Brooklyn-based artist B. Chehayeb’s artistic expression straddles a wide range of mediums. Her practice centres on the reconstruction of memories and is a crucial element of her work.
The process of examining personal history is essential to her as she recalls failed and altered memories shaped by nostalgia, gender and cultural hybridity.
Remembering not only the moments from her past but also the connected emotions. There are no photos or specifics here, just a visual embellishment of consciousness, extracted and captured through the method of painting.
I want to get to a place where I encourage others to examine the small or sacred pieces that make us up and take us into the world. Memories are an important part of our identity, whether partial or accurate, good or bad
These organic manifestations inform the gestures of her brush as she documents her lexicon of retrospections in abstract form, with each evoked memory defining each canvas, producing a poetic encounter for the viewer.
It seems almost too natural to get lost inside these tributes to moments never forgotten. In this interview, we learn more about Chehayeb’s artistic process, notable moments and what’s next for her as an artist.
Q: Hi B! How are you doing? for those who don’t know you, can you please introduce yourself?
A: Hi, I’m real good! Planning for fall shows! Pushing through some good & bad ideas, mostly bad???? Idk My name is B Chehayeb. I’m an artist in Brooklyn. I moved to NY from Boston a while back after graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. A lot of my work references my childhood in Texas and all that comes with those experiences.
Q: How did you get started on your artistic journey, and what have been your most memorable moments so far?
A: I jumped into the art world in high school on a scheduling fluke for a fine arts credit. I realized I liked drawing and painting pretty quickly but what kept me interested was my introduction to contemporary art.
I remember going to the bookstore with my mom and was like, “welp, I’m in art class, so I better get an art book” and ended up with a chubby PHAIDON book literally titled ‘the art book’ Saw a Jenny Holzer piece inside and it was over. The symbolism, the interdisciplinary elements, and more. It all kept me interested in the world around me. My art teacher tried so hard to keep me away from contemporary art. Asking about conceptual artists got her irked, ill never forget the fear in her eyes. We were in a conservative small Texas town.
One of the most memorable moments was almost meeting Jenny Holzer at Mass MoCA during a visit with my mentor Denise Markonish. That evening she had an opening at Mass MoCA in one of the galleries, and Denise mentioned the chances of her being there were pretty small, so I left. As I got on the highway, she was like, “Jenny Holzer is here in the gallery; wanna meet her?” But it was too late; things were already in place for an appointment later that night with my family.
The entire ride, I was shaken up. Constantly playing things in my head, I would say to her and wondering if I should turn around. I was emotional the whole way home. I go back and forth on the idea that you should meet your heroes, so I’m still in an emotionally unresolved place from that situation. Oh well, still memorable. Lots of moments like this
Q: Can you tell us about your creative process?
A: This actually reminds me of a scene in Mad Men where one of the Creative Directors tells a writer that he can see her letting the world pass through her, and this has contributed to this very human quality in her work that many others did not possess. I try to let this ‘passing through’ happen a lot, which can be challenging if you become so obsessed with the grind that you forget you are alive.
I try to process and live, and I try to remember. It’s pretty simple, but also, in living, there is a series of practices. Lots of reading and saving what I read, lots of looking at artworks of others, listening to others when they speak, believing them, never downplaying a sensitive moment, always understanding the connections of things.
Trying to understand, and perhaps value, impulse as much as technical training when it comes to composition and working with materials—having compassion on the ‘former self’ and being willing to process uncomfortable/unresolved elements within the work.
Q: What was the first piece of art you created that cemented your path as an artist?
A: This is tough. I know that I started these text-based paintings in undergrad that pushed me into merging my interest in writing and painting, but these ideas evolved. I began building installations out of personal belongings in grad school?
These ideas evolved. I become interested in abstraction when I started figuring out how to respond to several things at once—pieces of things, full images, incomplete thoughts, writing, the sounds of things, memories.
I guess I started feeling more comfortable with this response style when I started a 50 piece painting series called ‘conversations in a crowded room (50 poems). This was a way to nail down specific elements that surrounded me and process them instantly and directly with mark-making and painting.
I started to practice oscillating between abstraction and representation to imitate the minds way of storing information loosely, this will evolve, but I’m here now cruel world!!
Q: Your work has a running theme examining failed memories, nostalgia, gender and cultural hybridity. Can you tell us the inspiration behind this?
A: Well, I didn’t start critically thinking about how my history informed my work until grad school when a mentor suggested I wasn’t using ‘what I know in the work as much as I was taught.
This was shortly after moving to Boston from Texas, so I was in the middle of a cultural adjustment, lifestyle change, spiritual deconstruction etc. I took this to mean I wasn’t working from a personal place or being honest about my interests in art-making, which was true in a way. Not that artwork has to be personal or autobiographical, but sharing is such a large part of how I connect with the world, and in sharing experiences and story-telling with the work, they become more like sacred artefacts, cave paintings or letters to the future
Q: What are you trying to achieve with your work?
A: I want to get to a place where I encourage others to examine the small or sacred pieces that make us up and take us into the world. Memories are an important part of our identity, whether partial or accurate, good or bad. They dictate, in many ways, the way we form relationships, view others and the world around us and process emotions.
Especially memories impacted by trauma or cultural hybridity. Those can be the most isolating. Story-telling, intimacy, connection, A way to validate the experiences that feel simple but significant by other people of colour, like me or just anyone.
Q: You recently showcased your work at New York’s LAUNCH F18 viewing room titled “it’s seven by the sun”. What was it like to collaborate with F18?
A: Launch F18 has a thoughtful and talented roster of artists they represent, so it was an honour to partner with them. I can tell they care about their artists’ vision and leave it up to them to express the values in the work.
Q: What next for you as an artist?
A: Lunch, Saving up for a ceramics class, looking for overdue library books, planning tattoos ill never get, writing poems that are medium good, still learning the piano (it was a new years resolution three years ago) I’ll be showing some work in Boston this fall in an alumni show and with Ruttkowski,68, at their Paris location in an exhibition curated by Antwan Horfee.
Brainstorming for a 2 Person show with Ochi Projects next year. I’m currently an artist in residence at the Lower East Side Printshop in NYC, so I experimented with monoprints and built a series for a print show later this year in Texas with Galleri Urbane. Check it out!