Chambers Austelle (great name) is a Charleston, South Carolina, native and artist. I own four of her pieces. One—a black and white photograph of a forest that I understand she took while almost falling from a car—was a wedding gift. I have a spooky Halloween painting of a haunted house and two glorious portraits of my dogs.
Sure, I’m an obsessive fangirl, but she’s also my sister-in-law. My brother is a musician, and I find it miraculous that two artists can cohabitate and still love each other without MURDER. (Because seriously, I’m sure Jake wants to just murder me sometimes.)
Chambers is prolific and inspiring. She presses on, despite the difficulties of being an artist (i.e. rejection and emotional meltdowns). It’s time for you to meet her.
An H and Five Ws with Painter/Photographer Chambers Austelle
How did art become your passion?
I think people love to hear about epiphanies. They want to know that “Ah-HA!” moment. Well, I never had one. The closest I think I’ve ever come to that is when I’ve tried other things and have inevitably realized, ah-ha, I should really just be making art. I think my mother may have realized it was going to be my passion, or already was, when I was seven. I think that was around the time she gave up on my room’s walls or carpet ever staying clean. I’ve always wanted to explore and create new things, using everything as a canvas or platform. I never took it too seriously until I changed my major to Studio Arts and realized that being an artist was a real possibility.
Who is your biggest artistic influence?
Wow. That’s a tough question. Sally Mann hands down set the path for my artistic style in photography. When I was in college, Rothko and Francis Bacon were definitely my favorite contemporary painters. For me, their work was the strongest and most mesmerizing. I know, I know, could their imagery be more different? But for me they’re both extremely meditative in their own way. I am influenced by so many different artists, though. I love images and am constantly looking at different works of art. Currently, I’d have to say the biggest influence award goes to Egon Schiele and Matisse for their use of line and flatness of color.
As an artist, what are you most afraid of?
Failing. My husband is an artist as well, and we talk and joke about how hard the struggle is. If something we’re working on isn’t coming along the way we imagined it, it hits somewhere deep. Being an artist isn’t a job; it’s who you are. So if you fail at a task, you feel you’ve failed as a person. We joke how people who have office jobs (not that office jobs can’t be stressful) probably never go home and cry about how they could’ve stapled those papers better, stacked them in a more aesthetically pleasing way, or made that sticky note a little more compelling. Oh yeah, then there’s that real fear of will we have food and can we pay that bill?
Where have you done your best work?
I have a beautiful studio. It’s the biggest room in the house. It’s filled top to bottom with canvases, weird tools, cameras, and little treasures I might or might not use one day. And everyday I drag what I need out to the kitchen table and set up shop. I love our home, and I guess I feel most comfortable in the most lived in room.
When have you felt most frustrated as an artist? Have you ever wanted to just give it all up and become an accountant?
I get FRUSTRATED with the can opener; I get disappointed with art. When I’m starting a new piece, I am excited. I can see the image in my head and can’t wait for it to be real. I work in layers, and although I have an idea of what the final image should look like, I like to leave room for interpretation and to follow the work itself. It’s extremely rare that the final piece will look like what I had first imagined. This being said, that middle ground also leaves room open for disappointment. I finished “Ann” a couple weeks ago. I was so upset halfway through. I thought I had failed. I left it alone until the next day, in which I worked straight through to the finished product. It’s always a give and take, but it’s always, always worth it.
WHY are you an artist?
I’m an artist because I can’t imagine being anything else. The first art class I took in college was Drawing 1, the prerequisite for all other studio classes. I remember the professor asked how many of us were Studio Art majors. After a whopping two of us had raised our hands, he told us that being an artist was a lifestyle choice, not a job. “Make sure this is what you want,” he said. It’s a conscious decision you’ll have to make everyday. It’s hard to answer this question without giving a cliché answer, but I make art because I love to. Yes it’s hard and scary sometimes. I always have to work to get better. It’s incredibly rewarding, though. It’s my job to create new beauty, whether it’s a contemporary portrait or just a burst of color and pattern.
Learn more about Chambers Austelle at her two websites:
I chose my favorite pieces of her work for this blog post, but there are so many more you need to see.