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Artist Chatelain Adds Color to BC

“What is art? Does art have a purpose? Should art have a purpose?” textile artist Hollis Chatelain asked the Berea College audience. “The more I make art, the more the questions come.”

Hollis Chatelain and detail of her piece 'Hope For This World'

Chatelain, whose work was exhibited in the Tredennick Gallery of the Traylor Building in conjunction with her convocation, spoke about the importance and meaning of color in art that makes a social statement. She showed slides of various examples of contemporary political art, and explained the questions (and answers) she has faced over the years with her own work.

“Do we have to follow the rules of high contrast?” asked Chatelain. “Should statement art always be shocking?” In Chatelain’s opinion, the blocky, high-contrast red and black designs of traditional political art can cause viewers to look away, rather than look at the art more closely. Chatelain chooses instead to experiment with colors and political themes, and she doesn’t think of her social statement work as “shocking to the system.”

Although Chatelain originally pursued photography, after living for twelve years in Africa, she began making paintings and textile pieces in an effort to recapture the feeling of the land and the people she knew there. It was also a way to deal with her homesickness for a land that had inspired and changed her forever.

“I thought Africa was supposed to be desolate, but that wasn’t what I found,” said Chatelain. Instead, she found color and vibrancy in the festivals, stories, and people she encountered. “The people were what I loved.”

Each of Chatelain's pieces was created by painting images on cloth with a monochromatic color scheme, which she then enhanced with hundreds of different colored threads, adding detail, depth and shape to the image. “I wanted to show the positive side [of Africa], the beauty of the people, " she said.

At first, Chatelain experimented with mixing black and white with color to create meaning. She later graduated to an entirely monochromatic color scheme for each piece, painting the images in six values of one color such as orange, green, purple or blue. Each color conveyed specific emotions or an overall mood that added to the content of the piece, and Chatelain found that color carried the same significance in many different cultures. Eventually, she began having monochromatic dreams, and many of her dreams became the model for her next project. Chatelain’s "yellow dream" became the piece “Precious Water.”

Many of Chatelain’s works use surreal, dreamlike compositions to tackle difficult social, political and environmental issues. “The Gift” is about a massage therapist and economic refugee named Karen; the recently completed “Hope For This World” features a peaceful scene of Desmond Tutu surrounded by children. Chatelain met Tutu when he came to Berea College in May 2005.

More information about Hollis Chatelain and an online gallery of her completed works can be found at the link below.

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