Banishment of Solitude – an Interview With Elizabeth Chapin

Elizabeth Chapin, @_fake_nudes_, 2020 acrylic on dimensional canvas, glow in the dark parachute cord, silk chiffon, powder coated steel, fluorescent plexiglass, gold leaf, paper, glitter, wire, blue light – 96 x 114 x 52 inches.

American portrait artist Elizabeth Chapin will debut a new solo exhibition entitled “Banishment of Solitude” this spring. The show will be presented at Martine Chaisson Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana, and will run from March 6 through May 1, 2021.

“Banishment of Solitude” is Chapin’s first exhibition with Martine Chaisson Gallery. It’s a mixed media collection showcasing her long-term fascination with the intersections of painting and sculpture.

According to a description from the gallery, Chapin’s latest collection makes an important statement about the “performative quality of life” in our current culture of “disconnect, judgment, and solitude.”

In “Banishment of Solitude,” Chapin views the contemporary world through the historical framework of Greek and Biblical mythology. Through this lens, Chapin explores themes of exile and isolation, specifically concerning how they apply to women.

The artist takes inspiration from stories such as Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden and the Birth of Venus. She also weaves in her own experience of engaging with social media and Instagram models.

Apple Eater
Elizabeth Chapin, Apple Eater, 2020 acrylic on dimensional canvas, hand dyed silk charmeuse, painted gauze, metallic tissue lamé, steel, led lights, wire, 108 x 60 x 50 inches.

Chapin has explained that inspiration for “Banishment of Solitude” stemmed from her realization that she was becoming addicted to scrolling social media. She then noticed a sense of anxiety among her daughter and her daughter’s friends.

These young women felt immense pressure to create and maintain a perfect social media self, and she worried about the long-term effects of this pressure. Chapin couldn’t help but pick up on the way these performative acts, similar to historical myths of women, warp reality and create an impossible set of standards for others to live up to.

The centerpiece of “Banishment of Solitude” is entitled “Froth.” This piece features an 8-foot, free-standing depiction of the goddess Venus, who is rising out of a giant clam decorated with pearls and plush clouds. Venus is surrounded by hand-written comments sourced from Instagram, each featuring words of encouragement and inspiration.

Elizabeth Chapin, Froth, 2020 acrylic on canvas, wire, plasticized gauze, satin thread, satin, lace, silk faille, sequins, glitter, steel, 101 x 125 x 63 inches.

Chapin’s upcoming showcase also features another body of work called “Social Media Cowboys.” This collection uses the unique persona of the “urban hipster cowboy crooner.”

Chapin first encountered this character in 1999 after her move to Austin, Texas. In the “Social Media Cowboys” series, Chapin plays with the traditional cowboy archetype and uses social media as the new frontier.

Elizabeth Chapin, Larkspur Cowboy, 2019 acrylic on dimensional canvas, wood, wire 65 x 132 x 18 inches.

For example, the piece titled “Radio Cowboy” shows an Instagram cowboy relaxing next to an Austin watering hole with a thought bubble rising from his head, displaying a message. As is the case with “Froth,” the copy for the thought bubble has been sourced directly from Instagram.

Radio Cowboy
Elizabeth Chapin, Radio Cowboy, 2019-2021 acrylic on dimensional canvas, chainette fringe, interactive “Instagram” thought bubble and comments made from various fabrics 93 x 84 x 9 inches.

Chapin has a history of challenging the status quo and viewing the world through an anthropological lens. “Banishment of Solitude” expands upon these themes. It will surely inspire many conversations about the impact of social media on our lives, now and in the future.

This exhibition at Martine Chaisson Gallery is free to the public. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm. Showings are also available on Mondays and Tuesdays by appointment only.

Those who want to schedule an appointment can do so here.

Interview With the Artist 

Could you tell us about the works in the “Banishment of Solitude” exhibition and the process of creating them?

All of the pieces are paintings that I cut off of stretchers and made into three-dimensional sculptures, many with lights embedded into them. I used lace, beads, and sequins from my grandmother’s trove; plasticized gauze, all kinds of fabric, steel, wire, and lots of gold leaf. There are hidden treasures — like a satin banner in one of the three graces’ vagina “pockets” that is embroidered with a secret message, or the silk iridescent lamé tears of P1eta ™️ or Venus’s Instagram rain comments that slowly leak glitter. The column bases of Cathedral of Hands are filled with frankincense and myrrh. And PIeta ™’s shoes are filled with lavender buds, so they smell.

How did you come up with the idea to make this show? How did you choose the title of the exhibition, and was there a message that you were trying to get across?

I heard a Rich Roll podcast with Cal Newport (author of Digital Minimalism), who used the term ‘banishment of solitude’ as a phrase for describing the lack of solitude created by social media, regardless of our physical aloneness. I started thinking about history as a story of banishment, beginning with the archetypal banishment from Eden. So I decided to create a show of archetypes where I reclaim the story. I immediately wanted to do a Venus with Instagram comments raining out of the clouds (sourced from my daughter’s feed). And I wanted to do Bernini’s Ecstasy, which merges religious and sexual ecstasy and throw social media on top of that (with her glowing iPhone). And I wanted to do a glowing apple tree with all that the apple connotes today and find a way, as a woman, to make that banishment story work. The rest flowed from there.

Elizabeth Chapin, Ecstasy, 2020 acrylic on dimensional canvas, gold leaf, wood, gauze, wire, silk charmeuse, led lights 97 x 92 x 24 inches.

In your works, you highlight topics like disconnect, judgment, and solitude in our current culture. How important is it to attach social messages to your work?

I am interested in how we create identities in general and for social media and how this can move us away from who we really are. Women are disproportionately tangled up with this and often participate in our own banishment or the banishment of others. While I am not interested in shaming anyone for this dynamic, I am interested in pathways to liberation, whatever that looks like. It is very important to me to attach social messages to my work. Even when I was solely doing portraits, there were hidden messages.

Is there an artwork in “Banishment of Solitude” you are most proud of? Why?

Froth, the reinterpretation of Venus, took five months to complete, so I am proud of the technical work and how it came together. P1eta ™️ makes me cry. The glowing apple tree was a logistical and electrical feat. And one of my favorite poets, Aja Monet, whom I had never met, reached out to me (on Instagram, of course!!) to collaborate, and she modeled as Gabriel, the messenger, in the annunciation piece, Cathedral of Hands. A real honor.

Elizabeth Chapin, P1eta ™, 2021 acrylic on dimensional canvas, tulle, wire, gold leaf, hand dyed poly fill, satin mouse tail, iridescent tissue lamé, glitter, silk charmeuse, tinsel, lavender buds in the shoe heels, led lights 65 x 72 x 30 inches.
Elizabeth Chapin, Cathedral of Hands, 2021 acrylic on dimensional canvas, gold leaf, steel, chainette fringe, glitter, silk tissue, wire, led light, frankincense and myrrh in the column bases 100 x 68 x 60 inches.

How do you want to change things, especially regarding female representation in the social media world?

I want women to love each other better and more deeply. Not in a way where we say “you are beautiful” or “congratulations,” which is cool, too, but in a way where our impulse is to bring other women along with us, where we trust there is space and glow for us all, and where we get to work behind the scenes to make that habitually true.

Where did the initial idea come from to further extend your exhibition featuring another body of work called “Social Media Cowboys”?

Social Media Cowboys came first, actually. I was thinking about the archetypal cowboy as a metaphor for the frontier of social media.

Do you think as an artist you have a responsibility towards society?

Yes and no. Artists explore what they need to explore to be true, to work things out for themselves and hopefully other people. It gets dicey when you over-focus on working things out for other people, and it doesn’t work for you. But I think if you are being honest, usually it translates for others. It’s all you have.

What propelled you to pursue art as a career? Did you have a decisive moment, or were you always determined to be an artist?

I remember being five and asking my art teacher how to draw eyelashes and making a torn construction paper self-portrait, and my mother praising me for doing the feet facing the viewer instead of splayed, like kids draw them. But I didn’t really decide until age 20, studying in Paris and my teacher, Robin Vaccarino, lit me up.

If you weren’t an artist, what can you imagine you would be doing?

I could be a decorator, especially a color and fabric consultant, and I love to organize people’s spaces.

About Elizabeth Chapin

Elizabeth Chapin is a Contemporary American portrait artist whose mixed media work explores and deconstructs the ideas of nostalgia, gender roles (especially those of women) and the status quo through an anthropological lens. Chapin was born in 1971 in Jackson, MS and currently lives and works in Austin, TX. She holds a BFA from the University of Virginia and has studied at the Parsons School of Design in Paris. Her work has been exhibited extensively across the United States including in New York, NY; Austin, TX; New Orleans, LA; Nashville, TN; and Jackson, MS, among others.