Chelsea Gibson‘s art is the cover of the April,2017 issue of Rug News andDesign. She paints her subjects in situ, defined by their space and possessions
Below are excerpts from an interview of Chelsea by Gates of The West the space where creation occurs.
When did you start painting and what drew you to the medium?
I began painting when I was 12. I started straight away with oil paint, in my bedroom. …. I copied Cezanne still lives, and then made my own, and I made tons of brutally honest self-portraits that made me look a lot older than I was.
Do you find similarities in the way you approach playing a musical instrument and painting?
The cello is my instrument, as I have played one literally my whole life. When I listen to a recording of a cello piece, I can hear the fingerings the musician is using, the way a painter goes up close to paintings to see how they are made. I used to practice between 3 and 6 hours a day. I think the similarities are many. I learned a lot of discipline from playing the cello, and I know that it has an effect on the way I approach my studio. The art of practice is something I greatly value and know well. I can’t relate to the idea of like, getting drunk and going on a rampage in the studio—it’s just not respectful, or I know I’d be embarrassed about it later. I much prefer going into the studio every day with a clear mind, healthy and ready to concentrate, like the way I would pick up my cello—with reverence.
I also think that there are some things about playing classical music so seriously that might not always work in my favor. I think there is a rigidity to sticking to the sheet music that I have internalized a little—like it’s nearly impossible for me to completely let go of form or realism, which I think is directly related to how the cello formed me. …. I have had to teach myself how to loosen up in my paintings, for my own sake, so that I bring my own personality into them, instead of just “sticking with the sheet music” so to say.
Your work frequently explores interior spaces. How do you feel that living in the country has affected your work? (Chelsea lives on 180 acres in the country)
I have lived in the boondocks before, so this wasn’t a complete shock. …. I always wanted to live out in the sticks. I had fantasies of country living with a studio and beautiful kitchen, with animals and gardens. We live in what used to be the cow barn to the farmhouse that is no longer here. …. We live where the cows used to live, and when I moved in, the original cement and dirt floor was still there, and you could see the grooves in the cement for cleaning out the stalls. …. we are still repairing parts that were close to un-salvageable, so it’s kind of miraculous that we can live in here at all.
When I first saw this place that we now call home, Mark was living full time in the barn. I fell in love with it instantly. It was rough and simple living, and it was clear that he spent most of his time outside. The part of the house that we now live in was full of lumber and machinery when we moved in. It has taken so much work to get it to where it is now. Living with a dirt floor and no stove or sink in the kitchen for the first year was really fun though. …. We are building a new painting studio extension on the back of our building now that I hope will be done this year.
Because we have been fixing the barn all of these years, I guess it is only natural that I paint the insides of homes now
.….. I think that painting outside or basing my work on the landscape would make me think too much about work while I was outside, instead of appreciating it for what it is. I take a walk to the park down the road from my house everyday with the dogs for that purpose. The walk gives me perspective and takes me out of myself. ….
Visiting your house there is a strong sense that your work and home have a symbiotic relationship. How do you feel your home informs your artistic process?
They do! I know I wouldn’t be painting like this in a tidy new house in the suburbs or living in an apartment and commuting to the studio on a train. …. I can go into my kitchen and I see the dirty pot from last night’s dinner waiting for me, the mug that I will re-use all day long, the plants and my grandmother’s chair. They all have a relationship with me, and I wouldn’t want to remove any of that from my day in the studio. There is something organic about the way that my home functions and looks—the two are not separate at all, and I paint that mix,
The feel and workings of a home being inextricable from one another.
Since I moved here, we have been fixing our place bit-by-bit, nonstop. The repairs and modifications are endless, so with all of the changes that happen to our place on an ongoing basis, there is a good vibe—of work tools, paintings, dog paraphernalia and good smells from the kitchen and studio mingling. It’s this overall feeling that a home is buzzing with life that I find really beautiful and comforting, and I guess that is why I paint about it.
Also, there are a lot of really interesting people who have similar kinds of homes all around us, and I love how much their homes say about them. The people I paint are often artists, so there are usually art supplies and tools strewn around, but also the piles of different things are so interesting. This one incredible ceramicist/sculptor here has these giant piles of her own plates and bowls in her kitchen; some are holding fruit, some holding bills, but they are just everywhere because she is so prolific and because she uses them to cook with! This is just the perfect kitchen in my eyes, and she is perfect too.
Your paintings often expose a person in a kitchen, or den in a casual state of disorder, capturing a private moment in the process of their life. What is your interest in these quotidian images?
.I think that disorder tells a lot about people, not in a bad way. I am much more comfortable with a messy pile of stuff that is being used all the time than a magazine-ready home, because one tells you how a person lives, and the other tells you what they want you to hear.
How do you decide whom you paint? Is a personal connection important?
A personal connection is what it’s all about. …. I think people’s homes are interesting because they facilitate how people live, how they think and how they feel about everything. …. I much prefer already knowing a person and their house, rather than just knowing the person and then trying to see if their house is interesting for a painting.
The first painting I made that wasn’t a rectangle was actually a commission for a couple who didn’t specify anything except that they did not want to be the focus of the painting and they wanted to have the feeling of the room and their art collection all encompassing. The shaped painting was my solution to the problem they presented me. Another obstacle that I had to get around was how to get this huge painting to them, when I hoped to transport it in my little Toyota. So, I built the painting in many small panels that fit together like a puzzle. I love working in my wood shop, so this was a really fun project, and it just grew from there.
Who are your influences and how do they inform your work?
I like that. The combination of two completely different kinds of painters—the old and the new, the organic and the manmade. Besides the two you mentioned,(David Hockney and Ellsworth Kelly) I would also say that Bonnard, Diebenkorn, Fairfield Porter, Alice Neel, Alex Katz, are all kind of in my head from time to time. Also Stanley Lewis and Susan Lichtman. I try to get to NYC or Boston every couple of months to see museums or new shows. I don’t go as often as I should, but I also like my solitude. I can be easily influenced and need to focus hard not to be too swayed one way or the other, but there are some amazing painters out there—and I love seeing their work when I can. I am a big fan of Josephine Halvorson and Jordan Casteel. I think the thing I am always looking for in any of the painters I mentioned is the non-self-conscious gesture that is extremely descriptive and effective without even meaning to be. I love the earnestness of these painters.
How is color important
Color is like pitch. Color for me has to be spot on, very specific, and true. Like in music, if you’re in tune with yourself, it doesn’t matter as much if you are in tune in the larger sense, like who cares if an A in a piece is the same A produced by a machine as long as it feels like it belongs. I have a tendency to exaggerate intensity of color, but I only find that out later. I mean, I actually see things as being more vibrant than they probably are. I sometimes cannot decide whether something is pink or blue when I’m looking really closely, so I decide to do both. But I also don’t make up colors to make a point, I always try to be as honest to what I see as I can be.
For the full Interview go to. esofthewest.com/portfolio/dialogue-chelsea-gibson/