Local artist Chelsea Michal Garter wears many hats. In addition to making art, she styles hair and designs tattoos, but painting is where her heart is.
“I used to paint really bright, large animals,” Garter said. “I think I got bored of doing more realistic-type work, so then that sort of got boring, too. I just took the color palette that I had been working with for a long time with the animals, and then I transitioned into abstract.”
Experimenting with bold colors and playing with shape and texture through abstract painting is how Garter expresses herself.
“Abstract work, for me, is sort of like journaling,” she said. “It’s just an expression of whatever is going on, I guess, in my life. Sometimes I’ll use color palettes from different scenery or different places I’ve been or pictures that I see. Some of it’s just an expressed emotion.”
Garter also enjoys drawing and line work. Community is important to her, and her interconnected contour portraits convey just that.
“The face line drawings, the ones that are of multiple faces connected, they’re just an expression of what community means to me and how we just need other people in order to make it,” Garter said. “We need other people’s experiences. We need to be able to learn and grow together and from each other.”
COVID-19 has impacted the arts community in different ways. For Garter, the pandemic put things in perspective.
“It was a good time to be able to think through what I want to prioritize,” she said. “I have even thought about not doing tattoos and stuff anymore, and just focusing on abstract work.”
As Garter was adjusting to life in a pandemic, something unexpected happened.
“As an artist, I feel like it gave me a lot of confidence, actually, because I sold a ton of stuff,” Garter said. “I don’t know if that’s because people are home and they’re thinking about how to design their home, but yes, it’s been really fun to get some pieces that I had in storage or at my house and be able to sell them.”
Between projects, Garter likes to explore ways to challenge herself and expand her craft.
“I really like working in 4-by-5-foot sizes, and I just ordered some canvases that are larger, so I’m really excited to work even bigger than I have been working and push myself and challenge myself a little bit more,” Garter said. “I also have been painting some really small pieces as well, which is not typical for me. It’s easier for me to work larger, and I can spread my arms out and express myself in a bigger way.”
Garter said she is excited to see art flourishing around Grand Rapids, especially since folks weren’t always supportive of her transition to abstract painting.
“When I started painting abstract, I found, a lot of people questioned me,” Garter said. “It seemed people in this area tended to like more realistic work that was easier to understand. Finally, it feels like abstract art is making its way into the city as the city is becoming more alive to art in general. I feel like Grand Rapids has really grown in their expression of art with all the murals around town, and it’s just really cool to see that happening.”