Aleah Chapin is a visual artist from Seattle, USA, who has been painting human bodies to question, reconsider, reimagine and subvert their traditional role in western culture. Female bodies in particular are portrayed as they are dancing, laughing, interfolding, embracing each other, to explore the notions of aging, gender and beauty as we see them genuinely unfold before our eye, balanced within a misty landscape, against the backdrop of a forest or amongst dragonflies.

Aleah’s early paintings depict natural bodies that recount their own stories, that become expressions of the forces of life, as opposed to the values through which we are taught to understand them in our contemporary society. Her most recent works stand in stark contrast with the immaculate realism of the previous, representing a radical shift inwards to a more abstract, emotional, psychological dimension. This conceptual understanding of living within a body, of finding a way home to ourselves, was prompted by the turbulent times that have shaken our world in the last years, thus leading the artist to seek for greater meaning in a visual language that relies on colours, shapes and feelings, putting forth a more comprehensive and universal message. Nonetheless, throughout her works, Aleah Chapin consistently invites new conversations on the same question: what does it mean to exist within a body today?


Aleah, how did it all begin? What drew you to art and inspired you to become an artist?

Art has always felt like breathing. Not because it’s easy, but because it is so much a part of who I am. So I could say it started because I was born. I could also say it started because I was born to an artist mother (Deborah Koff-Chapin) who was creating work during her labour as she gave birth to me, and has been a working artist for 50 years. The very act of taking paint and layering it on canvas, the time and focus that goes into this, and how these materials and actions create something bigger than the sum of its parts is pure magic. I can’t imagine living a life where creativity is not at the center. It is how I process what it means to be living in a body on this earth.


Your early works are mainly dedicated to the representation of aging and female bodies, immersed in natural landscapes. These paintings speak of the female condition, of profound connections to nature, shared experience and solidarity. What led you to this choice? Can these paintings be read as a response to the current role of femininity in our society?

Yes, they can absolutely be read as a response to the world we live in and how women have been represented. But to be entirely honest, that was not how they began. They all started from something very familiar to any artist, and human, really: a crisis. I was in graduate school at the New York Academy of Art, and the Aunties Project, as I would end up calling it, sprouted from a profound struggle in finding my voice. I was on the subway, my mind wrestling with the question of “who am I as an artist, and what do I have to say?” when the idea of painting my mom and her friends, the very foundation of my life and identity, fell into me. And so this became my thesis project, and over the next decade, it grew into something so much bigger than I could have imagined. Even though this chapter of my creative life has mostly drawn to an end, the work is still out there, expanding and challenging rigid expectations that have been put on women for generations, and I am proud to be a part of that.


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Finding My Feet, Despite My Head, 2022 Oil on linen
30 x 40 inches


These more abstract, conceptual paintings appear to reflect a deeper search for bodily meaning. What prompted this move inwards? Would you say they are related to a shift in your thinking about bodies and identity?

Early in 2020, around the beginning of lockdown in the United States, I started doing these automatic, intuitive drawings with paint on paper, often with my non- dominant hand. I didn’t know this would be the beginning of such a profound shift in my work; I just knew that there was something inside of me had to come out. Looking back, I can see clearly that this was a time when my understanding of the experience of being alive was expanding. I had spent practically my entire life training my eyes and hands to work together to express the physical world around me as accurately as possible, but now, something was shifting. I was becoming more aware of all the unseen but deeply felt realities of being alive that could not be painted in a literal way. The world shutting down gave me the space to explore this, the isolation pushed me inward, and so the series Walking Backwards was born and exploded the way in which I allow myself to paint.


Your recent works explore one’s relationship to the body in a more individual, solitary way. Do you believe this has helped you understand something about yourself, or about what it means to have a body in our times?

The bodies we are born into dictate so much of the life we will live and opportunities we are given. Being born male and white is different than being born female and brown. And also, I believe that beneath these external identities there is something universal that connects us all. This work has been about going inward into my own experience of this dichotomy between physical and energetic identity. For the first time, I used my own body as a reference. The automatic drawings, springing from my own inner experiences and sensations, were the seed of each piece. I think looking inward instead of out has deepened my understanding of myself, and since this is the only viewpoint I can portray with absolute honesty, it has also expanded my empathy for all of us in this world because it has connected me with something deeper than my physical form.


In your most recent series (2020-2021), your bodies are waking, prodding, protecting, enfolding, unearthing. What do these different phases represent?

Quite simply, these paintings are a mirror of my experiences as I was creating them. The expansion my perception was going through was vivid, but not always easy. There were times where I felt like I was purging old beliefs; about myself, my identity as an artist and as a person who experiences the world through a white female body. I was prodding my inner walls and unearthing things I cannot put into words. This series is a reflection of the messy, beautiful, complex process of personal growth.


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The Purging, 2020 Oil on canvas
48 x 40 inches


How does this new artistic language relate to the experience of having a female body? Do you believe this offers a more human, universalistic message?

The fact that they utilize the representation of a female body is only because I live in, and identify with, a female body. I believe we all have masculine and feminine aspects to us, and it is on this understanding that our healing as a society rests. I believe part of femininity in any of us is an ability to encompass a wide range of emotions, identities and layers of being. It is about holding space for this complexity and being vulnerable with our insides, seeing this as something that makes us stronger, not weaker. These things can be universal experiences, however we identify and whatever body we are born into. The paintings, both in their subject and the contrasting styles they are painted in, embody these ideas.


What is womanhood, to you?

Womanhood is being open to life changing us, while always staying rooted in ourselves. It is the trust that in our going inward, we expand out. It is the deep knowing that although we may revel in being the flower, who we really are is the sun and rain that courses through the petals, and when they wilt and fall back to the earth, we have only come home to ourselves.


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The Opening, 2021 Oil on canvas
48 x 40 inches