Artist Chambers Austelle, (inset) her latest print, Penny
The alluring women in Chambers Austelle’s paintings gaze proudly at the viewer, appearing at ease against their vivid backgrounds. But on second glance, one might detect a sense of restriction. That tension between liberation and confinement is a theme in Austelle’s work, which she uses to explore the complex ways in which society views women.
A 2011 College of Charleston graduate with a degree in studio arts, Austelle has established herself in the city’s arts scene, winning the Best in Show award at the Piccolo Spoleto Juried Exhibit in 2016, serving as an artist in residence at local schools, and collaborating with jewelry designers Jahde Atelier and Candy Shop Vintage. Recently, the Charleston native’s work has been included in group exhibits at the Gibbes Museum and The Vendue Hotel, as well as in Philadelphia, Memphis, and New Orleans. So far this year, she’s been focused on commissions (her originals and prints are displayed in homes throughout the Southeast and beyond), but one of her pieces will be featured in a show at Robert Lange Studios in May, and she promises more new works are coming soon. Austelle spoke with us about the conversation she hopes her work sparks.
Pretty Woman - Contemporary artist Chambers Austelle entices onlookers with her bold portraits of striking women and hopes to challenge their perceptions of how society views beauty and power; (Above left) Jahde (chalk pastel, wax pastel & acrylic, 20 x 32 inches, 2018) by Chambers Austelle
On women and the South: My work is a personal investigation of what it was like growing up in the South. I was lucky to be surrounded by strong, successful, independent women who instilled a sense of grit and self-worth in me. Because of this, I often found myself in opposition to the roles society placed on women. From photoshopped models in the ’90s to the expectations placed on us from the Baby Boomer generation, something always felt off and stifling.
Family support: Whether it was giving me the opportunity to take art lessons as a child (or allowing me to destroy my room in a creative way—painting on the carpet and walls—oops!) or supporting my choice to switch my college major to art or my decision to paint full time, my mom has always made me feel that creativity is a worthwhile endeavor.
Evolution of a painter: When I changed my major to studio art, my concentration was in photography. I didn’t become comfortable as a painter until after school. Spending most of my college career in the darkroom developing photographs taught me how to look at light, which in turn is how I learned to paint.
Remaining dedicated: Committing to art full time was exciting and nerve-racking, but more a story of perseverance than anything. The first couple years were hard. I was broke, working all the time, and not really seeing anything for it. I had faith everything would fall into place; I just had to wake up every morning and choose to keep going.
Safe space: Cultivating a space that feels safe, warm, and interesting has always been a priority for me, and in many ways, that is what I’m creating for the women in my paintings.
Photographs courtesy of (Moodboard & Penny, chalk pastel, wax pastel & acrylic, 15 x 20 inches) Chambers Austelle