Theresa Chromati’s Swirling, Unapologetic Rainbow Women

Published May 22, 2019

Photo: Tre Henry. All images courtesy of Kravets Wehby Gallery.

Without even looking at the paintings of artist Theresa Chromati—those of discombobulated women exploding with corporeal color—it’s not difficult to glean her penchant for all things graphic. Chromati’s hair is arranged in neat, swirls on her head as if lifted from a Van Gogh painting; her eyebrows drawn on, thin arches in electric blue. The Guayanese-American artist from Baltimore is debuting her first solo show, Running in Place and Sometimes Walking: At Times I Feel Loved and Paralyzed at Kravets Wehby Gallery in New York’s Chelsea, now on view through June 22. Whether with an interplanetary eyeball, a fishnet-checkered harlequin leg, or a butterfly-encrusted ass, Chromati’s canvases are unabashedly corporeal, dizzyingly surreal, and never without a sense of humor. (Her piece “Hey, I’ll Be There in 5. Can I Bring a Few Guests? (Me and Me’s)” is a nod to fully owning one’s habit for lateness.) “That’s me,” she says. “I’m a savage. I’m just a sun Sag and a Leo rising. It’s a lot of fire.” Below, Chromati talks us through the exhibition, which explores black vulnerability, the power of the female form, and the twisted beauty of a scrotum flower. 

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“I Already Let That Shit Go (Moving On)”

“This is another legless woman. She just feels very quiet. Her eyes are very gentle, but the motion of her legs are popping up in the blue areas that are popping through the transparency. I’m interested in these ghost-face spaces and the contrast between the opaque figures. I’ve been working with the legless woman for a few years now, but I’m just starting to incorporate other forms of legs to attach to her. The scrotum flower is mimicking the legs, and the feet are all detached. It’s a self-love moment. I feel there’s many directions of my self, and it’s a work in progress loving all those different aspects. I want to raise conversation in the work about finding love and acceptance of all forms of yourself because they make you who you are, and they’re part of your journey moving forward.”

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“Here We All Go (Stepping Out to Step In)

I wanted to capture a lot of energy and a lot of motion in this one. It shows her moving out of this gray space into this colorful one, and what that means feeling-wise. But I also wanted to capture the tiredness in her eyes, the softness. This face is kind of an all-seeing face because it’s separated from the body. I wrote a poem for the statement of the show after I saw a photo of the black hole in the news. I was really affected by that—this natural phenomenon that we just weren’t aware of. It made me think about women, specifically black women, where it’s been a proven fact that doctors and scientists don’t sense that black women feel pain. If you don’t think that black women feel pain, imagine what other emotions you don’t think are being felt.”

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“We All Look Back At it (Morning Ride)”

“This is pretty much a sex scene. The hands are grasping the butt, but then these clouds also started popping up in the piece. It’s contrasted between the purple and the yellow, which feels very whimsical, like a French clown, but also very seductive because of the fishnets. It’s like she’s carrying all this weight, but also trying to succeed in love, in a way. Those are two breasts behind her. The breast had taken on this other energy, swimming behind her. One morphs into a face, and for the other nipple, I used a soft sculpture. It’s basically like a breast implant.”

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“Hey, I’ll Be There in 5. Can I Bring a Few Guests? (Me and Me’s)”

The butterfly’s on the butt. This person is being kind of let go, and sucked into this whirlpool. The title is all about owning that you’re bringing all of this weight—this personality, whichever form that you’re in and however you’re feeling—into the space. It’s kind of like a joke. I’m like, ‘Oh, can I bring all these guests with me, is that okay?’ You’re owning that you’re going to show up late and bring all of yourself.”

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“You Always Show Me More”

This white ghostly figure is opening its eyes, like a running flower. Here you see the scrotum flower, which is just like this blending of this feminine energy of flower petals and the actual scrotum. I really see that as this alternate source of power. A lot of times it becomes this treasure hunt in these paintings to see where the scrotum flower is. This figure here has the scrotum flower kind of hidden in its neck, and she’s silencing the voice in there, but also allowing the power to come with her. Not just stomping around. There are a couple smiley faces in there. I really pack a lot in there. I like to hide things.”