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For Chloe Wise, Isolation Is Inspiration

The Canadian-born artist, who at just 29, has won over galleries around the world as well as Instagram and fashion designers, welcomes us to her New York studio.
Reading time 7 minutes

Photography: Katie McCurdy

Styling: Angela Kusen

Chloe Wise’s East Village apartment meets working studio is exactly as you might envision – a kitchen adorned with mini trinkets collected throughout her travels, a plethora of vintage clothes tightly packed together on a multitude of hangers of various metals, her signature Crocs, an array of paint splatters and containers that were all used in the making of her craft. Her large-scale paintings, which have taken over every surface of her studio, are eye-catching to say the least, as is her cat, Pluto, who happens to reign supreme over her abode. Here, as she embarks on perhaps her biggest solo show to date, she walks us through her motive – when brush touches canvas. 

What are you currently working on?

I’m working towards an upcoming exhibition at the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art in Denmark. These are the largest paintings that I’ve done to date. They continue exploring themes from my last solo exhibition at Almine Rech and differ from my previous works in that they feature multiple people in group portraits, whereas previously I had focused on portraying individuals. These represent a new chapter in terms of colors and compositional strategy.

 Who are these people in your paintings?

My tendency is to gravitate towards painting my friends, and representing the people who surround me.  I choose to portray people in my world. Throughout the videos and paintings over the years, there are reoccurring characters; in a way, it’s about community. My friends are exquisite— physically and internally. When I’m talking to someone and looking at them, my painter's brain kicks in, and I’m probably painting them in my mind, which translates quite fluidly to the canvas. These paintings are violently cropped, in a way that parallels our tendency to crop images on our phones, and mirrors how we navigate digitally. I’m a maximalist, so there are many things and people I want to include in my work— it’s very hard to focus on a singular subject.

Does scale intimidate you?

No, working on a large scale is liberating to me. I would work on bigger canvases if I weren’t constricted by the size of the staircase leading up to my studio. I prefer to work as large as possible, enabling my brushstrokes to take on a gestural quality, and removing the need to toil over details. I do this weird dance when the brush hits the canvas. I love claiming space, so that the paintings themselves, as well as the subjects in the composition, are imposing in scale.

Do you like presenting your work? Is it something that is natural for you?
I think it’s important to have the confidence to promote your work as it needs to be displayed. Creating work in a vacuum doesn’t appeal to me. On one hand, I think it might be interesting to work on something in private, but as someone who is very productive, I don’t have the luxury of holding things hostage and waiting for someone to knock on my door to see what I’ve been up to. For me, sharing is a very honest, very human part of my process of creation.

How has your work evolved, especially in terms of your studio, which you work in by yourself?

My old studios were all amazing, I do have nostalgia for that time. My first few studios were shared with other artists. I was making paintings and sculptures on the floor in a very small area, and because I was limited by the size of the space, I couldn’t expand the scale of my work. I was creating much smaller, more intimate pieces, and I didn’t know how stimulating changing the scale would be. I think it’s important to give yourself the room to evolve, ideationally and physically. Here, I have space to expand and experiment and just get the job done, it’s a game-changer. But my shared spaces were magical. At a time where I didn’t have many obligations, I was free to make really funny and bizarre paintings, sculptures and videos that didn’t enter into a dialogue with the expectations of myself or others. Ah, to be young.

 

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Do you think there are expectations now?

I am privileged enough that I am still able to experiment now, but expectation plays a role in my life and work. When you’re just starting out, you have a lot of freedom, because it feels like a hobby, not an assignment. I love painting more than anything, but for me, it’s still a job—I do it for fifteen hours a day. Wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I do love to look back and think about those moments when I was first starting out.

 Is there a medium that you’re drawn to the most?

I treat painting, sculpture, drawing, and video equally, and I am so passionate about each format, but at the moment, it’s all about painting. It’s addictive, and it feels so good.

 How does it feel good?

It’s sensual. I love colors, and in the past few months, I’ve learned a lot about painting and various processes. Colors are infinite, but that doesn’t intimidate me— I’m extremely drawn to the endless permutations of color. Underpainting with bright hues has really changed the game for me, I’m able to achieve new depth and nuance, and it surprises me every day. I love learning and watching it come together.

Are there recurring themes in your work?

My work takes a critical yet celebratory stance on capitalism and consumerism. I think parody is an amazing tool for negotiating societal issues. Over-explaining, being didactic, or treating the world like a tragedy, which it sometimes is, isn’t an effective way to convey a message. Comedy is paramount when it comes to loading work with meaning, like a Trojan horse.  Parody and satire work best when you’re parodying something you participate in, like consumerism. I’m highly critical of these systems, and how they trickle into politics and our identity, but I am simultaneously a participant, and therein lies the friction and humor of the human condition.

 Would you consider yourself proud of what you’ve done?

I could say I’m proud of my own personal evolution. You can only compete with yourself.  Maybe I’m an overachieving workaholic, but I am proud of my work ethic. I paint for hours on end. I barely take a break. I cook a lot, while painting, which is probably not too sanitary. I make something in my kitchen, eat it, and then go back to work. I’ll make dinner for friends, but I can’t really go anywhere when I’m in work mode. There’s work to be done! I've got to get back to work.

 

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