Immersive Studio Visit
Immersive Artist Studio - Chellis Baird
May 03, 2023
Nestled in the heart of Long Island City in a building which is home to a thriving community of artists, Chellis Baird’s studio is a mesmerizing space that has nurtured her journey of self-discovery and artistic evolution for the past seven years. Starting with a modest space on the second floor, Baird has grown her studio to a larger one on a higher level, finding inspiration in the industrial setting of the former garment factory that currently houses her workspace. With a background in fashion design, Baird's unique approach to relief artwork showcases a rare synergy of materials, color, and form.
As Baird moves around her studio, sculpting and painting her textured works, the south-facing window bathes her in sunlight, becoming her partner in creation. A lifelong dancer, Baird's compositions are often influenced by the grace and fluidity of movement. Her works are a captivating reflection of her perspective as a woman, and the intricate processes that shape her creative vision.
In this in-depth interview, eazel takes a closer look at Baird's artistic practice, with a focus on her studio work. The conversation also reveals the ideas that inspire Baird's art, the artists who have influenced her, and the experiences that have shaped her distinctive path of self-realization as an artist.
eazel: How long have you been at the studio? What was the reason for selecting this particular studio?
Chellis Baird (CB): I have been in this Long Island City art studio building for seven years which is a home to over 200 artists. I was on the second floor in a smaller space for five years and then moved to a higher floor to maintain the same light source but with a bigger space. The building was previously a garment factory and has an industrial flair that I find very inspiring. I hold a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and found my time in Providence to be reminiscent of Long Island City. When I first moved to New York in 2005, I worked as a fashion designer and would visit LIC factories for my designs. I like that the history of my past career also occupies the shadows of my studio practice. My textile based works build upon my past career, family histories, and textile degree from RISD. These experiences have equipped me with a unique approach to my relief artwork, in which I reexamine the ingredients of a painting - fabric, paint, wood - and how I could use each material in my own way.
eazel: As you spend so much time indoors, is there a special spot in the studio where you spend most of your time?
CB: I love being close to the natural light and spend most of my time around the window in my studio. It faces south, so the light can be very dramatic in the afternoon, like a spotlight on a stage. I have been an avid dancer since age five and I’ve continued to take ballet classes for exercise and see dance performances in New York for inspiration. Dancing has often influenced my compositions formally and conceptually. I move around a lot in the studio to sculpt and paint the textured works I create. This is almost like a dance in itself. It is very physical and I sometimes have to work on the floor, table, or wall to reach the shapes. I remember the artist Christo claimed to have no chairs or stools of any kind in his studio. I sometimes think about that.
eazel: Natural light is also good for the soul, and it is interesting to imagine it creates a stage-like environment for you. Where do your ideas usually start to build when creating work?
CB: I often ask myself, “If this is the last chance I have to make something, what feels most important now?” Each work teaches me something that I then build on for the next piece. It’s all about materiality, the lens of the female, touch, and process. Every piece innately captures aspects of this.
eazel: We notice that you have some scraps of paper and even wood taped to the wall in your studio. Could you tell us more about these?
CB: These are some notes about the work or series I am making at the moment. In an effort to better edit and focus, I tape these up as a reminder while working. Artists are tasked with endless decision making and problem solving when creating a work. In that sense, it is inevitable for one to establish limitations or restrictions in their creative process to help facilitate these decisions and solve problems effectively. The wood trim taped to the panel is another note about the use of material and is not a finished work. At that moment, I didn't have a piece of paper in front of me so I used the scrap wood panel to jot it down. A mentor years ago told me that my attraction to the material was “so me.” I have been holding onto a bag of this trim for years and am currently incorporating it into a new work. Symbolizing blinds, the stripe is automatically geometric and demands the eye to peek through it. This sort of focus in repetition adds to the theme of rhythmic texture that a lot of my pieces hold.
eazel: We also found a memo and books about Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois on the couch in your studio. Could you tell us a bit about them? If there are artists you admire or get inspiration from, we would love to know more about them too.
CB: Yes, I am inspired by many artists but have lately been focused on Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Louise Nevelson, and Jack Whitten. In my most recent series, I found myself often referencing the curves of my own hands, legs, and hips and I let the paint and texture unify. At the time, I was reading the chapter “Alone and Together” in Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait. I have always admired her freedom with the human figure and specifically self-portraiture. Although these works are very abstract, I also see them as a self-portrait. Bourgeois was often influenced by surrealism and the dreamlike realm, and she would combine both the real and the imagined. I connect this concept to my experience in fashion. My career as a designer was often focused on creating a dream, a fantasy-like creation which also had to be practical and cost-effective. My art stitches together all of these elements, the dream, the reality, the drama, emotion, and at times a resolution. Bourgeois also created work to appease her own emotional states. At times, I feel that I have unconsciously done the same thing in an effort to release or move forward. As the poet Robert Frost said, “the only way forward is through.”
eazel: Elements like drama and emotion are often seen in both fashion and art, so your artistic journey feels quite natural. What motivated you to switch from a major in fashion to pursue a career as an artist?
CB: I have always been an artist but was very shy about sharing my work. My fashion career nurtured my love for materials, fabric, color, and form. I used to spend many nights staying up till the early hours of the morning making art for myself while working a corporate job. I remember visiting MoMA, standing in front of a Barnett Newman's zip painting series and beginning to cry. It resonated so deeply with me that I knew I owed it to myself to devote more time to my art practice. I began to transition into part time work and took many studio art classes at The Art Students League in New York.
eazel: Could we now talk a little about your paintings and sculptures? Looking at some of the artworks in the studio, they feature these intriguing swirls and rhythms. Could you explain the significance of these movements in your work, and how they arise during your creative process?
CB: I have also asked myself that question and I wonder if it stems from my love of pirouette turning in dance class or simply from the gesture of swirling and mixing paint. What began as a way to magnify the twisted canvas yarn into a painting has now evolved into more complex swirls. My favorite seashell is called the Wentletrap and I have collected hundreds of them over the years at Edisto Beach in South Carolina. Jasper Johns' mother retired there and he went to Edisto to heal after his breakup with Rauschenberg. I think there's something very healing about the ocean. I sometimes think the swirling shape ends up emerging as a moment of calm in a work.
eazel: Your current and latest work feature a dominant use of red, white, and black; also, many red colors are present in your studio (such as on chairs and a trolley). Could you explain the reason for your frequent use of these colors in your work and elaborate on any specific meaning or inspiration behind them?
CB: I love the color red. It’s my favorite color! I recently had a solo show called The Touch of Red at the National Arts Club in New York in March of 2022. I was awarded an artist fellowship at the NAC and loved the opportunity to share my work with their community. My signature lipstick hue is also red. I was drawn to the daily significance of applying red lipstick as the last step of getting ready in the morning. The exhibition included a series titled Lady Danger, inspired by my MAC Cosmetics lipstick and how lipstick evolves throughout different times of the day. You can see that some of the works hold the most potent and saturated layers of red in cadmium on silk, while others show the dissolved pinky stains like a pink ballet slipper.
eazel: The inspiration of a beauty product that led to the use of red in your work shows that your practice goes beyond the bold colors and shapes, that comes from universal experience that many people can relate to. Is there other subject-matters that have your attention at the moment?
CB: I am currently creating small works that will then become a whole. It is a bit similar to Nevelson’s modular format. I am working with the themes of being a woman, beauty, dance, the organic vs geometric, and touch. These themes have influenced my work previously, but I am now constructing and reconstructing them like facets of a story.
Chellis Baird (b. 1983), an American artist, blurs the intersection of painting, sculpture, and textiles. Baird's bespoke process starts with woven structures as her base, reconstructing handwoven canvases from a unique perspective. Each canvas begins with neutral toned materials and is then painted, dyed, and sculpted into dimensional brushstrokes. Baird creates tangled compositions through a series of twists, knots, and upcycled textiles. Her background in fashion allows her to dress the canvas with imagination, using color to emphasize the authenticity and body of each piece. Baird received her BFA in textiles from Rhode Island School of Design and studied studio art at the Art Students League in New York City.
For further information about Chellis Baird :
Immersive Studio Visit
(Long Island City, New York)