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Elizabeth Chapin uses stuffed canvases, fringe, silk, tulle, and lace to make her colorful, dreamlike 3D portraits and figurative paintings come alive. Living and working in Austin, TX, her recent show “Deconstructing Nostalgia” at Wally Workman Gallery referenced the Southern gentility and traditions around which she grew up. Chapin’s work challenges unrealistic standards put upon women—freeing her subjects of expectations, shame, and discomfort.
Confined to her home like the rest of us at this time, she’s focusing on herself, family, and her practice. Chapin told Whitewall that she’s able to work in the studio every day—in addition to morning meditations and nightly candlelit baths. The artist shares below how she’s staying connected and what is keeping her hopeful.
WHITEWALL: How are you doing?
ELIZABETH CHAPIN: I’m mainly using this time to just be with myself, my family, and my work. I’m trying my best to not be distracted by social media or the news, because it gives me more anxiety and makes me feel more helpless. Instead, I’m focusing on working hard, because painting takes care of me more than anything else. But of course, I do have moments where I get really scared about what’s going on.
WW: What are you listening to/reading/watching?
EC: Reading: Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, Glennon O’Doyle’s Untamed and the poems of Hafiz and David Whyte.
Watching: Tiger King (though I have mixed feelings about being entertained by animals in cages), Ugly Delicious and reminiscing about Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Emma, both of which I was lucky to see in the theater before this went down.
Music: FKA Twigs’ Cellophane, All for Us by Labrinth, Sharon Van Etten’s version of The End of the World, Scala and Kolacny Brothers’ version of Radiohead’s Creep, PJ Morton’s version of How Deep is Your Love, Zoe Kravitz’ version of Don’t, Jakob Jozef Orlinski singing Vivaldi’s Vedrò con moo diletto, and Blood on the Leaves by Kanye West.
Podcasts: Katy Hessel’s The Great Women Artists Podcast—her enthusiasm for art is such an antidote to fussy art talk, Bow Down: Women in Art, Under the Skin with Russell Brand, Talk Art with Russell Tovey and Robert Diament, Rich Roll, Poetry Unbound, and (shameless plug) my own podcast Austin Enneagram.
WW: What are you cooking?
EC: All of the comfort food from @ladyandpups (Mandy Lee of The Art of Escapism Cooking), tofu mapo dofu from the Mission Chinese Cookbook, eggs en cocotte, upside down pineapple cake from the Cake Bible, chocolate pudding pie from Tartine, tuna melts, and sautéed greens from our vegetable garden.
WW: How are you staying connected?
EC: I join a Zoom Pilates class and have a weekly scheduled family Facetime. Also, I have been texting and calling friends to check in on them, especially the ones who are home alone right now.
WW: Who should we follow, too?
EC: @davidjwhyte started reciting his poems this week and it helps me breathe.
Jessica Yellin is my main source of news on Instagram, which is very informative, but does not help me breathe.
@CayceZavaglia is the Instagram godmother of artists.
@st_emiliano for gorgeous Italian art.
@artofsocialdistancing is dedicated to showcasing art exhibitions impacted by COVID-19. @rufuswainwright sings us a song every single morning in his bathrobe.
WW: What are you doing for yourself?
EC: I start the day with Deepak Chopra’s Abundance meditations. I’m very grateful to have my studio at home, so I’m working hard there because that is always the best medicine. I also take a very relaxing candlelit bath every night.
WW: What are you finding the most challenging?
EC: I’m trying hard to not fret about the future—the more I seek clarity around how long this will last and how it will affect us all, the crazier I feel.
WW: Are you finding the time/space to make work?
EC: Yes, luckily my studio is in my backyard and I am working every day.
WW: What’s keeping you inspired and hopeful at this time?
EC: I am inspired by the medical and scientific communities here and in South Korea, China, Israel, India, Canada, and the Netherlands, all who are making progress in treatment and antibody research. I hope the lessons of the virus—ecologically, economically and spiritually—will make us all better caregivers of each other and our planet.