A conversation with Channe Felton
Words by Tamma Hicks
Channe Felton from New Braunfels, to New York, and Germany.
STEAM When did you begin practicing your art and how did you learn?
CF I began painting in high school (Lafayette, Louisiana) and my first commission was portraits of The Beatles - which I used to pay for guitar lessons. My mother is a wonderful portrait artist who inspired me to continue along that path. I went on to study art at Florida State University, Lamar University and The University of Texas at Austin, where I earned a Bachelor of Fine Art. I also worked as a professional scenic artist for The Dallas Ballet, The Dallas Opera and The Dallas Theater Center as well as the State Theater in Austin.
STEAM Which artists have most influenced your work and who are you favorite artists?
CF Among my favorite artists who I also feel have served as inspirations/influences on my style are Alice Neel, Robert Henri, the French Impressionists as well as their American counterpart, Mary Cassatt. On a more personal level, two former professors stand out as people who encouraged, inspired, challenged and supported me: the late Jerry Newman (Lamar University) and the late Robert Levers (UT).
STEAM Describe your creative process. Do you begin with an idea or an image? What tools do you use in your work?
CF An idea typically comes first, but I couldn't tell where those ideas comes from. Sometimes it's as simple as seeing children playing in a park; other times, it's as complex as a national disaster such as Hurricane Katrina. But before the paint-to-canvas process begins, I always conduct fairly extensive research on my subject matter. To me, it's not enough to "want" to paint something: I need to "know" the essence, personality and history of my subject. As far as "weapons of choice" I'm pretty equal opportunity when it comes to my media: oil, acrylic, silkscreen, collage, pastel, watercolor and mixed media.
STEAM What has inspired your narrative
CF Personal experience (good and bad), events of historical significance (joyous and tragic), stories about the colorful childhood my father spent in New Orleans (and he can spin a tale with the best of them) are at the core of most of my narrative portraits. But dreams, nature and emotions naturally play a part in the creative process, as well.
STEAM Does inspiration come to you or do you actively seek it?
CF I don't think one can hunt down inspiration; I believe sometimes it comes knocking at your door; other times, you trip over it.
STEAM Is there one piece this is special to you, or that you particularly enjoyed creating?
CF "The Katrina Triptych" (2007) is the work I consider my most accomplished. I was raised in southern Louisiana and profoundly affected by the event itself (Hurricane Katrina, 2005) and the lives so tragically affected. The unique culture and history of New Orleans is irreplaceable and is rooted in the African-American community that has resided there for centuries. I felt overwhelmingly compelled to express my emotions on canvas. The Katrina Triptych was conceptualized as both a document and spiritual representation of this American tragedy. A giclee print of the painting was gifted to the Lord Mayor of Koblenz, Germany - a gesture of goodwill by delegates from their sister city, Austin. Many prints of the original have sold in Austin, New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, Palm Beach, Florida, Santa Fe, Savannah and various European cities. It is my hope to be able to bring the original triptych to New Orleans in some capacity for the 10 year anniversary of the event.
STEAM Please tell me about the story behind the Anne Frank narrative painting.
CF I was "gifted" inspiration in the form of a request from an Austin gallery regarding this painting; they wanted me to create something as a symbolic remembrance and respect to those who lost their lives during the Holocaust...at the same time, artistically denouncing the horrors of war. One of my greatest honors and most humbling moments was being on hand when this painting was displayed, along with photographs taken by her father Otto Frank, at the Houston Holocaust Museum. It hung at the museum for six months, and was afterward purchased by a private collector in New York City.
STEAM What are you currently working on?
CF I've been quite involved creating illustrations and graphics for a coffee-table book "Historic Landa Park: Its Springs and Its People" authored by Rosemarie Gregory and Arlene Seales, which will commemorate not only the history of this New Braunfels landmark but also provide funding for preservation and improvements on the park through its sales. The book is projected to be back from the press and available to the public by the end of 2014.
My project in current development is a narrative portrait of my parents, my intent is to portray them as they see each other and recreate the often joyous, occasionally tumultuous timeline of their life together, Naturally, this is such a personal piece of work but my hope is that any who see it would say, "Now that's how I'd like my parents portrayed for perpetuity, too."
STEAM Where is your work on display/available for purchase now?
CF Mi Casa Gallery in Austin; High Cotton Gallery in Gruene; The Children's Advocacy Center of New Braunfels; as well as on-line at www.channefelton.com. A few more add color and personality to the walls of my home in New Braunfels