An Interview with artist Kellen Chasuk

"I interviewed artist Kellen Chasuk following the opening of her third solo show "Plastic Flowers" at Stephanie Chefas Projects to better know her and her work. We discussed her art experiences, the content or her work and the choices she made in displaying it, as well as her creative practice and what she has coming up." Ashley Gifford


Plastic Flowers is on view from January 5, 2018 until January 27, 2018

Stephanie Chefas Projects hours: Wednesday—Saturday from 1—6 PM

Ashley Gifford: What is your background in art? How did art making first find its way into your life?

Kellen Chasuk: My art background is half a Bachelor's of Fine Art, and a lot of failure.  I'm young, and still learning and processing the things it feels like everyone else already knows.  My mom studied art, and so did her mother. Neither of them pursued any type of career within the arts, but both continued to create beyond their studies. Their attention to craft has always had an influence on me. My dad passed away when I was 13, and after that I felt like I had an especially hard time relating to my peers.

I found something life-saving in creating and that's the main reason I still do it, and probably always will.  

  Image © Ashley Gifford, 2018

Image © Ashley Gifford, 2018

AG: Your show Plastic Flowers at Stephanie Chefas Projects is primarily composed of still life paintings can you discuss why this subject matter interests you and the narrative that you're exploring in these still life paintings?

KC: I find still life's engaging on many levels. I think the genre has strengths and weaknesses, but still has room for multiple of seeing. You can brush them off on first glance because they have a surface level appeal, but if you find substance after your initial impression it becomes that much more satisfying.  They explore themes of isolation, but also of personal growth. I see self reflection as an important part in building genuine relationships with others. The still life's are part of a larger growing picture, and evolve with me. On a personal level I think they fulfilled a desire to control some of my more embarrassing habits and fears I'm working through. The setting offers a stage to poke fun, record, and hopefully move past a lot of things I want to grow out of.

  Image © Ashley Gifford, 2018

Image © Ashley Gifford, 2018

AG: Even though your subject matter is a classic theme in painting, you juxtapose them with the contemporary - like with your depiction of an iPhone and a joint. Does this have any significance?

KC: I returned to still life painting a few years ago after being exposed to Rachel Ruysch, a Dutch woman who painted still life and flower paintings in the 17th century. Though I greatly admire the work of traditional painters, I find the imagery is often irrelevant to the time and way I live. I’m not interested in painting dead birds, I am interested in chicken wings. The genre is so connected with themes of time and death that any other imagery also present takes on a humorous position in the face of such serious finality.

AG: Can you discuss your interest in color and how that played a role in the palette you used in the show?

My approach to color is with no hesitation.

KC: I don't use color when I’m drawing or planning the paintings, but once I begin painting its a color theory puzzle. It’s important to me to make paintings that have a different quality when viewed in person. In the painting Bouquet Grab, some of the details are lost when photographed, but in person there is a more playful push/pull with the perceived flatness of the flesh.

  Image © Ashley Gifford, 2018

Image © Ashley Gifford, 2018

AG: Alongside the paintings, you decided to also paint on the walls to different extents, was this also apart of how you envisioned the show?

KC: Yes, I think because the paintings depict such unfamiliar space I approached the wall paintings as a way to further the viewer's immersion into the hypothetical interiors the paintings on panels propose.

AG: How did the physical space at Stephanie Chefas Projects play into your exhibition considering that many of your works were so intertwined with the surrounding area?

KC: I considered the gallery's wood paneling and other architectural features when planning the show and working on the installation. The layout of the gallery lent to an encapsulated feeling echoed in the paintings.

AG: I felt a “California like vibe” with the work, does that have any merit?

KC: I gravitate to artists often associated with California art movements. Its where I'm from, and a place I love. California has been haphazardly used as a symbol for self-actualization and nostalgia in a way that I find unappealing and enforces a false version of history. I can look at the work of artists like Joan Brown, Wayne Thiebaud, Paul Wonner plus so many more and feel the color choices and mood so deeply because I am connected to the places they drew inspiration from.

AG: What keeps you motivated and engaged in your creative practice?

KC: Art makes me excited! I draw almost everyday here and there. My motivation is how I feel when I'm immersed in a process.

Time and emotions function differently when you are engaged in art making.

I love and hate that no image will ever fully express the complexity of the inspiration. It means I’ll always have to make another thing. When that is flowing, life is flowing.

  Image © Ashley Gifford, 2018

Image © Ashley Gifford, 2018

AG: Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?

KC:  The work is so reflective of myself that it changes as often as I do. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few people mentor me when I needed it most. I was making funny things, then being challenged to question "in the face of what?" The images speak on apathy, boredom, anxiety, loneliness, but don't wallow in inaction. When the joke is made the viewer places themselves on some side of it- they reflect on their own position. So yes, apathy and all of the others are options, but they are pretty sad in the face of how beautiful and worth fixing the real world is. Being more aware of the inherent political charge images carry has been crucial as a young person examining visual culture.

AG: Do you have a favorite artist(s), in general and/or right now?

KC: I’m constantly inspired and excited by other artists. I have too many that come to mind immediately, but with Betty Woodman's recent passing, it feels relevant to mention her impact on me. Her work is incredible, and she achieved my ultimate personal goal of being an artist into old age.

AG: Are you currently working on any projects you can share with us?

KC: I'm working on a clothing collaboration with PDX/NY based Alexa Stark. She is so great to work with, and it's been really exciting to merge my interests and work with local designers.

AG: What advice would you offer your peers/people interested in a career in the arts?

KC: I want to preface this answer by saying I’m in no position to be giving anyone career advice. I’m still a full-time student, but I believe you are your own audience first and foremost. Don’t let your personal insecurities get in the way of progress you could be making in your art. Ask questions! Befriend other artists and help other people often. It seems like most people with careers in the arts have given me the advice of "just keep making it". A lot of decisions come down to who is putting in the work and seems like they have the drive to complete a project. If you set up those expectations for other people and are able to follow through, that is huge. I think of a "successful career" to be that of someone with little distinction between their art and life- someone with wrinkles and a paintbrush in hand. Remember you are so so tiny but so is everyone else. Good luck!!!

Kellen Chasuk (b. 1995) is currently based in Oakland, CA while pursuing a BFA at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). Chasuk creates art that aims to untangle her ever-changing view of the world through representation of everyday thoughts, objects, and textures. Humor is essential to understanding the work - as it is rooted in self-awareness and offers essential room for growth. The subject matter is derived mostly from an accumulation of visual and academic knowledge through television, advertising, fabric patterns, art history, as well as gender and personal relationships. Chasuk calls attention to the subjectiveness of the human experience through manipulating traditional painting, sculpture, and media techniques. The output being, hopefully, a moment of reflection, a laugh, a relatable discomfort, or a newfound comfort.

Ashley Gifford is an interdisciplinary artist, organizer, and digitalist from Honolulu, Hawaii, currently based in Portland, Oregon. Gifford has BA's in Studio Art & Art History from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Professionally, she's worked at art based non-profits, galleries, museums, and creative agencies. 

Ash Gifford

Portland, OR