We are so thrilled to finally be sitting down with one of Amber’s favorite artists, Addie Chapin! Addie is a remarkably talented woman and jack of all trades living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Working with nontraditional media, she creates wonderfully abstract pieces that explore texture and color in unique forms, blurring the lines of reality in a way that evokes deep and meaningful feeling and emotion.
As a mother of two young children, and a dog named Sue, Addie shares her creative journey with us. She explains how a quiet upbringing became one of the biggest sources of inspiration for her work; creating wistful expressions of imagined realities to unleash her creativity. From architecture to set design, Addie’s path eventually led her to pursue art full-time while simultaneously undertaking the journey of motherhood. We know you’ll love getting to know Addie just as much as we have, so read on and visit her website and Instagram to learn more about her incredible work.
Tell us about your journey. How did you arrive at becoming an artist?
I think I’ve always been one, but I spent a lot of time trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. You know, the age-old rigamarole of trying to find a secure, practical application for my creativity that met my family’s approval. Newsflash, you can’t make everyone happy! So do yourself a favor, and go ahead and throw that out the window.
My earliest memories are of drawing houses on the back of a church bulletin. I’d make movies with those old dinosaur-sized camcorders, build elaborate sets in my mother’s bathroom by arranging all the house plants and house cats, turning the shower on full steam while playing Kool and the Gang’s ‘Jungle Boogie’ to get that just-right rainforest effect. I had a vivid imagination. And a Ouiji board in the Bible Belt.
Initially, I set out to be an architect. I enrolled at Georgia Tech. I was on the right path, but in the wrong place. I was more interested in breaking it all down, deconstructing, rather than building it. During group critiques, they looked at my renderings and said with disdain, ‘Who’s the artist?” Ha! Shortly after, I transferred to the University of Georgia, always painting on the side and looking for ways to scratch the creative itch, but never giving myself permission to do it whole-heartedly. That is, until I applied for an internship with Anthropologie on a whim and got it. That was my lightbulb moment. I worked with a girl named Audrey who by day was the head display coordinator in Atlanta at the time, but was also one of the first M.A. Sculpture grads from SCAD in Atlanta. I saw her working in a dimly lit workshop at early, early hours, making something out of nothing with limited resources, tight deadlines and coming up with wonderful, wild ideas. And she got paid for it! My mind was blown. I realized this was the kind of work I wanted to do. So in 2012 I jumped ship and began full-time creative work. I haven’t looked back since!
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced along your creative journey, and how did you overcome them?
I was my own biggest obstacle, truth be told. The first time I showed my paintings, I marked every one as sold. I just couldn’t bear the vulnerability. At the time, it still felt like an extension of me, like walking through the room naked. And then, thank God, I loosened up. It’s a lot like having children, and probably no coincidence that my evolution into a full-time painter coincided with my becoming a mother. I could either let fear of the unknown guide my decisions—gripping it so tightly out of the fear of ‘what if’, or I could choose the more open-handed path, to trust it had a life beyond me. My job was and is to be its steward, to bring it to life. Letting it out into the world is the real magic. And if I’m lucky, it crosses someone else’s path and strikes a strange and beautiful chord of resonance.
It might be worth mentioning that early on, I made a commitment to make the work I wanted—not what others wanted me to make. That’s not foolproof, of course. It’s a constant battle to keep that balance, regardless of your trade, while still needing to pay the bills. But I was painfully aware of and resistant to the hamster wheel, taking random commissions to paint somebody’s long lost golden retriever and slowly becoming a slave to the thing that initially gave me freedom. I knew I needed to protect my art. I said no to a lot of things. I took whatever odd job I needed in order to keep from compromising my creative development. Turns out, all those ‘odd jobs’ actually bolstered my creativity tenfold. I’ve done interior design, styling, and writing. I’ve worked on a handful of productions as an art director, set decorator, and various art department roles. The pace is fast, the work is scrappy, but I love working on a team, coming up with ideas and solutions on the fly. While my work in that realm has mostly waned, I’m so thankful for it. Not a moment wasted.
What fuels your inspiration?
That’s a bottomless question. But at the top of the stack is environment, that elusive sense of place. The untouchable things you feel but can’t see. It’s ancestral. I grew up in the Deep South, and an architect I’ve long-admired once said that the combination of heat, isolation, and boredom is an incredible catalyst for creativity. It’s true. In a place with such apparent limitation, what we don’t see or have, we create. In our minds or in our environments.
That peculiar Southern Gothic notion is as real to me as anything. My grandmother was classmates with Flannery O’Connor, believe it or not. And where I’m from, it’s downright languid; beauty and death exist right next door to each other. There are dramatic landscapes, abundant green and prehistoric living oak trees. And yet it’s the backdrop to a long and terrible history that, truth be told, isn’t so far removed as we’d like it to be. In fact it’s staring us right in the face. You could say that the convergence of good and bad, death and life, sanctity and irreverence has always been my landscape. It’s where I learned to see.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
And to quote art critic Jerry Saltz, who minces no words: “Get to work you big artisanal babies!”
What’s a typical day for you like during quarantine?
I wake up between 5 and 6am and down several cups of coffee. Add 2% milk, one stevia, and leave me alone. The morning is when I do my best thinking. Then, the rodeo of child-rearing. We spend most of our time outside, swimming and playing. If I have childcare, I head to my studio for a full day. That’s my happy place. But by 3 o’clock I’m toast. I also like to take a hike or trail run on the side of Lookout Mountain in Georgia. That’s where I live. It’s beautiful. And if my eyes are still open by 9:00 pm, it’s a wild night.
Do you have a daily ritual giving you solace at home?
I’m in the process of restoring an old Tudor summer cottage that flooded, so solace isn’t in my vocabulary right now. Add two small children and a dog named Sue. What day is it? But there’s a lot of good creative energy going on. I can see about six people working outside my window right now, trying to put this thing back together and complete my vision of a place to rest and call home. And preserve its personality. There is not one straight angle in this whole house, the floors are undulating, and I love it. It feels like a ship. You ought to come over sometime when I have a chair to sit in!
What do you wish you had known 5 years ago?
Nothing. I think everyone is doing the best they can with the information available to them. I just wish I’d trusted my intuition more—but that came with time. Art making is the ultimate exercise in trusting yourself. Learning when to accept and when to push. You find out real quick what’s driving you. Performancism, approval, freedom, rejection? The answer doesn’t matter as much as the ability to be honest with yourself. Does this need to exist in the world? Even if everyone thinks it crap, does it still need to be made and am I proud to stand next to it? If so, then get your ass in the chair and do the work.
What are three things you can’t live without?
Humor, personal space, and my people. My friendships are the most valuable thing in the world to me. Especially my artist friends. And my two wild children, Virginia (4) and George (2). She decided to potty train him last week. I said, “Have at it, sister.” And Chick-Fil-A. They’ve got their corona protocol on lock, as far as I’m concerned. And if you think I only eat fast food, which is half true, I occasionally pay 12 dollars for an açaí bowl.
Here’s a short list of things I return to when I feel stuck. ‘Beauty is Embarrassing’ a documentary on the artist Wayne White. Jeff Nichols’ movies. ‘Hold Still’ by Sally Mann. Judd Apatow’s book ‘Sick in the Head.’ ‘Seculosity’ by David Zahl. And this past year I fell into a Wyeth-sized hole of inspiration; an entire family of painters is as crazy as you’d think. Read Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life by Richard Merryman. It’s not a feel-good, by any means. But it’s a two-for-one lesson in family systems and American art history. I think it changed my life. And my friend Blake Weeks sends me all the music I need to know.
What’s next for Addie Chapin?
I’m really excited about the work I’m making right now. If that isn’t the most banal thing I’ve ever said…but, it’s totally true! I spent some time quarantined in Inverness, CA. Hiking Point Reyes, Tomales Bay, and soaking up the wild landscape. This whole forthcoming body of work is from that place, created from memory. It moved me, the warmth and coolness of it, the chaparral, the textures, the colors. I’ll stop talking before I ruin it. I can’t wait to show it to you.
Video by Ethan Payne
Manka by Addie Chapin
Mixed Media paper assemblage in custom black frame
36.75″ x 39″
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (747) 266-3898 for more information
Tule Elk by Addie Chapin
Acrylic house paint and wax on canvas
48″ x 60″
Contact email@example.com or (818) 814-9952 for more information
Pierce Point Ranch by Addie Chapin
House paing and graphite on paper assemblage in custom white frame
46.75″ x 47.75″
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (747) 266-3898 for more information