In Treespell, Chapin delves into the natural and mythological realms to comment with dark whimsy on the transformative power of the gaze, and the interconnectedness of all living things. Her work draws on personal, historical, and imaginative elements, which she uses to alternately wield and subvert notions of viewership and voyeurism.
Treespell is inspired by the Greek goddess Artemis and the myth of the hunter Actaeon. In the myth, Actaeon surreptitiously watched Artemis bathing, a violation for which she transformed him into a stag and shot him through with arrows. Artemis’s swift and vengeful rejection of Actaeon’s gaze resonated with Chapin’s complex relationship with viewing and viewership as a visual artist. Exhausted by constantly observing her work and being observed through her work in turn, the artist aims to turn her attention to the very question of viewership itself. Chapin views Artemis as both a “gaze-destroyer” and as a divine symbol of non-separateness or non-dualism, a belief that humans are inextricably one with the natural world, the spiritual realm, and each other. From this perspective, the gaze itself arises from an illusion of separateness between one who looks and one who is looked upon.
A commentary on today’s crowded visual culture and the growing sense of separation between humans and nature, Chapin’s work reflects and rejects the ways in which the modern world has turned away from nature and toward a constant influx of digital visual information. Treespell is an overarching story about this mutual spell that we’re all involved in; we become ‘beasted’ when we become separate from nature. Chapin’s colorful paintings of trees, which she approaches with the specific and thoughtful care usually reserved for portraiture, remind us of the value of returning our time, attention, and gaze back toward the natural world.
About The Artist
Elizabeth Chapin’s paintings explore the intimacy of bodies (human, arboreal, and vegetal) as expansive environments – intra-connected, both containing and leaking within each other. This intimacy dissolves the illusion of gaze – of artist/subject and subject/viewer. Chapin sees archetype and myth as a way of holding our seemingly distinct experiences and bodies in the thicker flow of everything. Social media, the religion of identity, and a modern mythology perpetuates and broadcasts “self”, offering playful creativity, but also exile, distorting what it means to be connected, while maintaining systems of separateness. Chapin responds to these ideas with restless paintings that become bodies, tumble off the wall, fold into themselves, into you and into each other, paintings co-becoming.
Born in Mississippi, Chapin received her BFA at the University of Virginia and also studied at The Parson School of Design in Paris. Her work has been exhibited across the United States in New York City; Houston, TX; Austin, TX; New Orleans, LA; Nashville, TN; and Jackson, MS, among others. In 2020, she was awarded a residency in Florence, Italy, through Feminist Art Collective Toronto. In 2022, she was offered a 3 year mentorship under the acclaimed artists Shahzia Sikander and Holly Hughes. In 2023, Chapin was invited to participate in the biennial Sculpture Month Houston.
Treespell was created in collaboration with Texas perfumer Chavalia Dunlap as an olfactory component to this exhibition. The scent was intentionally pushed to live on the edge of wearable, with a deep forest musk of cedar (the mystical tree of Artemis), beast, vetiver, and rot. Middle notes of moss, pond water and earth soften and the hay-like brightness of fern shimmers as the top note.
A selection featuring 200 of the 460 frames from the Stag sculpture video.