In an art museum you see pieces you hate, pieces that you love and some that you are indifferent toward, then you move on to the next piece. The experience is one dimensional, and honestly it can be boring unless you’re looking for a specific artist that you admire. If you already know that you like something, it takes away from the experience of discovering it and experiencing it. Really, there’s only so much to experience if all you can do is look.
Paul Chatem’s art doesn’t only speak to viewers, it draws them in and moves with them. Chatem’s most fascinating pieces contain clockwork. He’s a woodworker and an artist. Viewers become part of the art by moving a lever or turning a gear that makes the art move. His characters and stories come to life by using your hands. “I wanted to do something that drew people in and made them want to spend time in front of my work,” Chatem said with Creep Machine, an art blog.
Comic books influence his work. That inspiration is seen through his use of distinct, clean lines and the use of storytelling in his pieces. He is also inspired by vintage advertising and animation. Both are immediately recognized through the characters in his art. These characters in each story are important to Chatem. They perpetuate the plot line that he wants the viewer to understand. He specifically chooses human characters so his audience has something to relate to in his art.
For his show “Another Man’s Hero,” the comic inspiration is apparent, but it contains a slight twist. “The subject matter in the new show is a mixture of characters that ride the fine line between right and wrong. The main idea of the show was to explore the idea of one person’s perspective of themselves versus how others see them. One man’s hero is another man’s villain,” Chatem explained to the contemporary art and culture website Warholian. So, while he wants to give us something to relate to, we also need to think – we need to consider our positions and our actions and realize we all may not be the hero of the story.
Chatem was born in Bellevue, Wash., but grew up in La Crescenta, Calif., the outskirts of Los Angeles. He got his bachelor’s degree from Kansas City Art Institute. After receiving that degree, he showed his art in coffee shops and art shows in Los Angeles. The difference between the rich and the poor is the main theme in all of his works. People are looking for something to help them escape. In his art, there is no representation of that escape because it can’t be found. The escape doesn’t exist, the nightmarish theme is something he saw first-hand living in La Crescenta with its relation to Los Angeles.
Another recurring object in Chatem’s work is the Ishihara Color Test. The cards with colored dots are used to test for color-blindness. Several pieces contain the color test because he wanted to push himself as an artist. It gives us a look into Chatem’s life. By looking at his works, you’d never guess. As Creep Machine’s Joshua G said in a review of Chatem’s work, he never would have guessed that Chatem is colorblind by looking at his pieces “… since the colors he uses are so harmonious and consistent, but that’s obviously a sign of a skilled artist.”
In future pieces, Chatem explains that he wants to continue to push himself in his art and woodwork. He promises to devote as much time and energy that he can so people won’t be able to predict what they’ll experience with his art.
Chatem’s art interacts with the audience. You can create action by controlling the movement that he brings to his pieces. Instead of just staring and moving on to the next piece, you can take the time to really get involved.