Portrait of a Chicago Artist: Chai Wolfman

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Its 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 its 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 Ive 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 Im a mom I have less free time, but Im 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 days afternoon nap is where my energy goes. Its 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 elses life. A big stack of paintings in my apartment doesnt have a chance to do that. That said, some of my partners favorite pieces decorate our apartment and those would be hard to part with. But if its not hanging up in our home, I would much rather have someone else enjoy it.

OT Which do you espouse: Art is good because it embodies formal qualities agreed upon by experts or art is ‘good’ just because it touches one person?

CW Art is so subjective; I think both are valid arguments. If it comes from an authentic place within the artist, then the quality of the work and its ability to speak to other people will shine through. Thats how I judge my own work can I genuinely stand by this piece and be proud of it? Is it balanced? Does it feel right? If Im listening to myself and shutting off the negative voices and critics, then the energy going into the work is going to be positive and I believe that comes through in the final product.

OT Your paintings are on display at Green Genes. How did that come about?

CW I have been a regular customer at Green Genes ever since my pregnancy. Heather [Muenstermann], the shop owner who is also an artist, has been super supportive of my artwork for a long time, even commissioning a piece (I love commissions). She asked me about hanging some work for the Andersonville Arts weekend, then asked to keep the work up indefinitely. It is a wonderful eco-friendly shop for the little ones in your life and Im so happy to have my work there.

OT What are you working on right now?

CW Im working with some new color palettes some dark, muted colors and some white on white paintings, which I envision stitching with white or black threads for maximum contrast. Im playing with the idea of a stark, modern look while still embracing the warm, folky feel of a quilt. I also have some brightly colored paintings in progress one inspired by sheet music, another by feathers, and a third by the brick building across the street. I love working with bold, energetic patterns. Im also sketching some illustrations for my childrens story and working on some new blog posts. Having a long to do list means that at least one thing will inspire me each day and Ill always have something exciting to work on.

Check out Chai Wolfman’s work at her Etsy store.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, Herself When Shes Missing,” is forthcoming from Soft Skull, an imprint of Counterpoint Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicagos StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually.

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