The artist brings thunder and dazzling vortexes of color to Kravets Wehby Gallery.
A sigh, a whisper, and a tender clap of thunder hover in the gallery—a mellow soundscape conceived by artist Theresa Chromati for her first solo show in New York, currently on view at Kravets Wehby Gallery. In Running in Place and Sometimes Walking: At Times I Feel Loved and Paralyzed, Chromati fills up the compact space with energy, color, texture, and sound, a testament to her enthusiasm for experimenting with new mediums.
Chromati grew up in Baltimore, studied graphic design at Pratt in Brooklyn, and started painting in order to expand the vocabulary she had developed as an artist of multiple genres. Her work—textured, playful, imaginative—is similar to her wardrobe. When we meet, she is wearing a glittery orange dress and dangly earrings filled with water, her baby hairs artfully gelled and her eyebrows coated in electric blue. Much like the whimsical and confident women surrounding her on the gallery walls.
“My practice in general is basically this autobiographical self-portraiture of fragments of myself walking through space. So throughout my practice, all the women have been activated by these archways in the paintings, and their pathway has also been activated by these checkerboard tiles,” she says, pointing to a canvas. “I’ve also been using butterflies in this particular show, and I’ve been seeing them as freedom and allowing yourself to have permission to be free.”
Chromati’s canvases brim with vortexes of brilliant color, braiding together the distorted bodies of women with arches, clouds, and ghostly glittering projections. The women all have different stories that reveal themselves to the artist as she paints, as if channeling some supernatural force in the process of creation.
“The work is really just focusing on the duality of women’s emotions today and your access to happiness and optimism and moving forward,” Chromati explains. As she guides me to the painting Here We All Go (Stepping Out to Step In), she tells me about the figure of a woman stepping out of gray clouds and into an ocean of technicolor. Per the artist, “it’s a central figure within another central figure, trying to capture the exhaustion that is coming with her, to show that even if you have had all of these feelings, you can still move forward and you’re still pushing. The most important thing is motion.”
The paintings remind me of “Cosmic Love,” a song by Florence & the Machine. At the center of harps and bells, Florence sings, “I took the stars from your eyes and then I made a map / and I knew that somehow / I would find my way back.” Chromati’s women seem to float in other dimensions, maybe even in the cosmos, but their otherworldly energies are grounded by an air of strength and conviction. Gazing at High Love, My Love, she tells me, “This is a love scene between the central figure and the other versions of herself floating above her in this dark but airy and ethereal space […] Women can feel anxiety about holding something back versus showing something, or hiding versus bringing all of yourself. That’s something that I feel, but more conversation we can learn to find some kind of ease in that.”
Chromati’s paintings may speak in a playful register, but what they say demands attention to the multiple ways of being and existing in a body marked female. “I want women to be represented, in control, and at ease,” she says. “It’s about granting yourself permission to be who you are, and being assertive to feel comfortable with all that you are in space and demanding that others should be embracing all forms of you. That is what creates a true safe haven for you to heal and to grow.”
Theresa Chromati’s “Running in Place and Sometimes Walking: At Times I Feel Loved and Paralyzed” is open through June 22 at New York’s Kravets Wehby Gallery.