“It’s about putting yourself out there and being vulnerable, taking a risk. Not easy, but pretty damn rewarding,” says Chicago artist, Chai Wolfman. A painter, writer and cellist, Wolfman believes not only that each practice informs the others, but that authentic engagement with each leads to work capable of generating a universal sense of connection. “In my writing,” she says, “I use personal stories to get at something that others can hopefully relate to. I focus on telling universal stories with a genuine voice and I think this is true of my paintings as well. I use figures that could be any person, anywhere. I try to leave room for others to fill in the blanks. I guess it’s the same with music, too. It takes being completely in the moment with your body, breath, and mind, to play musically and communicate emotion.”
Our Town You literally cut and sew your paintings, how does that work?
Chai Wolfman I use acrylic paint, chalk, water soluble crayon, markers, and inks to create layered patterns and textures in each painting. Once I’ve completed multiple paintings, I cut segments from each and play with different compositions. They might become a recognizable landscape, my take on a traditional quilt pattern, or an abstract design. The feel and sound of sewing paper is addicting. I love the whole process.
OT Your artwork is inspired by crazy quilting, how so?
CW Crazy quilts are beautiful, chaotic and colorful with intricate detail and visual punch. They are usually made up of fabric scraps in random shapes with decorative stitching. These random pieces together create a vibrant, unified quilt. I like this idea of joining such different elements into one piece – finding some harmony among the chaos. The central theme of all my work--of my whole life, actually, is finding balance, and that is really the root of my inspiration.
OT What else inspires you?
CW City skylines, architecture, music, nature, color, fabric and craft stores, yoga, my daughters.
OT Do you paint every day?
CW I wish! Someday my life will allow for that. Now that I’m a mom I have less free time, but I’m also much better at managing the time I have. I usually have time to do at least one thing for myself each day. I choose between painting, sewing, writing, yoga, napping, and showering. Whatever speaks to me during that day’s afternoon nap is where my energy goes. It’s a balancing act, a wonderful, challenging balancing act. Luckily, I have an amazing and supportive partner who takes the [twin] girls out for fun adventures on Sunday mornings so I have almost the entire day on Sunday to devote to painting.
OT Ever feel reluctant to give up a piece?
CW Never. For me, the whole point of creating work is to put something positive out into the world. It might sound cheesy but I really am trying to bring something good to someone else’s life. A big stack of paintings in my apartment doesn’t have a chance to do that. That said, some of my partner’s favorite pieces decorate our apartment and those would be hard to part with. But if it’s not hanging up in our home, I would much rather have someone else enjoy it.