Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Profile of Aleah Chapin

Aleah Chapin and "Auntie"
Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2012

© Aleah Chapin
Last week I was delighted to meet Aleah Chapin - the first American female artist to win the BP Portrait Award.

She's also one of the youngest artists ever to win this very prestigious portrait prize which was hotly contested this year by 2,187 artists from 74 countries.  (see Aleah Chapin wins £25,000 BP Portrait Award 2012)

I interviewed her the day before the 2012 BP Portrait Exhibition opened at the National Portrait Gallery opened to the public.

I was also tickled pink to find out that Aleah had already sent my blog post about the shortlist - in which I predicted she would win the First Prize to all her relatives! 

It also made for a very friendly interview - and I've made a film of excerpts and uploaded it to YouTube.

At the end of this post you can hear from Aleah herself in my video of highlights from my interview with her.

You can see Aleah on the right with her portrait of "Auntie".

About Aleah Chapin

First a little bit about her background.  
Aleah grew up on an island north of Seattle but is now based in Brooklyn, New York. She lists her home town as being Langley, Washington which is on Whidbey Island.

She has been painting since she was a child.

In 2009 she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Cornish College of the Arts which boasts it is one of the top visual arts and performing arts colleges in the USA.

Since graduating from Cornish, she has attended a residency at the Leipzig International Art Programme in Germany in 2011 - this is a picture of her work in the studio she had for the summer.

She's also got a good track record in winning scholarships and other prizes and has participated in 19 solo and group exhibitions in the USA, UK, Netherlands and Germany since graduation.  I guess this
is getting her work in front of a lot of people, and she is already being exhibited by galleries which many older professional artists would be very happy to be exhibiting in.

This summer Aleah graduated from
New York Academy of Art with an MFA - and recently learned that she'sbeen awarded a postgraduate fellowship with the NYAA which will provide her with a studio, a stipend and some teaching experience - plus a show at the end.

As Aleah put it to me "Everything has happened very fast in the last two months!  It's all really coming together"

Aleah Chapin - Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2012
(left to right: Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery,
Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, Aleah Chapin and Sir Michael Parkinson)
all photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell
If you're living or visiting New York you can see her artwork at The Flowers Gallery in New York which is hosting the New York Academy of Art's Summer Exhibition which opened on Friday and continues until July 18 2012.

The Portrait and the Aunties Project

Aleah has been painting nudes for some time.  Latterly she has developed a project called The Aunties Project.

These are all paintings of older women in the nude.  What's very special is that they are all women that Aleah has known all her life.
The subjects in Aleah's current series are women that she has known since she was born. Titled "The Aunties Project", this work “examines my personal history through the people who have shaped it. On our bodies is left a map of our journey through life. The process of painting these women allowed me a glimpse of that journey and brought me into the present moment of our shared history.”
Aleah Chapin website
The woman who is the subject of her prizewinning portrait "Auntie" is a friend of her Mother's and was actually in the room when Aleah was born.  They have known each other for all Aleah's life.  At the end of the video (see below) Aleah talks a little bit about this woman and it's very evident that she has a very special regard for this woman.

For me and others, this sense of a relationship and the humanity of the individual comes through very strongly in her painting.

The other thing which very much appealed to me about her painting is that Aleah is so very obviously somebody who both enjoys painting and moving the paint around and is fascinated by all the nuances of skin tones.  Some have commented that photos have been the basis for her work.  Having seen the work I know that no camera can 'get' the skin tones and textures such as those seen in this painting.

Aleah has known about this prize for quite a few years but had never submitted any work before as she didn't think her work was good enough.  With this painting she felt she had something she wanted to 'put out there' - so she built a crate and shipped it to the UK.  Having won she is now in a position to pay off her student loans and benefit from the time and space to focus on her career as a professional artist.

For me - the sadness about Aleah having won the Award at her first attempt is that we won't see her work again in this country - unless she has an exhibition over here.  Hopefully the connection with The Flowers Gallery will mean that it is more rather than less likely. Plus it helps that she loves London and would like to show here. I hope she now surveys the other UK Art Competitions for which her work is eligible

I asked her about her paints - she uses Old Holland and has a set palette of about 15-18 colours.  She paints on cotton duck which she primes with acrylic gesso and then several layers of oil primer before she starts to paint. In most of her paintings she leaves the background very neutral.

The painting which won the prize was actually completed in just three intense weeks of painting.

She credits Jenny Saville and Ron Mueck as being key influences on her art.

You can watch the crits given to Aleah Chapin at the New York Academy of Art in two videos produced and published by the school.   I wonder how many artists reading this post are familiar with receiving crits of this sort?

This is my video of highlights of my interview with Aleah.

A workshop by Aleah Chapin

For those aged 13-99(!) Aleah is teaching a drawing and painting the figure workshop on Whidbey Island this summer. The dates are August 15 - August 18, 2012 and the cost is $250. Bargain or what?

Note: The first and only other American Artist to win the BP Portrait Award was Clive Smith in 1999 who won for a portrait called "Double Single"... He was then commissioned to paint a portrait of Ian McKellen (as he then was) for the National Portrait Gallery's Collection as part of his prize. Many thanks to Eleanor Macnair, the Press Manager at the NPG for digging out this information.

BP Portrait Award 2012
Plus my website - which includes other portrait competitions - Portraiture - Resources for Artists


  1. I think the artist is saying Ron Mueck and Jenny Saville were influences. Wonderful interview; your blog is one of the best.

  2. Top marks for this interview, Katherine. I love the tight shot the artist's beautiful face. Shame about the sound, but even that didn't spoil the content. A lovely fresh approach and it really brings the whole post alive. Brava!


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