Art Chat with Paul Chatem
Deeply rooted in vintage advertising, comic books and animation, Paul Chatem's work is a manifestation of the Southern California environment of his youth. Using wood as his canvas and infusing each piece with a socio-political narrative, Chatem's kinetic blend of folk and modern illustration evokes feelings of nostalgia while simultaneously remaining utterly contemporary. With the simple turn of a crank, Chatem's wood-gear work instantly springs to life thus engaging the viewer within his vivid, carefully painted scenes.
As one of the artists participating in the 'Femme Fatale' show opening February 25th, we had a chat with this unique artist. Here Paul talks about life growing up in Southern California, how he began working with wood and why he's so inspired by the female figure.
In the midst of hand-cut wooden gears, your work often depicts voluptuous female figures. What about the female form do you find so intriguing and inspiring?
The women I paint are a force to be reckoned with. The wrath of Mother nature, the Siren that leads sailors to their doom, The Femme Fetale who seduces weak men into dangerous situations. In comparison to the men I paint, whom are very stiff and angular, the women have long fluid lines and attractive curves which are just plain fun to paint.
In addition to the womanly figures, there’s a constant narrative of the struggles between rich and poor, the working man and the boss man. Tell us more about this. Does the insight stem from experiences growing up on the outskirts of LA?
That's definitely where it started out. I grew up in the foothills of L.A., hiking in the San Gabriel and Verdugo mountains. I connected with the nature of the area and enjoyed seeing the city down below. Around the time I became a teenager, developers started to buy up all the open land, putting up huge communities of McMansions and golf courses further and further up the hills. This disturbed me as a kid because they tore down some of some of my favorite places, as well as pushed out much all the wildlife. I think it's hilarious that these people who live in an area that was famous in the nineteen tens and twenties for hunting cabins and sanitariums get freaked out when a mountain lion or a bear wonders onto their yard and drinks out of their pool. In the last ten years I've done a lot of research on the history of Los Angeles and now I just see it as parr for the course. From the beginning it's been a town built on corruption, from the original Spanish missions build by manipulation of the Natives, to the crooked dealing of Mullhuland and Eaton which brought water to city through deception, and on and on. I try to be well rounded with the subject matter in my work, but the one continuous theme is that there are consequences to your actions, no matter if you're rich or poor, in the end you have to pay the piper.
Using wood to create your art instantly conveys a folksy and unique aesthetic to your work. What about this particular medium attracts you over traditional canvas or paper?
Over the years as I struggled to get my art career off the ground I worked in the the film industry as a prop maker and a carpenter. At the end of the day I would take scraps home to paint on. What really attracted me to working with wood was the durability that it has. I can make lots of panels and stack them up without the worry of ripping a canvas or destroying a piece of paper. If things do get dinged up I can fill holes with wood putty or sand and repaint scratches without compromising the finish product. I also feel that wood has a certain warmness and familiarity to it because from it's origin to the store it goes through a lot less processing than canvas or paper.I don't really think of my work as folksy or as folk art at all, though that term has been thrown around a lot lately in America to describe my work, Europeans seem to view my art in a different light. The work I do is made out of wood and some of the techniques I use are learned trades, but I also have a BFA in Illustration. Some of my subject matter is inspired from folk tales and songs but the way I draw and paint is inspired by underground comics and vintage animation. Whether it be folk inspired, Illustrative, cartoony, Low Brow, New Brow, New Contemporary, what ever it is, people either like it or they don't.
If you could hang only one artwork from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
I couldn't hang it on a wall, I'd need a whole room built, but definitely, Ed Kienholz's, Back Seat Dodge '38 (1964). I love that he was able to make a whole experience out of viewing his work, he was a multi disciplinary artist who liked to make people think by pushing things beyond what they ever expected.
Tell us something about yourself we wouldn’t necessarily know.
I've never been arrested.
If I were to spend the day with Paul what could I expect?
I usually wake up around 4:30, 5 o'clock in the the morning, panicked about how much I need to get done, make coffee, smoke a cigarette, clean my palette and get to painting. I paint until the sun comes up, listening to music on my headphones. Feed the animals, work in the yard, make breakfast, drink a beer and get back to work until noon. Eat a quick lunch, watch a little TV than move outside to cut, sand or prime wood for upcoming pieces. Answer emails, social networking, more TV, draw pictures, play a little guitar until dinner. Work on my truck, coffee, beer, coffee, beer, cigerettes, more painting, hang out with my girl, pass out, restless sleep, repeat.