Artist exploring Botswanan beauty
December 15, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Living part time in Botswana, as she has for over five years, has disconnected Chloe Sells from the art world. The 30-year-old Sells, who was born and raised in Aspen, lives in a pair of residences in the south African country: a house on an island in the Okavango Delta and another in Maun, a town of 35,000 – “a dirt town, lots of dirt roads, donkeys,” says Sells – where the art scene is limited to basket-weaving and the local crafts center.Sells is not the sort to thrive, artistically, in isolation. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, she craves interaction with other artists and their work, which she satisfies by scanning the Internet.
“I look at art all the time. I look at photography all the time,” said Sells, who lives part time in Los Angeles, and also travels extensively. “I need the art community of the world as a backbone, a place to step from. The only way to become a better artist is to look at art as much as possible.”In Africa, Sells has found plenty of subjects for her photography, enough that her other interest, drawing, largely has been put aside. Her most consuming subject has been the Botswanan beauty pageants that are a big part of the social scene for teenage girls. On a trip in February to the northern region of Namibia – an area she was unfamiliar with – Sells took photographs of the people and landscapes for her new series, Out of Africa Always Something New.Sells exhibited the Out of Africa images recently at Art Basel Miami, a massive fair that has become among the most important stages in American art. Pieces from the series will rotate in and out of the group show Peaces, at LivAspenArt, in Aspen Highlands Village. The show – which also features paintings by Tori Mitas-Campisi, Carrie Tripp and galley owner Olivia Daane Reische, and jewelry by Andrea Farber – opens with a reception today from 4-10 p.m.
The need for immersion in the contemporary art world, and the fact that she spends approximately half the year about as removed from that world as possible, has led to an interesting artistic existence for Sells. Her dark room is in Los Angeles, so she can go months between shooting photographs in Botswana and developing and printing them in Los Angeles. Vital equipment can be difficult to come by in Africa and technical assistance even harder.On this last matter, Sells enlists the help of her childhood friend Justin Officer, another Aspen product. Officer is now a photographer’s assistant at Smashbox, a big commercial studio in L.A.”He’s a real techie geek,” said Sells. He knows every little bit of a lighting problem I may have and he can sort me out. Those things make my photographs better, and that’s not available in Africa.”
Sells, whose boyfriend is South African, still finds exotic elements to her adopted continent. But she says it is seeing Africa as a familiar place, not as a foreign land, that has helped with her photography.”It’s a lot less foreign to me now, and that’s a lot better,” said Sells, whose work is also exhibited in Aspen’s Omnibus Gallery, owned by her father, George Sells. (Her mother, Casey Koffman, owns and runs Takah Sushi.) “The beauty pageant work has been facilitated by being comfortable with the place. The mentality of the people, at least in south Africa, is no longer foreign to me.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org