(Xenia, Ohio, 1961 - )
Gary Chapman was born in Xenia, Ohio on July 25, 1961. The son of a stay-at-home mother and a blue collar father, Chapman had no formal art training as a child. He took one or two art classes as a high school student but it wasn't until he got to college that art really became of serious interest. (1) He received his undergraduate degree from Berea College in Kentucky obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Art and a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Arts, Technology and Management. In 1986 he attended Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and received a Master of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing. From 1986 to 1990 he lived in Philadelphia and Baltimore producing art and exhibiting in local galleries. He has also taught painting at Interlochen Center for the Arts during the summers of 1986, 1987, and 1989. In 1990 he became an Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
Like many students, Chapman went to college unsure of what career he wanted to pursue. He was interested in psychology and architecture. By fusing those two areas of interest he found contentment in art. He states, "I had sort of gone off to college thinking about a lot of different things like psychology and I was really interested in architecture so it's kind of fitting that, you know, psychology, which is sort of about the mind, personal experiences and architecture, which is about the visual aesthetic, you know, it kind of makes sense after a while those two things melted together and that's really what art is all about."2 The fusion of the two areas gave Chapman something he could obsess over, an obsession he said that could have led in many directions but resulted in a career in painting.
Chapman is heavily influenced by Medieval art associated with Christianity and the Baroque style of the Counter-Reformation. His love of Caravaggio [Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, ca. 1573-1610] and chiaroscuro weighs heavily in all of his work. One can see a continuum in his paintings of the dramatic lights and darks that enable a spiritual and haunting tone. In the way that the Counter-Reformation's purpose was to draw people back to the Catholic Church, its art was a restatement of the works of an earlier era. Medieval art portrayed heavenly figures and relied on symbols to instruct true followers of Christ how to obtain entrance to heaven. He has been further influenced by Kandinsky's teachings on the spiritual in art. Chapman's blend of contrasting styles, one utilizing common-looking people and the other focused on symbolism, allows his art to revive the subject matter of redemption. He uses the figure as a device to relate to the viewer although he does not define himself as a figurative artist. Chapman's figures serve as symbols to comment on both social and spiritual concerns.
(1) The information in this documentation was obtained through a telephone interview with the artist, conducted by curatorial intern Heather Tracy on July 12, 1999. A transcript of the interview is located in the artist's vertical file of the MMFA Library. The artist responded to the question "Did you have any formal training as a child?" by resonding, "No, none. I mean I took one or two art classes in high school and it wasn't until I got to college, my junior year of college, when I took an art class and things began to click."
Image credit: Gary Chapman, 2019, Photograph courtesy of Gary Chapman