Chelsea Hrynick Browne is no stranger to public art. The mixed-media abstract artist has been creating large-scale public installations for over a decade. Based in New York and Sag Harbor, Browne’s work activates storefronts and public spaces, often with the help of local communities. His work has appeared on many surfaces, including universities and hospitals. In his latest project, with the whimsical title sparkling garden, she collaborated with the Children’s Museum of the East End and talented residents of the Sag Harbor area of the Hamptons to create new public works for the Kaufman Arcade Building in New York’s Garment District, on view until 27 may. We spoke with her about the importance of art in personal and public healing.
Annabel Keenan: You’ve made a name for yourself as an artist working in public installations, and you also work on a smaller scale and in a variety of media. When did you start making art? Are there any specific themes that you address in your work?
Chelsea Hrynick Browne: I’ve been doing art all my life. My creations are very intuitive. I consider myself a visually sensitive person and have a background in mathematics. I am interested in creating opportunities and fostering creative communities aligned with the creation of new pieces and practices. Much of my art relates to healing. When I’m not working on works that inspire me, I fall into anxiety and depression. Art is a tool I use to interact and learn about reality. I listen to books while working and reflect on the artwork materially, socially and financially. I believe that art has a powerful supernatural quality, and I think it has become the bone on which my life must be supported. I am much healthier, happier, hopeful and helpful when working on art and appreciated for my creativity and work ethic.
AK: It’s a very nice way to describe the role of art as a tool through which people can heal. When we first met at The National Arts Club, you mentioned some of your past and current public art projects, including collaborations with hospitals and health centers. How did you start doing public art? What do you think makes a successful public art installation?
CHB: I discovered public art for the first time when I was at university. I did illustrations for UW Health, the hospital part of the University of Wisconsin. I think successful public artwork looks great, inspires spiritually and/or intellectually, comes from a place of love, and is aware of its viewers, but doesn’t over-treat them. If the public artwork can enhance the place it is in and the location it is in can enhance the artwork, that is a wonderful partnership.
AK: What really interested me when we first met was your current project with The Garment District Alliance, an installation that includes works by children from the Children’s Museum of the East End. How did you enter the museum?
CHB: A mum blogger connected me with the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE) at the start of Covid. I was new to the East and was looking for places to be artistically involved and to which I could add value. This will be my third project with them. I love working with children and the institution is a charming, imaginative and kind place. The other two projects were on location and were a window installation and art workshops with hand cut paper and rainbow ribbons.
AK: How did the project with The Garment District Alliance come about?
CHB: As an artist interested in public art, I am always looking for calls for applications. I applied for a mural project for the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which was not accepted, but it gave me the opportunity to pitch the idea of an installation with beautiful shiny pieces of fabric for window space The Garment District offers artists. When this was accepted, I contacted CMEE to see if they would be interested in a collaborative project with children, and they loved the idea. The works presented were all made specifically for the installation.
AK: It’s great that you’ve been able to integrate your work with CMEE into your public art practice here in the city. I’m sure kids like to see their work on display. Did you give the children instructions on the appearance of the works?
CHB: The only instruction was that it be collages of recycled fabrics on canvas tiles. I ran workshops with the kids and was happy to help those who needed and wanted it. Many children had a strong, natural idea of what they wanted to create and were drawn to specific colors or shapes. Some kids who came with their siblings ended up creating two tiles together. I thought that was really cute. All of the children had parents and/or babysitters with them and I found that they took on a helping role in the assembly and design. The caregivers enjoyed the process themselves and were helpful and encouraging. CMEE staff were helpful in the overall flow, I am very grateful and admire their direct and caring approach to leadership. Some kids wanted to take their fabric tiles home and that was fine.
AK: Will the installation become part of the museum’s collection when it is dismantled or returned to individual artists?
CHB: It will be at the museum!
AK: It’s great for the kids involved. What was the highlight of the installation for you?
CHB: To see how happy people were at CMEE during the creation process. Children, caregivers and staff enjoyed the activity. For me, it was fun to see CMEE staff who hadn’t originally planned to participate artistically picking up fabric and paint and making their own tiles after the workshops were over. I also included them in the installation.
AK: I love that people have changed their minds about their participation. It’s nice to see art push people out of their comfort zone.
CHB: Certainly. I also always like to meet passers-by during an installation. I love these moments of connection, not seeking admiration for the work, but in awe of how creating artwork simultaneously opens doors to new places and new avenues to meet people. with different opinions and origins. Art is a wonderful common ground on which people can connect. I love being in a space where I can share what I’ve been working on and openly connect with people rather than worry about their opinions on it. I don’t get too attached to the artwork, I love connecting with people, especially after working alone for many hours during the creative process.
AK: One of the first things we talked about at the National Arts Club was how repurposed materials can be used in art to breathe new life into something that would otherwise be thrown away. In many ways, your reuse of materials is another extension of your artwork as a conduit for healing. By reusing materials, you contribute to a healthier planet. This also relates to a previous project of yours titled Angel, in which you have reused past public art projects in a piece of work pasted on canvas. How did you decide to do this work?
CHB: I realized this in the spring of 2020. I was restless and eager to create new art and wanted to create something of beauty, strength and peace. I wanted to create a centerpiece that had weight, but was also delicate, balanced, and hinted at a bigger story behind its creation. Since it was early in the pandemic, it seemed natural to use pieces I already had under my bed, which were 8″ by 8″ collages from a previous installation in New York. I had over 200.
Using old artwork allows me to reassess my life, my thoughts, my experiences with a new perspective, and I find it deeply therapeutic and uplifting. Similar to searching through old newspapers. There are the memories we keep, the thoughts we have in our heads of things from the past, and then there are the actual documents and the written accounts. When I’m confronted with the past, it can be uncomfortable and repetitive, redundant and trigger ruminations. However, if I am able to look to the past and come to conclusions and an understanding of the greater reality in which I exist and gain appreciation and insight, it can be incredibly healing and transformative for me. propel forward.
AK: It’s a very nice way to see your art as a diary. Can you share what’s coming your way or any other projects you’re working on?
CHB: Fingers crossed! I have a few ideas in the works.
sparkling garden is on view through May 27 at the Kaufman Arcade Building, 132 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018
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