Have you ever noticed how anything of worth—careers, relationships, books, antique vases—gains value not from the finish line, but from the journey? That attentive (sometimes painstaking) development provides rich meaning. It’s the reason why, when Chelsea Stewart paints, she’s much more fascinated with the process than the product.
“The paint isn’t secondary to whatever I’m trying to represent on the canvas. The paint itself is the actual focus point of the canvas and the piece as a whole,” Stewart explains. “It’s the little moments, the micro-moments, that interest me the most.” She wants viewers to see that voyage across the canvas in its entirety, “the wash all the way to the final touches and highlights that get put on last minute before a show.” By exposing these layers, she reveals “the process of the artist’s hand in the mark making.”
Stewart developed her style two years into her art studies at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Weary of creating paintings that didn’t feel true to her art process, she opted for a bold aesthetic her junior year. “I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to paint a hole and see what happens’…it ended up being one of my favorite pieces.” From then on, Stewart became absorbed with the texture, lines, and composition of geological forms. “I started going crazy with research and experimentation and taking reference photos anywhere I could.” She also signed up for a few geology courses and hiked a few of the volcanic peaks known as San Luis Obispo County’s Nine Sisters.
“With rocks and geological forms there are so many layers to nature and erosion of the pieces,” she describes. “It’s a complete juxtaposition of a painting which is built layer upon layer upon layer.” Fitting to her subject matter, Stewart also began experimenting with environmentally-friendly materials, making her own paper and canvases as well as dyes, inks, and paints.
"With rocks and geological forms there are so many layers to nature and erosion of the pieces. It’s a complete juxtaposition of a painting which is built layer upon layer upon layer."
In her senior year, Stewart thrived in her campus’s shared studio. That close proximity with other artists, a space where ideas rub off as easily as fresh paint, made the ideal environment. “The way people approach the canvas is so interesting to me,” she notes.
But then, COVID-19 hit during her final semester. Graduation, often a rocky transition in itself, became all the more challenging. Stewart, forced to return to her Bay Area home earlier than expected, converted one of her rooms into a makeshift studio. “It messes with the mindset,” she admits of the transition to a much more isolated environment. She also needed to downsize from her preferred 6-foot-long canvases.
However, after rediscovering her stride, she is once again eager to seize any future opportunities that come her way. “I’m excited to see where my work goes,” Stewart asserts.
Article originally appeared in Issue 12.4 "Profiles"