Felipe Chavez is a figurative artist and sculptor based in South London. His art depicts delicate, raw portrayals of the nude form in black and white. Felipe explores the human body’s place in society, through figurative contemporary art.
We met in Tooting Broadway for a cuppa hot choc and chatted about the inspiration behind his work, feelings of numbness and disconnect, homosexuality and paying the bills in an expensive city.
Let’s set the scene and kick off the chat with my favourite question(s): Tell us about you and your art.
My art is very much about myself as an artist and how I see things; as opposed to my opinion towards society or something else. It’s my opinion of how people perceive me; and how I am present in a place. I don’t associate my art with my emotions; it’s more about my mind and expressing a thought. My art could be considered a bit dark, as it’s very much a hollow piece of art in a blank space. But, it’s how the art fills the space. If I was to generalise; it’s about how I am as a man and a human, as opposed to an emotional being.
As a viewer, when I look at your work I do wonder, what is the figure experiencing? There is a vulnerability and rawness that comes with the naked form. How do you feel about this?
That’s true. Numbness is an emotion I guess, but I don’t want people to feel lost, or feel a specific emotion. I think that’s why I like using black and white, because I don’t want people to be drawn into one specific thought. I just want people to breath and really let the purity of the work fill up the mind and maybe make you numb for a second. I never tend to ask people how they feel about my art because I just want them to stare at it for a while, and not feel like they have to say something.
What draws you to study the human form?
When I see a landscape, or a painting of a dog or an apple, I always think of the person behind it; I think of the person picking the apple, the person caressing the dog or the person standing in front of the landscape. My life is about people, and I like people. It wouldn’t exist without humans. I need to see a person to make it real. If I were to do a portrait of you, I would want it to be of how you are affected by the people surrounding you.
Tell us about the variety of mediums you use in your art? – what are the most fun vs the most challenging?
Challenging would be painting, because I’m the most connected to it. I use semi-waterproof Indian ink. Without getting too technical, the pigment of the ink is denser than the water which means that when I absorb it with tissue, it can leave different densities of ink on the paper. I try not to think about it too much and just go with it!
The most fun – definitely materials like polymer clay which is an oil based clay, and concretes and silicon rubbers. I find going from 2D to 3D so interesting. I make my husband pose for me to see the shape of the body in different positions (super handy!).
Your art also depicts ballerinas and dancers, why did you choose to study these?
I find classical ballet to be gentle and subtle. There’s less ‘in your face emotion’ and instead you can sit there, watch it and calmly enjoy it. The emotion slowly seeps into you. The movement in ballet is like whispering, it’s so subtle and goes with my aesthetic, especially paired with ink.
You recently did an exhibition in Dublin, how was this for you?
The exhibition at In-Spire Gallerie went well. It was a random art person who liked my portraits and asked to exhibit them. He was doing a group show about homosexual artists and exploring a different side of homosexuality. Mine were very different to the others. Everyone was using colour, and oil paints and instead mine was pure and subtle which created a good balance.
Homosexually is a big part of who you are and a constant theme in your art, can you tell us more about this.
It’s just an interesting, massive culture; it’s so raw and it’s a big part of my life. I’m happily married to a man. In terms of how it connects to my art, I am this person walking amongst other people in the present. But what am I? I am a gay, Columbian, male and let’s celebrate that for what it is. Who knows, I could start doing more pieces on my roots with Columbia. I’ve also thought of introducing colour to my paintings that are related to the gay world, because the gay world is so colourful. But, I do enjoy the fact that my art is black and white and that there is a contrast in this. It’s connected to my art because it’s what I am. Art is about who I am.
Tell us about your experience of being an artist in London?
I think it’s perfect. Sometimes, I’m on a bus coming back from work, and I think, ‘Is there a purpose to this – rather than me just sitting on a bus?’ You’re objectively looking out onto the city with so many people just doing their own thing.
It’s also isolating, and that’s how I feel about art. When I do art, I isolate my mind; I feel lonely, and insecure and strange. A lot of artists feel liberated, but for me it’s very painful. But, there’s part of me that takes pleasure from that. I take pleasure from feeling numb on the bus, amongst strangers; and I replicate that by being numb at my desk painting. Being in a city reminds you that you’re one in a million, you’re nothing. There’s no emotional attachment or connection. Although it sounds horrible, there’s a beauty within nothingness.
Could you offer any suggestions to others exploring art?
I think if you want to be fully fulfilled by art then you have to be realistic about it. You have to see art as being a commercial business. You have to develop yourself as a brand and really develop an aesthetic. As much as you might feel unique, what makes you different? It’s just as much about what others think about your work, then what you think.
Also, be a blank canvas; absorb what you can, and study the craft. Anyone can be an artist, but it takes a state of mind to be an artist. You have to be confident to say it. It’s a hard way of living; feeling like you’ll never be fulfilled until you finish that last piece. That’s a struggle in its own, which you have to be ready for.
When do you find time to do art with a 9-5 job?
It’s hard to just focus on the art, you have to find an income. But it’s also good to step away from it sometimes, and having a 9-5 job forces you to gain clarity.
Juggling it can be emotionally exhausting and time restricting. But I do try and do at least one thing a day which is arty. Whether it’s sorting out my desk or taking pictures, or listening to music to get inspired.
What’s in store for 2018 for you?
I think participating in group shows and going to art fairs is a big one, to promote my brand. I have a big collection of commercial paintings which are of my ballerinas and dancers that I intend to expand and get more prints out. Then, I hope to prepare my solo show!
Where do you hope to go with your art?
The end goal, is that I want to have a business. I want to make sure that my art sustains myself and my husband, and that I feel fulfilled once my art is out there. I want people to see my art, explore it and really understand it. Whether it’s buying a print or a large original, I want to be seen differently. Right now, there are a lot of artists looking at the world and studying emotion. But with mine, it’s more about celebrating yourself alone.
Where can we find you?
Q&A fun time …
Three things that make you smile
- Watching my favourite girl group’s interviews online (you’ve got to guess who 😉
- Pete (my husband’s) inappropriate jokes
Your dream studio, what does it look like?
Potentially a spacious warehouse! But, I am enjoying working from home.
Your favourite song of the moment?
Don’t Say You Love Me – Fifth harmony
New years’ resolutions?
- Learn to drive
- Buy a house
- Travel to NYC!