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Conventional logic is often suspended in the enigmatic paintings

of Los Angeles artist

Michael Chapman

rclrAEL Crmpmx's

I

ay uotry sipre

ABour AS opEN To rNTERpretation as a Rorschach test. There are iust enough objects, carefully placed and rendered, to set the mind going. Chapman paints the world as we might picture it in dreams and memories-various elements of time and place merging together in a sort of mental collage. In a painting such as INxER LaxoscalE, for example, a living room) a country road, and a bowl of fruit come together to form a single reality. Logic and the rules of scale are suspended. A train, in scale with its tracks, is miniaturized compared with the armchair it is whizzing past. pATNTTNGS ARE

It's easy to make up a whole range of stories about what is going on in Chapman's work, and just as easy to continue to be left with questions. It comes as no surprise that his paintings have been included in exhibits with tides such as A Story Untold: Contemporary Nanative Painting

(at Michael Dunev Gallery, San Francisco, CA, in 1993), Rend Magritte and Contemporary Art: An Influence of ldeas and Facts, or the Puule Never Solved (at the Museum Voor Moderne I(unst,

t E Oostende, Belgium, in J.998), il and Beyond Realism: Image & d Enigma (at the Southern Allegfi henies Museum of Art, Loretto, E PA, in lgg2). Plausible though 2 it might seem to see something 5 dramatic and even sinister in these INNER LaxoscAtE,

84

Sotmrrrs:r ART .

DECEMBER

2002

otl,

42 x 56

somewhat enigmatic pictures,


Blrrrost Snom Srrll

LIFE, oIL, 17 x21.

beaun', and he particularly loves

in his compositions, the plump, rounded shapes of these vintage cars providing a grand opportunitlr to create form

artistic impulse is to paint what things look like, first and foremost. He tries to show his scenery as a traveler would see it, passing through, with no specific narrativc attached. According to the artist, the speeding trains, puffing volumes of black smoke, which he includes in many of his pictures are meant to give the viewer a sensation of wandering. As he says, "I paint the world a child sees, riding in the back seat of a car and looking through the

painting things that have a jen'el-like qualitv. He has

through shading. "They are such u.onderful objects to paint-like

window."

why he often includes automobiles

Chapman insists that they do not have a dark side. "There are no

omens of something dreadful that's going to happen," he says.

In fact, Chapman's

Chapman also thinks like a still-lifb artist, choosing objects for their visual interest and

lavished attention, for example, on an experdy rendered glint of

light on the elegantly curved stainless-steel toaster in Bpruoxr Snonr, SrtrI- Lrrl,. In

the apples and pears in

a

Chardin still-life," he explains, adding that he is not a lover of cars nor is he tryrng to be a car historian. The vehicles in his

of 1949 Fords and Buicks and

his beach scenes) he delights in painting the late-afternoon sun glimmering on the calm Pacific

compositions are his versions

Ocean.

them in his beach landscapes,

Chapman is also fascinated

with how light and shadow interact to imply the threedimensionality of things. That's

J.950 Chevys.

lIe

often includes

much the way a painter of country landscapes might includes a co\v or a steer. As he says, "I paint a car just because that is what you see."

DECEMBER

2002 . Solmfi'tsr ARr 85


TnE A-ncnrrrcruRr oF Ltru, otr, 44

If

Chapman asks the vieu,er

to ponder anything, it's the object itself. "Like Ed Ruscha in his famous painting of a can of Spam," he explains, "I give an object a lot of space around it. I

54

and the r,r,indou'panes r'r,ith their angled lines and shapes are

artfulli, placed. In another painting, THE AncUnECTURE oF Lmr, he points out with obvious pleasure the arcing line of the

not interested in painting a field of poppies," he says. "I like my paintings to have a Spartan, austere quality."

in 1957 in Inglewood, CA, and hapman was born

it as an icon." He feels that the simplicity of such an image lends itself to interpretation, which he welcomes. In his gentle and amiable way, Chapman says he's alwa,vs interested in what other people

train track. This work is filled with opposing and complementary shapes, from the 1940smodern end table to the

building seen through the

continued intermittendy during a four-year stint in the Nai,y. He

in his work. The artist also takes pride in

lvindow. Chapman also likes to

then enrolled at Fullerton

perform geometric balancing

creating pleasing geometries, and

in his landscapes, which he fills with an array of man-made objects-a lamp post, a child's swing, a prefab window frameall examples of indusrial design

College to study art and, in t1le early days of his career, worked

present

see

the success of works like Bsruoxr Snor.r, Srrrr Lrrn depends on Chapman's fine of composition. In this canvas, the shadow on the wall

sense

86

r

SoLrrH\,\Esr

Arr . Dr,cr,MsER 2002

spherical fishbor'vl and oranges to the grid of the high-rise office

which he finds beautiful.

"I

acts

am

grew up in Orange County, where he continues to make his home. He was already

painting in high school and

for a printing company to support his painting. He participated in group exhibitions throughout the 1980s and '90s and has also had one-man shows


of his work since 1987. He

has

enjoyed a long working relation-

ship with his current gallerY, Terrence Rogers Fine Art in Santa Monica, and also exhibits at )ilI George Gallery in London. Chapman's work is in the permanent collections of the Long Beach Museum of Art in California and the Yale Universitl, Art Gallery in New Haven, CT. "From the begin-

,itgr"

Chapman recalls, "I knew that if I had anlthing to offer as an artist, it would be my reaction to my surroundings." Today, Chapman follows his

own muse. He doesn't even know a lot of other attists. "No, I don't paint all day and hang out at the Moulin Rouge at night," he quips. However, this independent artist does feel a certain kinship with many artists who have come before. As a teenager he discovered Edward

Hopper and his poignant

scenes

of the modern

American experience. "Seeing his work gave me permission to keeP painting my scenes of everydaY life," Chapman says. He has painted parodies of Hopper's famous painting NrcHr H,u,r,xs man1. times, and Chapman's IxxgR L,q-rnscalP incotporates a Hopper painting of a countryr road. But what captured Chapman's attention is not so much Hopper's subject matter, the depiction of personal isolation in a city setting. Indeed, he is quite comfortable with the solitude drat his works portra,r'solirude that, for Chapman. is a necessitt' to properly observe the objects he so loves to Paint. Instead, it's Hopper's pictorial devices, the strength of the compositions, that fascinate him. As a str-rdent, Chapman also

became interested

in surrealist

Ar-rrn Laeon D,qY, tltl , 20 r

artist Ren6 Magritte. EarlY on Chapman began to freely shift the scale of the objects in his pictures, a device he discovered in Magritte's paintings as well' But he is careful to provide a means of explaining away the size of things-his trains and cars can be seen as toys, for example.

Chapman draws on the works of other historic artists for inspiration, too. Like the 17thcentury Dutch landscaPe painters, he includes peoPle in his

pictures onl1, x5 verY small figures, rendered in generalized terms. And he is a student of the u,orks of Camille Corot, the Igth-century French landscaPe painter closely associated with the Barbizon school of artists. It's Corot's paintings of everydaY Iandscape scenes) and their muted palette of graYs and greens, that attract chapman. (coNTINt',ED Ol racn Itz)

30

Dr<;ttvtsER 2002

. Sourmlllsr

Atr

87


Csepuax (coxrrNulo rnolr lacr

8z)

Despite these historical European

influences, most of Chapman's paintings have a decidedly Los Angeles

feel. The weather is fine, there's usually a car visible, and local architecture makes an appearance. Perhaps most importandy, Chapman puts the viewer in the pleasant here and now, the idyllic Southern California mindset-especially in his beach scenes. In one of them, the artist imagines that an apartmentdweller has just returned from work and is about to sit in a director's chair on a balcony to watch the sunset. He gives another the title Bntrztxc Ur,, named after one of his favorite Winslow F{omer paintings in which four boys, out for adventure, happily sail their boat in the exhilarating puffs of wind. In Chapman's version, a fellow out for a lark rides his skateboard along the beach. And he is especially fond of Arrp,n Lalor Dav, in which the beach is almost vacant

since the visiting throngs have departed. A man rides his bike as his dog trots along without a leash, the rules having been relaxed after the busy summer season.

What are Chapman's painting plans for the futuref He's thinking "taxidermy shop." Early one morning recently he was jogging in the dim light. Stopping at a corner to wait for a traffic light

'liri

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to change, he glanced

over his shoulder and saw the eerie sight of a stuffed polar bear and another animal with large antlers displayed in a storefront. I{e's now in

the process of putting down on

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canvas the sight that filled his eyes, to give his audience the same privileged

view. tr

Molly Siple wrote about Jove Wang in the Octaber issue.

modern'

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I)p.cnusnn 2002

.

Sorffrw,F^sr

ARr I 17

Michael Chapman, Southwest Art Magazine, December 2002  

Southwest Art Magazine featuring paintings by Michael Chapman.

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