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.”
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.”