Spanning a massive 7 by 10 feet, It Was The Sound Of Their Feet (above), is one of those paintings that simply stuns. From its scale, to its incredible photo realistic quality, to the beautiful intricacies it captures, the piece feels alive and draws you in. It was our very first introduction to Aleah Chapin, an extraordinarily talented and accomplished artist who centers much of her work on our favorite subject… women… and in her case, women she knows.
Aleah, just 28-years-old, only began painting women in 2012, when she was in graduate school. As for what led her in this artistic direction, she told WYSK, “Like so many people, I have had difficulty accepting my body. It started when I was a young teenager and is something that even in my late twenties, I often still deal with. Although subconscious at the time, these two things came together a few years ago when, after struggling to find my voice as an artist, I realized the only story I could tell is my own.”
She added, “From this understanding came a series of paintings of many of the women I grew up around, my mom and her friends. Very simply, I would paint the people that I know. I started making these paintings because they were images I needed to see and they embodied a way of being that I needed to experience.”
We imagine that finding women to volunteer to pose nude for you, even from among a group of women you know well, is no small undertaking, so we asked Aleah about her subjects and their willingness to be a part of her work. She shared, “I think there was a little bit of reticence, as is natural, of course, but one of the reasons I wanted to paint these women is because they are so comfortable in their bodies. That doesn’t mean they are immune to the things the rest of us are afraid of, but they have a level of awareness that is very grounding.”
Aleah’s status as a new artist with limited visibility, at that time, also helped with the initial recruitment process. “None of us (me or my models) thought many people would see the work.” However, that all changed very quickly. “The exposure that the work has had over the past year or two surprised us all.” In turn, Aleah quips, “Amazingly, and thankfully, people still want to pose for me.” What she did make very clear to us is how truly grateful she is for each and every woman she has had the privilege to paint.
“… one of the reasons I wanted to paint these women is because they are so comfortable in their bodies.”
Working in oil on linen, Aleah has painted around 20 women, to date, and, on average, it takes her anywhere from one to four months to complete a single painting, based on the scale (double life size, averaging 7 feet tall) and the level of detail that goes into each. To achieve the kind of unbelievable, almost haunting realism she does, Aleah notes that “photography is an important part of my process.”
While Aleah’s work has moved beyond only these women, she says what has stayed with her “is the desire to find simplicity through the beautiful intricacies that makes us human, and a need to explore the individuality of real people.”
All images property of Aleah Chapin, republished on Women You Should Know with her permission.
Born in 1986, Aleah Chapin grew up on an island north of Seattle. She received her BFA from Cornish College of the Arts in 2009 and her MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2012, followed by a Postgraduate Fellowship. Aleah attended a residency at the Leipzig International Art Programme in Germany and in the fall of 2013 she was a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. She has been the recipient of several awards including the Posey Foundation Scholarship and the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant. In 2012, Aleah won first place in the BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. She has exhibited her work in the US, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK.
Although Aleah lives and paints in Brooklyn, New York, the people and place of her home in the Pacific Northwest are vital to her work.
Photo of Aleah by Maria Teicher