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Visual Artist Sandrah Chalmers On The Art of The Painting

Sandrah Chalmers is a visual artist and painter, whose paintings are very versatile. On one hand, there are the paintings that depict rites of passage of women. Then there are some abstracts, and even a surreal work here or there.

Born in Port-au-Prince, Chalmers moved to Florida with her parents and brother in the early 1990s. After graduating from Miami’s Florida International University with a degree in International Relations, she moved to Atlanta where she currently makes her home.

Chalmers has taken part in several successful exhibits, and she is frequently commissioned by lovers of art. But to her, being successful comes with the obligation to give back, and it’s an obligation she takes on with pleasure. Chalmers has donated proceeds from sales of her paintings to Village Of Vision For Haiti Foundation, an organization that builds shelters in Haiti. In the past, she’s worked with other organizations like Habitat For Humanity to help women and children in Haiti. She’s also donated several of her paintings for charity galas and auctions.

Did you start out drawing? I began to draw at the age of four. As a child, my fascination for colors and shapes rapidly developed. My curiosity grew as I discovered the work of some great art masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Claude Monet and the well recognized Haitian painter Jean-René Jerôme. My style transformed over the years, from Abstract to Photo-Realism. I consider myself today as a Modern Pop artist.

When your parents realized that you wanted to take up painting for good, what was their reaction? My parents have been one of the greatest influences in my life. They taught me about strong work ethics; they taught me about responsibility. They also taught me about the very thin line that exists between a dream and reality. I have to start by saying that once I graduated high school, I told them that I wanted to pursue a degree in Fine Arts. They said that they would support me in whatever path I chose. My father even said in those exact words: “Why do you want to learn how to draw or how to paint? You’re already doing it beautifully.” Their views on art and artists in general were not the same as mine. They were looking at the financial aspect of this field. will she be a starving Artist? Artists do not bring home a steady paycheck. Today I can say that I understand where they were coming from. Some artists make it big and others never do; it’s just the nature of this game.

Out of all the pieces you’ve created, is there one that you absolutely treasure more than your other creations? “Exotica” a 36×48 acrylic on canvas [from] 2005. This piece is very dear to my heart. It was created at a time where many changes were about to take place in my life. I had to grow as a human being. I had to grow as a woman. For a long time, I felt that I was like a child living in a bubble. That bubble one day bursts and I was faced with life’s major surprises and challenges. This painting is composed of growing leaves and through those leaves one can notice various red shapes—these are veins with blood running through them. Some are small and some are larger. They all occupy a specific function. They all exist for a reason. They all keep those leaves alive. They all contribute to those leaves’ growth. In sum, this painting is a celebration of my growth as a woman—the celebration of my life.

What sparks your creativity? My creativity depicts from my love for life, my love for music, my love for art. My subjects derive from daily encounters, and some, are just fruits of my limitless imagination.

Do you think that it’s essential for a painter to attend a fine arts school, either at the high school or college level? One may be born with a gift, one may be born with a talent, it certainly does not hurt to go ahead and master that gift and that talent. The only way to do it is to attend school. I am a strong advocate for schooling and education. I believe that an artist will largely benefit from acquiring knowledge about art History and Techniques. The exposure to the art world will certainly contribute to the artist’s success and acknowledgment from his or her peers.

You are a seasoned painter, no doubt. What counsel do you have for those who want to make a career in the world of painting? Passion and determination. The Art world is a very competitive world. You have lots of talents out there. You have to work into creating something unique that will catch one’s attention. You have to develop a style that will eventually become your signature. And it’s not enough to be talented, you have to be smart. You have to acquire some marketing and business knowledge. Yes, it’s great to financially succeed in art, but at the same time, it’s not a guarantee. The economy that we live in make it even harder these days. Individuals will work harder to keep up with their rent or mortgage. Having a painting hanging on their walls has become secondary on their priority list. Paint because you love it, not because you want to become rich. Otherwise, you may be very disappointed. Other great tips: join artists groups, network, sign up and join group exhibits, build your website, create business cards. Social media these days is a great tool. Put your work out there, put your name out there. And remember, if you are looking for an efficient art agent…keep in mind that you are the best art agent you can have. There is this painting in your collection called “The Day I Swam With the Water Lilies”. Is there a story behind it? In 2009, the High Museum of Atlanta announced a four-year collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, that will bring several of Claude Monet’s Water Lily paintings to Atlanta that Summer. I suddenly had a flashback of my first art history class – where each student was asked to write an essay about one of their favorite Art Masters. Of course, I chose Claude Monet. As a founder of the impressionist movement, Claude Monet’s paintings made an impact in the art world to both Landscape and non-Landscape Artists like myself. For the first time I have to say that I felt this sudden urge to create my first landscape piece. There is such a big mystery that lies beneath those lily ponds, located in the back garden of Claude Monet’s home. I felt like I needed to unveil this mystery. After attending the Claude Monet Water Lily exhibit at the High Museum of Atlanta in the Summer of 2009 – after witnessing physically not only the magnitude of these paintings—they were extremely large panels mounted together—I was inspired to create “The Day I Swam With The Water Lilies”. Claude Monet focused on demonstrating those elements on the surface, I decided to demonstrate those same elements below the surface. The woman in the painting illustrates life below Claude Monet’s water lily ponds.

Does it take a lot for you to get inspired? My inspiration comes and goes. I’ve gone months without holding a brush. I have to be mentally free to be inspired. A lot of times just listening to a song gives me a mental picture of a scene that I then want to materialize on a canvas. Sometimes by discovering a new place either outdoor/in nature or on a busy city street, I get inspired. Some are weak and some are strong. And if I look at all the pieces that I’ve created so far, I can pinpoint those created where my inspiration was at its peak and the other way around.

And once you do find that inspiration, do you have to have a particular atmosphere around you for it to keep on flowing? No. Once that inspiration comes around, it comes and flows beautifully. Like I said earlier, each inspiration has its own degree of intensity. I automatically become a “girl interrupted”. I am constantly hunted until every element of it is transferred either on a sketch paper or directly on a canvas. My sketches are the foundation of my paintings. The color application and blending are the residual details being processed in my brain. I have an Art Studio at home. It is truly my comfort zone. That’s where I’m at peace. I am still not an Artist who can participate in groups paintings. I’ve tried many times and never succeeded. I have to be in my comfort zone. I have to be in my element.

What do you like most about being a painter? The freedom that I gain to do practically what I want. The freedom to create what I want. The ability to tell a story. Writers, movie producers, designers—I feel that we all cherish this opportunity to be free.

You’re based in Atlanta. Do you feel that that’s been advantageous? I lived in Miami for fifteen years. We all know that Miami has become, after New York, one of the greatest venues for art culture. When I lived in Miami, I felt like a small fish in a very large pond. In Atlanta, it’s different. It is a city in transition I will say, culturally. The art has greatly evolved in this city I have to say, from when I first moved in 2006. Atlanta is doing a great job in welcoming and providing opportunities to both local and out of state and international Artists. I professionally took my art to the next level when I moved to Atlanta. I have to say that I succeeded not only thanks to my go-getter attitude, but also by taking advantage of what the city itself had to offer me.

What is your biggest source of pride? My biggest source of pride is when a client asks me to commission a painting for their home or office. It really is a great honor when your hard work and talent are appreciated. I’m also honored when a great non-profit organization contacts me to donate a painting for charity. The auction is generally for a great cause. I believe in giving back to the community in what ever way I can. Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I go by these words everyday.

What happens when you’re out on the town, and out of nowhere an idea presents itself. Or you get hit suddenly with inspiration from something you lay your eyes on. But you are without your brush! That’s a very good question. [Laughter] Over time, I’ve acquired the ability to improve my photographic memory skills. My brain has become a hard drive. It stores many things…sometimes too many things. So far I have been able to retrieve them efficiently. I hope those skills last a long time. Of course, over time, with the natural aging process, those skills may gradually diminish, but i think with the technology of taking a photo with an iPhone, I should be okay…eh eh eh…

What do you want your eventual legacy to be? I want to be remembered as a Haitian woman, as a Haitian painter. As the little girl, once captivated by colors and movements. The one who dared to call herself a self-taught artist.

As a painter, what sort of materials can you not do without? I’ve painted with oil in the past but now acrylic paint is the medium that I mostly use. It is known for its fast drying ability. Which can be a problem sometimes, since it restricts you as far as the time factor, to complete the blending process on canvas. Few years ago, a fellow acrylic paint Artist, enlightened me about The Retarder. It is an additive that increases the working time of acrylic paints. It increases workability for “wet in wet”techniques. It is a miracle in a bottle, if you ask me. I always make sure I have enough of that stored in my cabinet so I never run out. In addition, an artist must invest in great sets of brushes too. The Retarder and a great brush are materials I cannot do without.

What’s next for you? I want to keep on painting. I want to keep on creating. I want to become a better painter everyday. Better than the one I was yesterday. My dream is to have my work exhibited in galleries, museums, clients homes, all over the world. One must always reach for the moon even if they end up reaching the lowest branch of the tree. I am currently providing private art lessons to an eight year old little girl. She reminds me so much of myself in so many ways. I am happy to be there to teach her the many art skills I’ve acquired over time. I am like a big sister, a friend, a mentor. She is very talented and has a great passion for painting. I’ve been her teacher for almost two years now. The way she looks up to me as an artist makes every single second of art lessons all worth it.

You can visit Sandrah Chalmers website and see more of her work HERE.


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