Charleston artist Chambers Austelle and I met for the first time on her doorstep a few weeks ago: she was kind enough to let me visit her home studio for a photo shoot. Every room in her house, aside from overflowing with plants and color and charm, is filled with ancestral relics, and she will happily tell you the family story behind each one. A canvas of flowers painted by her grandmother, a funny photo of her great uncle in drag, a cobbler's bench handcrafted as a token of love from her great grandfather to her great grandmother… she surrounds herself with these things, not as a tribute to something that once was and is no more, but as an acknowledgement of her participation in something that still is and always will be. She seems to have little use, in fact, for distinguishing between past and present. It is all alive, and it is all beautiful. Her home, her work, and her life are her own storyline in an ongoing, and maybe even non-linear, narrative (complete with supporting characters: Dobie, her husband, and Wilbur and Ella, their dogs).
I sensed the same worldview when we stepped into her studio. When you “meet” some of the pieces she creates, the difference between real and fictional becomes unimportant, if not obsolete. They are simply beautiful and alive. For her series of portraits called Birdcage, she would start drawing from a “real” face inspiration—maybe a photograph of a celebrity from the 1950s, or a modern day magazine ad—and then let a whimsical story of color and composition grow around it. I am utterly smitten with these paintings!
Please check out the work of Chambers Austelle here. In the meantime, here’s a glimpse of what I saw during our lovely morning together…
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