TROUBLED WATERS: MEET PAINTER CHASE HALL
On Blackness Beyond White Imagination
Interview with Antwaun Sargent
October 6, 2020
What led you to painting?
I started painting out of drawing. When I was little, my homework and my tests were filled up with little doodles, faces. Some people hear voices; for me, I see faces. I would walk five to fifteen miles a day making images around New York, or California, where I lived before. And when I'd come home, I just wanted to continue my thought process and keep questioning. Painting was this way for me to metaphorically continue making a mixtape, without having to sing a rap.
Can you talk about how you use the raw cotton canvas in your paintings?
A big part of the mark-making in the composition is really informed by bi-raciality, and this truth that the conflict of existing between these two fixed identities is my lived experience. In my art the use of the literal canvas is critique. I leave parts of the raw cotton canvas unpainted, exposed, as a way to talk about audacity in governance, origin, and the materiality of painting. There is cotton behind all of these paintings that are in the canon of our visual history.
So to expose the cotton is to expose racism in America but also the history of Western painting?
As a Black portrait artist, I couldn't start making these figures on cotton canvas without acknowledging literally why we are here. The cotton canvas has an irony to it, a complexity we are still living with. I want the parts of the paintings that remain exposed to be a symbol for our history, but also, a symbol for these spaces in which art circulates like museums and galleries where you go in and you see that cotton canvas. You're like, “Oh, wow; there is a Black lived experience in a way, and a history on top of this very commodified material.” It also allows for a sculptural, conceptual stroke within the painting that can really define the subject next to these coffee washes or tonal washes that create depth.
I see faces in the whiteness you leave unpainted. Is that intentional?
I've been thinking a lot about the theory of pareidolia, which is where your brain starts seeing faces in things subconsciously, like Jesus on a piece of toast or a monster in the darkness of the woods. It all relates to this idea of fight–or–flight: this very primal instinct of seeing danger too early to prepare yourself or remain resilient in an instance of attack.
The white space in works like Fourth of July, Florida Man, In Red Playing Blues, and even in Porch Sounds—there is this sort of casual erasing of the Black imprint on culture.
And it also allows the viewer to see themself and fill in their history. I want there to be a confrontation, or to go back to bell hooks, an operational gaze of material. In these vacuous spaces, I want there to be the representation of whiteness in the origin of Blackness. How it constrains our experience.