Artist Interview – A Day in the Life of BP Portrait Award Winner & Mountridge artist Aleah Chapin

The artist in her studio.© Maria Teicher

The artist in her studio.© Maria Teicher


Do you find yourself thinking about work when you wake up?

Yes, sometimes. If things are going well in the studio, I can wake up with an excited, happy feeling, and can’t wait to get back in to the studio. When things are difficult, I wake up trying to solve painting problems in my head.

Do you live at your studio? If not, tell us about your journey to work.

No, I don’t live there now, although a few summers ago I slept on a tiny mattress in the corner of my studio and showered at a gym three blocks away. In retrospect, its a very romantic notion of being an artist, but it was less so then. I really appreciate having some distance between my studio and home, the space helping to keep me be in each place more fully. I live and work on opposite sides of Brooklyn so it takes me about 45 minutes to get to the studio. I take the Q or B train to the Dekalb stop, and then walk 20-25 minutes to my studio. It’s a beautiful walk which takes me through the corner of Fort Greene Park and past gorgeous old brownstone apartments. As soon as the snow is melted and its a bit warmer outside, I’ll be riding my bike, which will be about 35 minutes and takes me through Prospect Park, which is wonderful. (Ideally, I would live a 10 minute walk from my studio. Someday!)

Do you work on more than one piece at a time?

If this means I have several unfinished paintings in my studio at one time, then yes, but I find myself only able to dive into one at a time. They’re all really big, so I’m able to work on one painting for weeks without having to switch to another one because of paint drying time. There is usually overlap between paintings though, and when I’m struggling with one, it helps to work on something different for a while. Quite often, they inform each other though, one piece giving me a resolution to a problem another one had. Each one takes so much focus, that to work on a painting, I have to be completely in love with it. This doesn’t mean I always like what it looks like, but I have to be obsessed with the idea of its potential.

Are you always alert to inspiration? Can the smallest things spark something in you?

Yes, but I think more in an abstract way. It might be that first moment of awareness that the season is changing. When I’m in my studio, all I’ll really want is to be surrounded by that sensation; to see, feel and breath it. ‘The Tempest’ for example, was painted in late winter. The memory of creating that piece is ripe with a crackling suggestion of warmth as it threatens to seep through the density of February.

How long do you work for before taking a break?

I usually go 2-3 hours before taking a real break, but throughout that, I stand up and look at the painting from farther away. This is really important for the painting and my back!

What do you like to eat when working? Do you find cooking an enjoyable process or does it get in the way of your artistic work?

I love cooking, and cook most meals. But painting and food handling aren’t the best partners, especially with me, so I try to squeeze it in when I get home at night. It calms me down actually, and is a good transition from studio to home and sleep. I make sure I always have a box of cornflakes and almond milk for emergencies though, and of course, there’s always good coffee.

What time do you finish for the day, or does it vary?

It varies a lot. Sometimes I’ll leave at 6, and other times stay till midnight. I love nighttime painting, but this can be difficult if I want to stay connected with my friends and family. So usually I’ll only stay late a few nights a week.

Would you work at the weekends as well?

Up until recently, I worked 7 days a week, but I’m realizing how important it is to have a day off, for both my sanity, relationships, and the quality of painting. So I usually take either Saturday or Sunday and sleep in, go to the farmers market, and cook a meal with my wonderful (and very understanding!) boyfriend, Chris.

How do you know when a painting is finished? Do you keep going back to paintings?

There’s a point in every painting where it tricks me into thinking its finished; everything is in, it generally looks “good”. But I’ve learned that I need to take it one step further. At times there’s a section that needs only 2 or 3 layers, others that need 10 and extreme detail. It’s really subtle and hard to see, but I know that a piece is finished when it almost seems to vibrate, it’s as if the paint is singing.

Do you think about work before you go to sleep?

Yes, all the time, but a long commute home is good for this and usually by the time I’m home, I’ve let it go.

Aleah Chapin’s latest show opens in October at Flowers Gallery, Cork Street, London. The Ingram Collection owns The Tempest, 2013 by the artist.