Aleah Chapin’s Aunties Project

When we hear the word “nudes,” we expect to see young bodies – the smooth, taut ones that painters usually paint and photographers photograph. Aleah Chapin, an award-winning artist who is quickly making her mark on the art world, paints a different type of nude: She makes huge, hyperreal paintings of older women’s bodies with all their wrinkles, sagging skin, cellulite, scars and grey hair.

In her series of oil paintings called the Aunties Project, for which she won Britain’s prestigious BP Portrait Award, Chapin captures her models’ aging bodies – and much more: joy, caring, support, humor and a “take me as I am” attitude.

Chapin_Aleah_TheTempest

 

We recently asked Chapin a few questions about her work; she responded via email from her home in Brooklyn, New York.

 

How did you, a young woman in her 20s, became interested in depicting older women’s bodies?

I’ve been obsessed with realism since I was a child. But I noticed that the subject has mainly been the idealized young, female nude. Although these paintings are undoubtedly beautiful, I wanted to see something that mirrored the world I saw around me. The Aunties Project is less about age and more about making paintings that fully embrace the real human body, this fascinating vessel that carries us through our experiences.

Chapin_Aleah_AuntieIs “Auntie” really your aunt?

My mom is the only woman I have painted who I am actually related to. The woman in the painting called “Auntie” was in the room when I was born and is one of many who call themselves the “Aunties.” This name refers to the fact that although we are not actually related, I grew up in a community of people who feel like family.

I chose to paint the Aunties, a group of women most of whom I’ve known my entire life, because they are people that I care about. I realized that the only work I could make with any honesty would come from my own life, and these women exemplify a certain outlook on the world that I was raised to have.

 

They seem so natural posing nude. Do they spend other time naked outdoors or was this just for you?

People have often asked me if I grew up in a nudest colony – which of course, I don’t blame them for thinking! But no, these women are not naked together very often. I asked them to pose and amazingly, they said yes. We’ve had several sessions where I get a group of them together outside and we take photos. It’s very much of a collaborative experience. I want to capture their reactions in the moment to me, each other and their surroundings. Life gives us an infinite outpouring of subtle emotions, physical manifestations of thought and experience that range from intense and dark, to hilarious and childlike. I want to make work that digs into all of this and everything in between.

These women look very comfortable in their own skin. Do you think they are unusual in that regard?

Yes, I think it is unusual. But as strong and confident as they are, they still have their own insecurities; they’re human. I think that they’re just more okay with everything that comes along with it, the good and not so good, and are comfortable acknowledging this fact.

Chapin_Aeah_Mully

 

We sense camaraderie and support among the ladies.  Can you tell us more about them?

Most of them have known each other for 30 or more years. They are artists, nurses, dancers, mothers, grandmothers, business owners, therapists, writers, healers, funeral home directors, wives, activists and preschool teachers. My friend Eliza, in blogging about them, writes that they “have shaped history, raised children, explored the outer edges of consciousness and washed the dishes, and they are not finished yet!”

Our society overall has a cultural blind spot for older peoples’ bodies. What has been the response to the Aunties Project?

Hearing people’s reactions has been one of the most gratifying aspects of creating this body of work. I originally started the project for very personal reasons, having no idea what people would say and being really nervous to put the work out there. Surprisingly, people from all generations, sexes and nationalities react in the same way. It seems the paintings speak to a shared humanness that ignores our differences. This is nothing new. In fact, what it is to be human, to search for what unifies us as a species, is probably the most ancient idea. I think we’ve ignored this for a while, but it’s coming back because we desperately need it to.

Chapin_Aleah_AndWeWereBirds

 

How has working closely with the Aunties Project shaped your perceptions of aging?

I was raised by these women, so I don’t think anything has actually changed, I’ve just become more conscious of it. I’ve always had great examples to show me that getting older doesn’t have to stop you from anything and is definitely nothing to be scared of. I can only hope that this feeling will last the rest of my life and that I can pass it along to my children.

Are there more exhibitions scheduled?  Do you have any other plans for the Aunties Project?

Yes, I do! I’m currently working on a solo show for fall 2014 at Flowers Gallery on Cork St. in London [a street of London’s top-tier galleries]. The Aunties Project is something I think I will always continue. It had a beginning, but I don’t see it having an end. I’ve begun to paint the younger generation, the daughters and grandchildren, but I think I will always paint the Aunties, too. My intention is to explore through paint, and the people who enter my life, the spectrum of the human experience.

 

What do you think about the Aunties Project? Please comment below.

Click here to see the complete Aunties Project.
Click here to read more about the Aunties on the Wildly Ordinary blog.

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60 comments
  • Jaing
    REPLY

    Such work is a revelation to me. I learnt something new about human-ness…about just how naturally human we all are after all. The artist and these aunties have taught me that life isn’t so bad after all … thank you for a great job – bravo to the artist.

  • Lynn Teatro
    REPLY

    This is a wonderful project. The art is beautiful and the women are amazing. Thank you for the article. Thank you, Aleah Chapin for your talent and your vision.

  • Jan
    REPLY

    These paintings so inspire me…as an artist who hasn`t painted in years, I love seeing the beauty & comfort in your work. Having had breast cancer, I still have a difficult time looking at myself in the mirror. Thank you for helping me accept my body. If you need another “Auntie”, please contact me! I would be proud to see myself in a painting. Thank you so much.

  • ruthie
    REPLY

    As a woman of nearly 63, I want to thank you for seeing the” true” woman in each of us through your art. We are so often tossed aside after the bloom of youth has left us ,especially in regards to our bodies; yet we feel the same in our minds as we did as when we were young. Your art reflects this so well. I especially loved the one of the woman on the rock. It says “I AM WOMAN,HEAR ME ROAR’ . I have a lifetime of experience, strength and wisdom. I AM BEAUTIFUL.” Age and time can not take this away from any of us; it can never take the heart and soul of our womanhood, of who we are as sisters. We are the daughters of Eve and who can doubt she had to have been the most beautiful woman that ever lived? So I say to all older woman out there, remember who we are and be proud.

    • Emmanuel
      REPLY

      Splendid shapes. The real thing for a change. This is art and what real life’s about. Sadly we are bombarded with male perception of women every day in pictures. Can we have more of others like this please.

  • mcpoo
    REPLY

    I think it’s beautiful. You have done an amazing job of capturing all the emotion going on behind the eyes. Yes, you can still see the little girl there. I am 58 and have been thru breast cancer.( And I thank you.)

  • Regina Drew
    REPLY

    I’m 74 and have had a partial foot amputation, breast cancer, kidney cancer, have been divorced, remarried, and have lost the gorgeous shape I had without even trying when younger. I’m saying my body certainly is older and unusual looking, but it is the result of my history and age. I am proud of it. I love the artist’s use of soft, subtle colors. I totally love seeing the beautiful aging face closeups as well as the positive moods that are so obvious in all the paintings. Just love that someone took the time to portray real women.

  • auntie tracey
    REPLY

    Excellent to affirm that Aunties are everywhere. The Aunties in our community could probably find some nudes with each other in their early days together and during the childbearing years! Yeah to communities that raise the kids!

  • Jet Black
    REPLY

    Hi Aleah!

    I absolutely adore the realism, joy and naturalness (?) of your paintings. I wonder if you take commissions, or do you need a new model ‘auntie’?

    I am 52 and have multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. As treatment, I have had a stem cell transplant, which has caused graft versus host disease [GvHD] in various parts of my body. Most specifically I have something called sclerodermatous GvHD, which means my muscles, tendons and skin (underneath, not surface) are hardening, stiffening, losing mobility and flexibility. It also means the shape of my torso and limbs has changed.

    Seeing your work has inspired me to want to be painted in my new form. Please let me know if this is something you might consider.

    My brother lives in Brooklyn so it would be easy/possible for me to come to you or meet somewhere locally.

    If you’d like to discuss this further, please email me.

    And if not, I still love your work. :)

    Jet

    • mothergoddess
      REPLY

      Michelle, you can be as comfortable with your own body– as soon as you as you stop seeing yourself through the eyes of others. You should never accept the vision of yourself as a reflection of other peoples perspective of you in a mirror. You are unique in this world and you should view yourself this way. See your beautiful creamy/ ebony skin. See the highlights in your hair. See the beautiful person inside yourself and you will soon see a new, wonderful vision of yourself. After all beauty is an illusion. Attitude is a woman’s gift to herself.

  • Jean
    REPLY

    I absolutely love this work. It is so very touching, it made me cry. Speaking as a 59 year old woman, one can feel invisible after a certain age. The warmth, humour and friendship that emanates from these paintings is truly magical. What a brilliant and insightful artist.

  • Riesahp
    REPLY

    I hope my words convey the uplifting feeling I have looking at these images, the faces, the bodies, the expressions. It is a sense of wholeness, wholesomeness and holiness that arises in me. I feel filled with a joy that causes tears to overflow my eyes. I recall the bodies of my late mother and her mother, bodies I saw daily and interacted with as I grew up. I miss the feeling of home that being around such women imparts to me. Thank you so very much for the gifts.

  • Dee
    REPLY

    Thank you! Glorious images that make me want to play. Yesterday I looked down at my body and thought, “well, I guess I’m just junk now”. I don’t feel that way anymore.

  • Isa
    REPLY

    I love these paintings and I hope it will inspire more artists to paint, photograph and do sculptures of older people naked. Why should people think that it’s ok to have a painting of a young naked body, but not an old one? People need to see nature, in all its forms and stages, it must not be hidden, or it gets more and more taboo. And there is beauty in everything, if we look, and these paintings really do help us see that. I want to take my son to this exhibition, he’s only 6 years’ old, but I’m bringing him up to be comfortable with all stages of life, with life and death, and to be well acquainted with nature and with people of all generations. I don’t want him to become one of those ignorant young adults who laughs at old people, or looks at them with disdain.

  • Dianne R
    REPLY

    This is amazing – I hope we have an opportunity to see this artist in the US. We are so obsessed with youth as everyone knows. Women of experienced years get it, we know what is important and how quickly it can be taken away. Thank you for sharing this, they are so beautiful.

  • appreciator
    REPLY

    This is so beautiful!
    It is positive and uplifting and happy.
    So many wonderful things happen as humans age but we are often blinded by the physical beauty as youth. But, that is all we are ever exposed to. We are told that ONLY youth is beautiful. We all change. We all age. Let’s embrace it, see it, understand it, appreciate it, love it. It is us.
    Thank you.

  • dsh
    REPLY

    The ‘Aunties’ are beautiful. I want to share with you, I am an Auntie too. I am 75 years old. Today I was using a magnifying glass to pluck a few wild hairs. As I did so, I noticed the up close reality of me, my skin condition, etc. You see, since our eyes are often not seeing as well as they used to, we don’t see ourselves (in the mirror, on a daily basis) as we are, but through the haze of blurred vision. It makes me appear a lot younger, in the mirror, than I actually am – and a lot younger than others (with better eye sight) see me. God is good, it’s all good. lol

  • darkeyedayla
    REPLY

    I LOVE the Aunties project. I loved seeing all of these women in their power, It made me smile and recognise the angel in each one. I could still see the “little girl” in them. Innocence and wisdom all wrapped up in who they are. What a wonderful project.! hugs and love
    Ayla

    • momschmidt57
      REPLY

      I love that you see the ‘little girl’ in them. My grandmother would say that when she looked in the mirror she saw herself a young girl. I like to say that my four year old comes out to play!

  • Heidi Pronath
    REPLY

    So true, raw, awe inspiring, and beautiful! I’ve been on Earth 48 years and when someone asks me how old I am, i reply “ageless”. Not because I am ashamed of my years, but because I dont define myself by them. My face is youthful, my body not so much anymore :). Two babies, weight gain and loss, and the years have sagged much of it! These photos model for me what is still yet to come and the loving embracing of it! Thank you to the strong women in the photos and the artist :)

  • Auntie A.
    REPLY

    Refreshing and interesting images! The fleeting perfection of youth is beautiful, sure. But so is the fleeting beauty of the rest of life as well. Besides, doesn’t the image of the ever-so-sought-after “flawless” body get a little boring after the twenty billionth time? Yawn.

  • CH
    REPLY

    Thank you. Very beauty-full. I hope you might consider painting old women of diverse racial backgrounds. There are “Aunties” in many communities.

  • Jamie
    REPLY

    This is beautiful. It injects you with reality and destroys your illusions all the while letting you know, it’s gonna be cool!

  • Jacqueline Anderson
    REPLY

    Sorry, Opt Me Out of this site ASAP. Did not know it was a porn site..thought it was for computer know-how. I do not want to look at naked people old or young. Quickly, where do I ‘Opt Out?…help, Help, HELP!

    • Debbie
      REPLY

      Oh please, this is so not porn. Nude does not automatically equal porn. Beautiful paintings of nudes have thankfully been a part of art throughout history, and these are absolutely beautiful! Honest and joyful and beautiful!

    • Dolphin1234chick
      REPLY

      To opt out, just don’t come back. How did you get here in the first place? Whatever you clicked on, don’t click on it again. This is art, and certainly not pornography. It’s sad to me that you see it as such, but since you do, I bid you farewell!

    • Leila
      REPLY

      What have this pictures to do with Porn??? Hey, we’re born naked! And a naked body have nothing to do with Porn. Thats just a very repressed way to look at this.

    • RKM
      REPLY

      I find these photographs tasteful and beautiful. Porn is the last thought that comes to mind. There is nothing shameful about nudity at any age, as long as the body is not being exploited.

  • pooponwanny
    REPLY

    i think this work is beautiful!!!

    however, im also curious about the desire to depict them naked? What does it say about their age vs. them being clothed? i ask this, because a lot of times we consider the nude body as the ultimate evidence of self confidence. but is it?

    either way, i love these paintings. hope to see more. :)

  • Nancy
    REPLY

    I think this is fabulous. It depicts women who have grown wise enough to be comfortable in their own skin. How refreshing.

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