FKA Twigs Mary Magdalene, Radiohead’s Creep, Fiona Apple’s Ladies and Beyoncé’s Black Parade

What are your favorite blogs / publications?

I don’t look at blogs.  I like Luncheon magazine.  Mostly I listen to podcasts—Duncan Trussell, Russell Brand, On Being, Rich Roll, A Brush With. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to feature this talent…


Check out her cool portfolio via her website, Wally Workman Gallery and Instagram.



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