Bethany Radcliff


Up a few flights of stairs in Ridgewood’s startlingly huge 17-17 Troutman building is the studio of local artist Jonathan Chapline. The modest space, which Chapline shares with two other artists, is full of sun. And Chapline’s easily identifiable work takes center stage in the room as he prepares for his upcoming exhibit, “House Work,” which will run September 8–October 22 at VICTORI + MO in East Williamsburg.

“House Work” will be composed of a combination of Chapline’s still-life paintings, as well as 3-D sculpted renditions of objects extracted from his paintings. On a most basic level, “House Work” was inspired by digitization and domestic, film noir sets. In a way that is fully his own, Chapline’s painting style draws on elements from surrealism and cubism, and incorporates striking color and gradient choice.

But what truly stands out is Chapline’s process, where digitization plays a key role. To render the objects that make up his still lives, Chapline begins with sketches. He then uses an early computer program—similar to one in which old video games could be made—to create the pieces of his still life, which he then arranges within the program, in an alternate reality of sorts. This process gives his work the particular 3-D quality that really makes his exhibition stun.

“I kind of build props and spaces that allow me to build out the scene. So I think of them almost as film sets that I’m building,” Chapline tells Bushwick Daily.

But he doesn’t stop there. Chapline’s color process is also quite original. He starts by painting each canvas with a base layer in a neon shade such as bright yellow or pink, before layering the other colors necessary to complete each piece. The computer program he uses also aids in the color selection, giving Chapline a sort of jumping-off point.

Even though his process sounds complex, Chapline’s goal is to keep an air of simplicity in his work. He conveys this through a careful (read: actually complex) use of basic shapes to create his objects.

“For me it’s kind of way of simplifying or breaking apart the objects that I’m creating into these very simple ideas of what it is, even through light gradients or through the jagged shapes that create…simple vocabularies to describe the objects or the spaces,” Chapline says.

Chapline says part of the inspiration for “House Work” came from living in a cramped Bushwick basement.

“Living in a small apartment in Bushwick…there’s kind of that sense of like building a home or building a space digitally can be just as experiential as having the space…I can expand digitally not physically,” Chapline adds.

In that sense, creating the domestic still life paintings that make up the exhibit were a way for Chapline to create more space for himself—to find tranquility in the space of the digital world through his painting.

And that’s what Chapline is inviting viewers of his exhibit to find: a moment of respite from our cramped and rushed Bushwick lifestyles. And his art, which would not exist apart from technology, ironically invites viewers to slow down and step away from technology.

“We can be glued to our phones and constantly getting information, but we can also choose to kind of let that go and be present,” Chapline says.

In addition to the still life paintings, the free-standing sculptures of objects pulled from the paintings will be placed around the room. The floor will also be carpeted and the walls will be painted an electric blue, all to create a sort of life-size rendition of what could be a space within one of Chapline’s paintings. This life-size “house” serves as another layer of reality to be questioned.

little preview of some sculptures in "House Work' opening Friday Sept 8th @victorimo_gallery ??☂️

A post shared by Jonathan Chapline (@jchapline) on

“This becomes kind of like a home in which you can kind of navigate through with the different vantage points of the paintings,” Chapline says.

Chapline adds that “House Work” was also inspired by moments and scenes from his childhood, growing up in Texas, as well as fabricated narratives. This nostalgic disparity between what’s real and fake makes up another element of what Chapline hopes his exhibition viewers will meditate on.

“I like the fact that the viewers…can start questioning…the reality of the space,” Chaplin says.

As I gazed at the paintings carefully hung on Chapline’s studio walls, I think I realized what Chapline was inviting me to ponder. In the television of my mind, a montage of childhood memories played to the theme song of the Rugrats (or was it Hey Arnold?). I focused and simplified as I stared at the strand of light emanating from the flashlight in one of Chapline’s still lifes. I slowed down and I took a deep breath. Was I dreaming?

I asked Chapline which still life was his favorite. His answer?

“I learned different things from each of them and that’s why I like them.”

I think that’s what he wants us to do, too.

“House Work” will be on display at Victori + Mo in East Williamsburg beginning on September 8, and running through October 22.

Images courtesy of Jonathan Chapline.