Chellis Baird

Chellis Baird

Artist Interview -

Chellis Baird


Your exhibit currently showing at 5-50 gallery is called "Becoming Encounters", can you tell us a little more about the inspiration behind the name for this exhibit?

I saw the industrial space at 5-50 Gallery as an opportunity to share a collaboration I had been working on with Alida Sun. Alida and I wanted her light installations and my sculptural paintings to challenge the viewer's experience of the work through an experiment with opposing materials: the digital versus the tactile.

In an era of new media and digitized worlds we have become somewhat hypnotized by the machine. Sun’s installations offer a hypnotic quality when engaged with my tactile, sculptural paintings, suggesting an opportunity to detangle and illuminate one's eye, becoming a personal encounter.

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One of the things I love about the "Becoming Encounters" exhibit is that many of your pieces are shown in close proximity to each other. My experience was that the individual works truly speak to each other when viewed together. Is there a progression, common inspiration or an element that runs throughout the pieces that you selected for this show?

My work is rooted in a passion for movement, texture, color, and process. With each piece I engage the process of my work to create gestures that speak to my statement. Each piece informs the next one and I learn new ways to help me evolve the work. I view all my work as related because it's coming from the same space within myself. 

Your process is very unusual, utilizing encaustic monotype and the way the construction of each painting essentially becomes its very effect. Can you tell us a little about how this approach came to you and has evolved? 

The paintings I first made were more traditional in the way the encaustic was applied but in my mind I was comparing the layers of wax to weaving. As I continued to create the work I asked myself, 'Why am I using someone else's canvas when I have experience with making my own fabric and a BFA in textiles?'  Having a major passion for color and my personal experiences with it, I decided the flat surface wasn't going to be enough to convey what I was imagining. From there I experimented with ways to magnify my vision with the weaving I was seeing in the layers of wax. I decided to punch through the flat surface and start creating my own canvas while forming the composition. The first painting I made (Red Lips) in this manner is not in this show but it was the catalyst for this new body of woven work.  After this woven canvas I began to experiment with other materials like fabric and wood that would become the dimensional 'brushstroke' in the composition. The work for this show is made mostly from the same rayon fabric that has been mono-printed with a thin layer of pigmented wax. 

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This is a bit of a follow up on the last question. Your materials are combined into a medium that is very uniquely yours. Are there difficulties you've found in executing this technique and how do those challenges seem to shape your work or your approach to it? 

The most important thing is the statement for each work and I do my best to not let technical challenges within the process disrupt that focus. The process can be tedious and time-consuming as some of these works took up to 4 months to create, but as long as the result is helping to drive the statement, I push forward. The most challenging aspect can be the hours it takes to apply a portion and then as the work unfolds and I make decisions within the piece that may lead me to remove an entire section. I don't like having to remove elements but I do like the result when I know it's the best choice for the work. 

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Your background is in fashion and textiles and your work seems very connected to this tactile origin, but there is a huge creative transition from commercial and product based work to fine art. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to strike out in the direction you find yourself today and your own evolution?

Throughout my creative career I have always loved the process of painting, drawing, and making. After working as a designer for over 10 years in New York I thought it would be helpful during my transition into fine art full-time to learn a new medium I hadn't previously tried. By immersing myself in a new process I thought it would help free me of the commercial works and unearth a new voice. I took night classes and workshops at the Art Student's League for encaustic, learning how to melt encaustic pigments and apply them to rigid surfaces like masonite and wood. It was somewhat symbolic for me as my Grandmother, who was an oil painter, loved to play bridge with Jasper John's mother at Edisto Beach.  I also have this interest in the kitschy craft quality that one could associate with encaustic because I believe as an American artist, craft is at the heart of our history. I liked the idea of pushing a kitschy or craft-like medium to a new level or perspective for the viewer and myself. This idea is not dissimilar to a design challenge of making a cheap fabric look expensive. I remember my first boss saying to me "it's all in the twist" and I took that to mean the twist or combination of materials and elements. In a way, I approach the work by asking how I can push the material and elements to clarify my statement, or how the materials are acting and how I can illuminate them. While at Rhode Island School of Design I studied textiles and remember taking a 'Fibers and Dyeing' course that included spinning yarn. I loved the process of pushing the raw fibers through a spindle and directing the quality of line. In my mind I compared each hand spun yarn as its own active brushstroke. Another connection I have to these processes is dance. I have taken dancing classes since age 5, but did not really enjoy it until I was an adult. One of my best talents in dance is turning and balancing; Louise Nevelson said it best: "dance was essential to harmonious creation."

Finally do you have anything you are currently working on in studio and if so can you give us a spoiler?

I am painting some costumes for another collaboration with Roberto Lara who is a choreographer for a company called Dance with a Twist and also for Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan.  Roberto and I worked together last year for the Lutheran 500th Reformation Celebration at Saint Peters. The costumes I am painting this season will be used for a dance performance during the annual Lutheran Church retreat in November 2018. I also have some exciting projects coming in 2019 - please keep an eye on my Instagram @chellisbaird !