In the studio with Chloe Wise.

Words by

Alex Leav

In the studio with Chloe Wise.

I was welcomed into Chloe Wise’s sun-drenched, 70’s-Soho-loft-esque home studio in Midtown Manhattan by the artist offering me a CBD seltzer as she finished up a section of a work-in-progress portrait of a friend smizing in a Hanes tank top.
Chloe Wise is of the moment and is the moment. A digital native herself, she paints the cultural milieu of which she (consciously) belongs, and she does so with a conviction and a coolness that feels totally Millennial. Her satirical and wry portraits, sculptures, and installations explore and critique consumerism, the representation of the self, and the collapse of the line in between.

Chloe Wise, "Ritual Reluctance I," (2022). Oil on linen, 60 x 48 inches. © Chloe Wise, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photo by Dan Bradica.

I want to start by talking about the first step in your process – photography. Images that you take on your iPhone (of your friends and people close to you, of your food, or of miscellaneous objects) become direct reference images for your paintings.  

Exactly, I take photos of friends and usually let those source images direct the composition. I allow the images to surprise me. Lately, I find myself going back through old source material, rediscovering moments that I had previously overlooked. For years, I was turning to formally stagnant, purposefully artificial poses, but now I'm going back through those same images and finding new interest in awkward moments, uncomfortable smiles, and natural interactions.

Your work is so successfully 'of the moment' - exploring the intricacies and absurdities of consumer culture and social media - that it feels apt for it to start in a digital form. I’m curious as to whether you agree, and what you think painting these images (bringing them into an arguably traditional format) does to them. 

That occurs naturally for me and without too much forethought. The use of easily available digital tools has become second nature in both image creation and everyday life. I don't think there's anything groundbreaking about my use of these tools, or the translation of images from digital into a traditional visual format. These actions feel fluid to me. 

I do think that photography and painting are at direct odds in what they aim to capture; photography can represent fleeting, instantaneous moments successfully, but does so at such an accessible scale that we don't necessarily think about the product in the same highly valorized way. Painting inherently takes a different stance in temporal terms. It represents a moment that is likely aware of itself as lasting, or intending to last, and is, as such, divorced from the real fleeting nature of time. If painting is untainted by time, then painting must be quite self-important; it exalts an image or subject in a way that implies commemoration or value. In that sense, the same composition, when represented using photography, may be indistinguishable from an advertisement, especially online, where the line between consumer culture and personal expression are so blurred, they are essentially null. The same image, when represented by paint, underscores the banality of this collapse further, a self-important portrayal of a consumer moment as a highly valorized/personalized discrete object. 

Your paintings underscore these blurred lines with a sense of satire and humor that makes them feel both relatable and accessible. How important do you think accessibility is in art?

You’ve caught me at an unusual moment in terms of my thoughts on accessibility, although my reverence for all things comedic remains intact. Historically, I’ve held the opinion that accessibility leads to visibility, allowing an otherwise exclusive, elitist, and somewhat opaque art world to be democratized and interacted with on new, expanded levels. 

On a more personal scale, I think the perceived aphoristic ease of my own work detracts from encouraging a more nuanced reading, causing it to fall short of what I feel it may otherwise evoke. The representational and almost immediately comprehensive nature of portraiture does not require the same amount of curiosity, contemplation or confusion that say, sculpture or video or installation work might prompt. And maybe that takes away from the reading of my work as a whole entity. But in general, I do appreciate work that leads in with a perspicuous or discernible subject or idea as a bridge, leading a viewer to a destination only to find surprise, ambiguity, failure, or plurality.

In a few words, I love work that starts off seemingly obvious, but isn’t. I may be achieving the former, but in terms of the latter, maybe I’m not doing it right.

Chloe Wise, "Run amok for the hills, out of steam in the family," (2022). Oil on linen. Image courtesy the Artist and Blouin Division.

I’m going to steal a question (or task) that David Salle once asked John Baldessari: apart from yourself, name two or three funny artists. 

Cindy Sherman, Jayson Musson, Meriem Bennani, John Currin, Seth Price, Martin Creed, Bjarne Melgaard, Ann Hirsch...

Are these artists that you admire? 

Nah, I hate them. Obviously yes, and because they’re good.

Who is your painting “hero”?

El Greco.

If you could ask El Greco anything, what would it be? 

If he’d like to do a trade :)  

Chloe Wise, "Ritual Reluctance II," (2022). Oil on linen, 60 x 48 x inches. © Chloe Wise, Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech, Photo by Dan Bradica.

What is the best advice you’ve received about your work? 

To emphasize something that may otherwise be perceived as a weakness.

About being an artist?

To get off Instagram. I’m working on it...

You’ve mentioned that you listen to audiobooks and podcasts while you paint. What have you been listening to lately? 

The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow. I’m also three quarters of the way through Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. My favorite podcast, The Dollop (a comedy podcast from Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds), and MGMT’s album Oracular Spectacular are always on repeat in the studio. 

Chloe Wise, "In Loveliness of Perfect Deeds," Installation view. Image courtesy the Artist and Blouin Division.

Similarly, are there any books or texts that you feel have directly impacted your work? 

I have this Pierre et Gilles book that I’ve carried around since I was a teenager that directly impacts my work visually. Textually, I’d say Roland Barthes’ Mythologies, Baudrillard’s America and his lesser known but very weird Cool Memories.

Speaking of text, your titles are great; I feel like they add an important third dimension to the work. Recent titles include “Glowing symptoms of success,” “To be sunkissed goodnight,” “Forget about Hymn,” and “I’m so and so and I exist!”  Can you talk a bit about where these titles come from? In the naming of your pieces, does the image precede the work or vice versa?

I’m constantly recording fragments of conversations, passages in books, song lyrics, things heard or misheard, decontextualized word pairings and so on, into one long note on my phone. Sometimes I make a painting and then one of those pieces of text feel surprising when attached to the image, allowing or encouraging an incongruity that leads, at least for me, to multiple possible readings of the image.  

I think Magritte had the best titles. The act of titling can be intentional or random, but I think it’s quite important, as the effect can change the reading of the work. I find this to be especially true when you’re looking at a human face and automatically searching for meaning. It’s the best when the hint of meaning that you’re faced with doesn’t match your initial read. 

Chloe Wise, "No points for neutrality," (2021). Oil on linen, 72 x 60 inches. Image courtesy the Artist.

In terms of process, what does a typical day at the studio look like for you? 


What kind of paint do you use?

Oil. Kama pigments, from Montreal, are the best. 

What is your favorite color to work with?  

All of them.

Chloe Wise, "Thank you for the Nice Fire” Installation view, (2021). Image courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech.

I want to talk a little bit about the immersive installations of your exhibitions. Your exhibition at Almine Rech, “Thank you for the Nice Fire,” featured paintings alongside sculptures (Caesar salad chandeliers and sconces; heaps of melting sticks of butter on pedestals) and an exterior wall of a suburban house, the light and sound from a TV streaming through a window. In your recent show “In Loveliness of Perfect Deeds” at Blouin Division, you set up a ‘conversation pit,’ composed of doormats with subversive phrases on which visitors were invited to sit. To you, what is the significance of the “installation?” How does the installation work with (or supplement) your paintings? 

It’s imperative. In fact, I feel the paintings, on their own, sadly, do not convey the tone or world I feel I’m operating from or trying to create. I prefer to create an environment; one that implies a recognizable setting or feeling, but that, upon closer inspection (or, after some time), becomes unsettling.

A conversation pit implies comfort, intimacy, familiarity. Sitting in one suggests not only having been invited to come in, but to ‘make yourself at home’ and stay a while. A welcome mat, conversely, indicates an exteriority, not yet having been granted entry, a physical reminder of a boundary between in and out, on both an architectural and a personal level. The word itself, “welcome,” has one meaning, but the signification of this word on the mat has another: the drawing of a boundary, a polite reminder of private property. The combination of these two recognizable elements creates a friction that I find satisfying – the discomfort of sitting on a material that usually is reserved for underneath one’s feet and congregating with strangers in a setting that is usually intimate, the language strewn across the mats uttering far different messages than “welcome,” although filled similarly with platitudes or neutral-seeming sentiments. 

This same mixing of signs, both visual and experiential, is what I wish to convey in all my work, but painting doesn’t always allow for as much immersion (yet). That’s why I really don’t consider myself solely a painter. To me, my work feels most complete when it invites you, literally, to step inside of it.

Lastly, what is it about the act of creating that you love? 

I don’t know what else to do.

Chloe Wise, "To Be Sunkissed Goodnight," (2021). Oil on linen, 72 x 60 inches. Image courtesy of the Artist.
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Photos by Alex Leav.