By Michael Aaron Gallagher of StayFamous.Net
As the camera pans across the industrial chic concrete walls of the living room, during the apartment tour of popular YouTube star Emma Chamberlain in Los Angeles, there’s an eclectic, mid-century modern vibe to the art and décor that could easily grace the pages of Architectural Digest or Vogue magazine. More than 5.9 Million viewers have seen the exquisite backdrop of fine art in room after room, as if they were being given a private tour around an exclusive London gallery or the home of a wealthy art collector.
On display, behind a yellow couch, hangs a stunning horizontal landscape painting with shadows of green across the angular expanse of a mountain range, which almost reaches up to touch the billowing clouds above. Adjacent to the sprawling natural beauty of the California countryside, there is an iconic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bright redness of its rigid metal frame vertically set against the backdrop of a cool blue sky.
Across from the kitchen, one of the most playful pieces hangs above the dining room table, cheerily inviting the viewer to enjoy a breakfast for two. With its bright white motif and baby blue place settings, it whimsically plays with the perspective of two plates of eggs, sunny-side-up, nestled between two smaller still-life paintings of bananas and a ripe avocado cut in half. In the hallway, you can almost hear the sounds of a trolley, as it glides along the street in a stunning San Francisco cityscape.
But what makes this young celebrity’s art collection so extraordinary is that all of the oil paintings were created by the same artist (her father) – San Francisco based painter, Michael Chamberlain. After his work caught my eye, I set out to learn more about the man behind the captivating pictures. I quickly discovered that the artist himself is equally as impressive as his work.
Inspired by visionaries like American realist painter Edward Hopper, who is best known for his iconic painting entitled “Nighthawks” (of a late night scene at a city diner), Chamberlain’s own plein air paintings are reminiscent of the great California impressionists of the 20th Century. But he didn’t originally set out to become a full-time artist with a large catalogue raisonné.
“I never planned on being a professional artist,” Chamberlain said. “I started painting in order to have original oil paintings in my home and found that I loved the process. I soon began selling my work online to earn some extra income and help pay for supplies. In 2013, it became necessary to paint full time in order to have enough work to take advantage of some opportunities that were presenting themselves (shows, commissions, etc.), so I quit my job as an electrician and have been painting full time ever since.”
Self-taught, Chamberlain first began learning how to paint by reading library books on the subject and by studying other artists, a practice he continues to this day. He carefully examines the works of the great masters in a variety of genres, often pouring over thousands of paintings online and during his frequent visits to museums and art galleries, as he searches for inspiration, for ideas and to appreciate their overall technique and artistry.
“Every time I visit a museum I leave feeling I need to up my game. I don’t get that same motivation when viewing work online,” Chamberlain said. “My last museum visit was to the Laguna Art Museum. While walking around that show I realized I want to paint larger and more expressively. I visit museums every chance I get.”
Despite his success, Chamberlain is surprisingly modest about his work. He is humble, often self-critiquing, and yet extremely kind and approachable to his fans. Whether he is posing for group selfies or answering viewer questions in his monthly Q&A videos, he generously takes the time to share a bit of his world and wisdom with his audience.
In the early days of YouTube, Chamberlain posted videos of himself singing with his guitar. What began as a way for him to share his music as an aspiring songwriter, ultimately evolved into a platform for him to showcase his art. Now, eleven years later, his new channel has become a mix of travel adventures, personal stories, Q&As and video tutorials, in which he occasionally offers tips to beginners with a calm, fatherly patience, much like the legendary Bob Ross.
Unlike many contemporary YouTubers, Chamberlain isn’t seeking the glitz of fortune or the glamor of fame. Instead, he is slowly forging his own way in the art world. His growing popularity online has, to date, resulted in 2.1 Million video views, more than 132,000 YouTube subscribers and 108,000 Instagram followers. Much of the demand for his art has resulted from a slow, word-of-mouth, grassroots-style marketing effort that isn’t about bringing undue attention to the artist himself. Instead, it is about celebrating the beauty in each of his new creations and sharing it with an audience around the world, who have come to love and appreciate his work.
“It can take a long time to establish yourself as a painter, so I’ve learned to focus on enjoying the journey,” he said. “Hard work seems to open doors of opportunity, so I just keep working hard.”
That dedication, to perfecting his craft and painting as often as possible, has allowed him to develop as an artist, as he evolved from the more rigid sketches of his early days to the fluidic style he has adopted today. Now that he has developed a more refined artistic process and discovered his own unique “voice,” his work has attracted the attention of respected art galleries, like STUDIO Gallery in San Francisco, Elliot Fouts Gallery in Sacramento and SHOH Gallery in Berkeley, which represent him.
“It’s always a thrill to see a gallery solo show of my paintings for the first time,” Chamberlain said. “It’s satisfying to see months of hard work thoughtfully hung in a beautiful space. Seeing all the work in one location also allows you to view the work as a unified visual statement and assess the direction you’ve been taking.”
Each of his pieces, whether they are landscapes, citiscapes or still-life paintings have their own unique energy to them, bringing commonplace scenes to life. They aren’t overworked or burdened by complexity. What separates good artists from the great ones is the ability to evoke emotion through the subject, composition and colors. Chamberlain’s best works elicit a response from the viewer because they tell a story with paint. They are vibrant and full of life – light, sound and color.
“I usually look for interesting patterns of light and shadow,” he explained. “I’m realizing that a well composed painting with a convincing feeling of light will mostly likely succeed regardless of the subject matter.”
The breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay area have long served as the inspiration behind many of his best pieces. Having grown up on the West Coast, it is a subject he knows well. Originally from New Jersey, Chamberlain moved out to California with his family when he was 13 years old. It was there that he would eventually blend his love for the outdoors with his passion for creative expression.
“My dad had a summer job in San Francisco back in the 1960s, when he was a college student,” Chamberlain recalls. “He fell in love with the area and later decided to move the family west.”
Over time, he has ventured out, seeking new locations to paint and interesting subjects in out-of-the-way places. “There’s a lot of natural beauty out here and I love sharing it in my videos,” he said. “I compose my scenic video shots the same way I compose my paintings.”
Always in search of a visually inspiring scene, Chamberlain says he is drawn to the idea of one day returning to his boyhood stomping grounds to paint.
“I’d like to paint some of the places of my childhood memories,” he said. “Montclair, New Jersey and Welfleet, Massachusetts, for example. I’m not sure what it would feel like to visit these locations and experience them as a painter. I’m very curious!”
For those who are fortunate enough to own one of his oil paintings, there is often the added joy of being able to see how a particular work took shape by watching his YouTube videos, in which he shares a behind-the-scenes look at the creative decisions and effort it took to create them. Once his works leave the art gallery though, there is no telling where a painting might eventually end up, whether it is shipped off to an overseas collector or it will decorate the walls of the next YouTube star in LA.
“I don’t ever think about the legacy of my paintings,” Chamberlain said. “I’m focused on making discoveries in my work and pushing myself to grow as a painter. My motivation is almost purely personal when creating the work. I figure if I impress myself, somebody will like it enough to buy it. Discovery is what excites me most about the painting process. It’s what keeps me going.”
With the power to catch your eye and transform a living space, Michael Chamberlain’s mesmerizing works will undoubtedly continue to inspire art observers for many years to come. In the mean time, however; you are most likely to find him enjoying the adventure, as he stands beside his easel with brush in hand, on a hillside or busy sidewalk, catching the shadows of a setting sun with the boyish enthusiasm of a California prospector about to strike gold.
For more information about how to purchase Michael Chamberlain’s paintings, subscribe to his YouTube Channel (click here), follow him on Instagram @ChamberlainPaintings and visit his official website www.chamberlainpaintings.com. Chamberlain is represented by STUDIO Gallery in San Francisco, Elliot Fouts Gallery in Sacramento and SHOH Gallery in Berkeley. You can also support him on Patreon, where he offers exclusive rewards to donors, including a small original oil painting for higher tier contributions at www.patreon.com/chamberlainpaintings.
“Michael Chamberlain Painting in Plein Air”
Copyright © 2018 by Michael Aaron Gallagher
Photography courtesy of Michael Chamberlain
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