Well known to lovers of homegrown fashion as the founder of luxury leather-goods studio Missibaba, Chloe Townsend’s designs are celebrated for their combinations of bright colours, strong patterns and collaged leather elements. Recently, Chloe turned her hand to paper and paint in a move towards the art world. Her debut solo show, The Magic Cat, took place at The Voorkamer Gallery at Chandler House in Cape Town recently and marked her transition from maker/designer to artist.
The works on the show were a distillation of Chloe’s bold, colourful aesthetic as well as a step towards a new vocabulary that includes still life, interior scenes, lush botanical themes and the surreal. ‘The process of making this work has made me confront heaps of self doubt,’ says Chloe. ‘It has required a willingness to be vulnerable, trust in what wants to be revealed and push through the self-inflicted blocks I imagine most artists encounter when exposing themselves in this way.’
We chatted to her recently about her visual memories, secret talents – and the oddest piece of art she’s ever encountered.
Did you always want to be an artist?
I wanted to be a nurse when I was little but have been drawing obsessively since I can remember. First horses, then blue women with severed arms, hmm, not sure what the psychological meanings of all of this are… but I continue to find happiness working with my hands.
What’s the oddest piece of art you’ve ever seen?
A giant (it’s three metres long!) yellow leather penis and balls pouffe with red zebra stripes, which I made for one of Cameron Platter’s exhibitions in Paris. Quite a thing to make and to behold.
What’s your earliest visual memory?
I clearly remember lying in the room I slept in at my grandmother’s house, staring endlessly at the bright pink carnation print that was applied to curtains, window-seat cushions, bedspread and and and… while simultaneously sending out prayers to miraculously wake up with long, black mermaid hair.
Do you have a secret talent?
I bake a killer spicy banana bread.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Being a mum to a deliciously wild three-year-old lad and running a business, trying to find time to paint, things don’t always run according to plan – in fact, things seldom do. But on a good morning, I wake at 5.30am, meditate for 15 to 30 minutes, gulp down a glass of hot lemon water then head onto the mountain for a walk/run – mainly walking and connecting with the budding day. Then back home to feed my lad and myself and then Hugo, my husband, drives me to the Missibaba studio and Peter to school. I have set up a painting studio within the Missibaba workshop to make it easier to be on top of both worlds. I check in with the Missi crew and once all is in order, I can get to work making some art. I also find the stillness of working late at night allows me to easily access the heart space needed to create. Time seems to run away with me and I often find myself still awake at 2am….aargh! Peter often wakes and wants a cuddle at 3am… so then it’s a 24-hour day #lifeofamum.
Do you have special favourites among the artworks you’ve created, and do you ever tell anyone that a particular work holds this special status?
I definitely have favourites from [The Magic Cat] exhibition, namely ‘A Portrait of Margaret Gray’, which reminds me of my dear friend Meg, who is living in France and whom I miss a lot. I also love the individual artwork ‘The Magic Cat’, which features my fat, rather lazy and wonderfully opinionated cat, Tilly.
What would your last meal – and last drink – be?
My last meal would be harbour-bought yellowtail sashimi with Hugo’s secret lemon dressing and a large dollop of Japanese Kewpie mayo and Leonista (100% Karoo agave spirit) on the rocks.