When habits become habits.


A good chair is something to be admired. As a kid I belived chairs threw parties and danced at night when we went to sleep. Even now as I write this I am bombarded with all the chairs I remember from childhood: my Grandpas wicker chair, my dad’s brown chair, the round bed like chair at the lake, the striped couch my parents bought when we moved into the house I grew up in, the brown couch my sister, Maggie puked on, then taken to the laundromat to clean resulting in one of the corners getting stuck in their dryer leaving a small portion melted into a hard mass (we turned that over, so it wasn’t visible). But, when I was alone, I’d reach down and touch it — the texture smooth. The stupid chairs of school that were plastic static magnets always having some girls long hair clinging to the backseat. The chairs at the kitchen table with wheels. I still feel guilt about pulling Maggie's shoulder making her trip into one of the wheels, leading to an emergency room visit and stitches on her head, I was happy to see those chairs go.

Chairs hold more than bodies for me, and it’s a subject that has weaseled its way into my work. I like weasels for this reason: sometimes I want to paint, but I don’t know what. And there are two approcheds I have historically taken. The first, become ok with the not knowing, let myself settle in a space I feel comfy in, then allow a subject to reveal itself. The other, is to say to myself: ‘I’m going to make a series of paintings of ‘xyz’ and then I’ll have a body of work, and I will feel good that I am making painting’s, that can be categorized and understood as such, thus validating me as a painter. Approach number two more often than not leads to results that are visually boring, and the paintings feel dead. Approach number one is calming, exciting, and makes me feel grounded in life. The byproduct of approach number one are paintings that tell me something after it's made, but while I am painting it’s just me, the subject, and paint. I give this insight because I am not a painter who creates conscious ‘bodies of work’. In creating a life that allows my work and life to flow I pay close attention to the third eye and follow.

My point being, chair paintings just happen. The most difficult time of my life were the months of December 2016-May 2017. Just prior to this I had my most productive period of art making. I found subjects that took for me, some guts to paint (asking someone to sit for a painting, choosing to abandon a formal studio setting, and locking myself up with a rabbit on Sundays). But that December friends moved, and I too was staring down the barrel of many life changes that I didn’t have much choice over. Panic. Then, a chair I'd know for years saved me.

The chair was an ocher velour upholstered padded number, which I had sat through during grad school, and the same chair my soul sister, Skylar sat in for a series of paintings. Skylar had recently moved and I missed her desperately — I missed something else being alive in my presence of making, even if we were in our own spaces. The chair somehow served as a bridge, which visually made me feel like she was there. So, I placed a book I knew she’d love to read on the chair, then made a painting, the comedy was that she might be tempted by the cushion and literature awaiting her attendance. A wave of ‘I’m going to be ok’ came over me, and in the coming weeks I found myself placing a few other objects on the chair. Then one day I stopped, after painting a black bag on this chair the results somehow visually told me something I didn’t want to consciously admit — I needed to end something that ended long ago. After that, the chair paintings stopped, as they had served their purpose. Until March of 2020 when life’s uncertainties due to Covid became apparent.


I have a yellow chair that was part of my grandparents wedding set in my bedroom, the Yellow makes me gush every time I see it. The first painting I made during my 'new normal' was of this empty chair. When I stepped back from the painting I thought ‘uh, oh’. I knew what empty chairs in my orbit meant: loneliness. So, I again, started using the chair as a place for objects rather than people to sit. Have a seat, small cake I made for a friend, favorite book that keeps me company, or loaf of bread I learned to make etc. These felt comical and healing. I didn’t know I was building a body of work, until all of a sudden I didn’t want to make any more yellow chair paintings….so I stopped.

Fast forward to September 2020 when I moved back to Ireland. The grim apartment I first rented had little charm, aside from a pink chair held together by glue from a glue gun. It had a delicate quality, in its pathos, demanding depiction in paint. The first image of him was full of nervousness, my jetlag, trepidation, and excitement of this new adventure before me somehow worked itself into the brushwork. I believe four ‘successful’ paintings of this chair have been made, and all have their own birth narrative. The other day, unsure of what to paint, I thought: I could put something on the pink chair and paint it. This statement is boring. The thought tells me that I could fall into the trap of making a series of paintings because I made similar ones to it. This thinking can lead to shit paintings that are only justified by their relation to their siblings. Nein, danke. The trouble here, is that in that moment I still had nothing to paint, I was still creatively wandering. But, the wandering is where I thrive, it leads me to the next subject that I would be so sorry to miss out on.

© 2020 Mollie Douthit

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