Austin artist Elizabeth Chapin built her backyard studio as a complement to the historic Victorian residence she renovated a stone’s throw away. The 225-square-foot workspace has since become a canvas of sorts, its expansive white walls and floors caked in layers of splattered paint. Piled high with fabric, sequins, beads, gold leaf—and even herbs like lavender—the studio is a physical manifestation of Chapin’s free-flowing process. “I’ll place canvases on the floor and pour paint all over them,” she says. “When I stop thinking and I’m just working and creating, that’s when I feel most content.”
That desire to constantly create led Chapin—historically a portrait painter—to debut what she calls “sculptural drawings” at her 2019 solo exhibition “Deconstructing Nostalgia” with Wally Workman Gallery. For these, she painted large-scale figures onto stretched canvas, cut them out and stuffed them with Poly-fil before stitching them closed and incorporating myriad materials like tulle, fringe, plexiglass and free-bent neon. “It gave me permission to expand this idea of paintings as sculpture,” she notes, “and each one is becoming bigger, more architectural.” Such 3D portraiture is now Chapin’s main focus, reflected in the dozen new works showcased at her most recent show this year.
While Chapin casts a wide net for materials to bring her ideas to life, she often explores specific themes. Her most recent exhibition examined the effects of social media on females, for example, a topic significant to Chapin as the mother of young adults. In fact, she enlisted her daughter, son and their friends to pose as models. Inspired by the Neoclassical marble sculpture, The Three Graces, one of these life-size sculptural drawings depicts three females taking selfies in an illuminated shower featuring a chiffon curtain, parachute cord water and gilded drain. “It’s like I’m creating sets for theater,” she laughs. “I love that everything is coming together in a way I didn’t expect.”
But as Chapin’s art continues to evolve, her studio remains a constant backdrop—ripe for new layers of splashed paint. “Now when I imagine painting a person, it’s as a sculpture within a space rather than on canvas stretcher bars,” Chapin notes. “I’m excited to see where this takes me.”