Beauty Dwells Within The Darkness For This Tennessee Artist


Smiling woman, seated in front of a large painting

Mixed-media artist Addie Chapin hangs out among massive canvases, gilded cherubs and a buffalo plaid armchair at her downtown Chattanooga studio.

So much of painting’s history revolves around the pursuit of light, of harnessing its warm clarity using oil and pigments. But it’s the shadows that Chattanooga painter Addie Chapin most loves probing; those moments “when you can’t tell if it’s dawn or dusk, and the light is so dim, things start to appear you wouldn’t otherwise see,” the artist explains. “Those swampy, below-the-surface places are actually full of life.”

Black mixed-media painting with tick marks

A close-up of one of the artist's dark and moody works

Corner of a room with vertical paneled walls and an assortment of ornate empty frames

White-washed wood paneling and a rotating cast of props and accoutrements define Chapin’s downtown Chattanooga studio.

Red flags on wall behind a table with antlers

Far-flung flags comprise some of the decor in her creative workspace.

Table with a vintage print and cow skulls

Bleached bucrania add to the room's ever-changing ephemera.

Woman standing before a canvas with tools; brightly colored objects dangle from the ceiling in the foreground

An array of faded neon lobster buoys dangles before the artist demonstrating her ardor for mark-making.

Chapin’s body of work is permeated by this nocturne aura. Producing everything from twilight-tinged landscapes to glyph-like paintings resembling unearthed artifacts, Chapin’s practice is “about plumbing the depths,” she says. “I spend a lot of time down there with what’s beneath.” 

Much of the artist’s inspiration stems from a childhood spent in Albany, part of Georgia’s Flint River Basin. Boasting tea-colored blackwater rivers and wetlands tangled with lotuses, the natural surroundings there “are so beautiful, but haunting in a way,” Chapin explains. Flora proverbially plucked from these landscapes echoes throughout the artist’s work, especially her spectral water lily paintings. Organic hues creep through in a palette of ochres, greens, grays and browns evoking “growth and decomposition,” and reminding us that in Mother Nature’s dimmest corners, “life and death literally coexist,” the artist says. 

Chapin conjures this primordial quality using acrylics, chalk, oils and graphite, while also incorporating house and spray paint for varying effects: from thick, plaster-like surfaces to watery veils of color. The artist wipes away layers almost as readily as she applies them, slowly obscuring or revealing, but leaving “just enough to suggest,” she says. “I let the viewer imagine the rest.” 

Though her pieces appear outwardly enigmatic, they teem with reveries of personal experience. “Even my landscape paintings feel somewhat autobiographical,” confesses Chapin, whose inspiration includes the wilds of Georgia’s Cumberland Island and North Florida’s St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge—places where dense marshes displace foot paths and ancient live oaks cast colossal shadows. Similarly, her mixed-media pieces depicting repetitive crosses, dots and tally marks act as “timestamps, evidence of who and where I was,” she says.

Having exhibited her work locally at Revival Home, as well as in Atlanta, Los Angeles and beyond, Chapin can claim elite collectors from coast to coast. Her Chattanooga studio—a downtown retreat decorated with playful oddities like salvaged neon buoys and golden cherubs rescued from a shuttered department store—reflects a bend toward whimsy that could seem at odds with her murky works. But for Chapin, the two concepts are meant to coexist: “For me, it’s not about dark versus light; I want to engage the full spectrum.”