L'Officiel Art

In the Studio with Chloe Wise

Chloe Wise knows the key to cracking the New York art scene: Always be in on the joke. Photographs and artworks by Aubrey Mayer Fashion by Dan Victoria Gleason.
Reading time 4 minutes

Gazing at Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, ordinary viewers see themselves reflected in the painting as the king and queen of Spain, entertained by the smirking virtuoso artist himself, the royal princess, and her courtiers. Not everyone agrees this was Velázquez’s intention, but the debate over this potential mise en abyme has made it one of the most talked about self portraits in the Western canon.


I find myself entranced by that same off-kilter smile when looking at the work of Chloe Wise, who I visit on a sunny winter morning. On the walls of her East Village studio are faces I recognize: friends and friends of friends, Wise’s favorite subjects, posing more or less as themselves. There are self-portraits dotted among them as well. Some of these paintings will ship out to a solo show with Galerie Sébastien Bertrand this spring. Painted without props or costumes, the straightforwardness of the subjects marks a turn toward reality for the young artist.

[Image: Chloe wears her own clothing and shoes, Marling wears dress Maison Margiela, shoes Céline Makeup Mike Fernandez at Art Department agency using EVO Hair Products and Glossier Skincare and Beauty Products ]


First spotlighted for her sculptures of designer bags refashioned with painted plastic carbohydrates and her exaggerated still-lifes featuring matzoh and sparkling water, Wise has always employed absurdist humor as a tool for deconstructing the way our consumption of art, food, and fashion reflect our values. In the new paintings, however, comedy takes a backseat to make room for a new vulnerability. “There is something impermeable about using clear-cut humor,” Wise says. “If you laugh at me or with me, it doesn’t matter, because I’m already laughing. Recently, I’ve felt confident enough to open my humor up to a new level of sincerity where I can incorporate things I genuinely find beautiful and mean something to me.”


Lately, this has meant documenting her community as a kind of passive resistance against an art history dominated by the male gaze. Immortalizing her friends in the tradition of oil paint, Wise taps into a legacy that includes heroes like Picasso and Tom Wesselmann without losing her own generation’s specific lens: the smartphone and the selfie. “I love the exaggerated gestures you see in Renaissance portraits because they hint at the understanding that these paintings were created over long, dramatic sittings; whereas today, we have the ability to be more spontaneous and to capture angles that were previously unreachable,” Wise says, imitating the overhead snap one takes in a crowd. “I like that my images could inhabit the tension between these two-time frames just through a simple change in perspective.”


[Image below: Chloe wears clothing Gucci Makeup Mike Fernandez at Art Department agency using EVO Hair Products and Glossier Skincare and Beauty Products ]

Wise likes to tease out conventions, but by implicating herself in the joke, she remains celebratory rather than cynical and leaves room for the audience’s own self-reflection. It is a welcome reprieve from contemporary art’s love affair with safely detached self-awareness. I tell her she reminds me of Francis Picabia, who once wrote, “There is only one way to save yourself: sacrifice your reputation.” She nods. “I identify with that. Bad taste is part of the fun. It’s sincerely me. I think as an artist, I can’t be interested in adhering to the standards of good taste. I’m focused on creating a world of my own.”


[Image: Chloe wears shirt Frame Denim, jeans her own Makeup Mike Fernandez at Art Department agency using EVO Hair Products and Glossier Skincare and Beauty Products]

Her live-in studio is the center of this universe. Wise regularly hosts parties with the same friends one observes in her drawings, paintings, and videos. Her cat, Pluto, is a part of this theater, appearing in her images and on her popular Instagram stream. Everything she touches gets pulled into the fray. This is the magic of her work: It’s an antidote to the masculine salons that once dominated the artistic milieu.


“There is a kind of deflection that comes out of work where the idea is inherently separated from the author,” she says. “A process-based abstraction or a ready-made sculpture moves the risk away from the artist. But in this political climate, I feel the need to take responsibility for what I believe and create work that doesn’t push around blame but invites it over for dinner.”


Wise’s confidence is disarming and contagious. By the end of the afternoon, I find myself stepping into the frame.

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