If there’s one thing in life guaranteed to make you forget your troubles, it’s a Friday night trip to Pizza Hut for the all‐you‐can‐eat buffet. I can still hear the bowls of neon‐coloured jelly, half‐melted ice cream, and too‐hard mini marshmallows calling from the more joyful recesses of my youth.
Artist Chloe Wise’s childhood trips to the Hut were, arguably, slightly more sophisticated. Despite the gastronomical delights of a fast food smorgasbord that would surely distract most other children, Wise and her mother would take time between mouthfuls to make art.
“We’d go to Pizza Hut and we’d be drawing on the napkin together,” she says. “Like, portraits of each other.”
The Canada‐born New York‐based artist has always had a persistent compulsion to draw and paint. “When I was in school I would stay in at lunch playing with pastels and doing portrait stuff,” says Wise, sitting in her new studio in the East Village. It’s an expansive space not too dissimilar from that fantasy‐level buffet of our childhoods, dressed with Wise’s sculptures of saucy avocados, solid green martinis and oozy lasagnes that I assume required the close study (and inevitable consumption) of many actual lasagnes. Those graffitied napkins and lunch‐hour drawings are manifest in the lush oil paintings that hang around the studio.
Some of Wise’s recent work borrows from art history’s two most studied traditions: the still life and the nude. One painting shows the model Ashley Smith reclining on a picnic blanket, naked and sultry‐faced with gloved hands cradling a bottle of FIJI Water and a can of tomatoes. It is staunchly traditional in every other way, but these supermarket items create a momentary glitch wherein the qualities of physical in‐real‐life gallery space and transient Instagram feed intermingle. The artesian water and ripe tomatoes, like the nude figure who presents them to us, promise to quench our constant thirst for consumption, if only for a moment. She describes the painting as sort of a “memento mori of the transience of life and the idea that all organic, natural objects will wilt and rot and no longer be ripe.” Her work also draws parallels with the cultural symbols of advertising. She says, “Desire is capitalised on or projected through that moment of ripeness, whether that’s a glint on a diamond or an apple with a little dew drop on it or someone’s cheekbone with a highlight on it because they look really young and sexy and sweaty. Those are indicators and signifiers of that moment before something goes away, and that thing is what we’re always chasing.” She adds, in a flurry, that her work is also about the female body, aging and decay, the semiotics of desire, the life and death cycle of food and, by extension, the life and death cycle of art, fashion and trends.
Wise not only speaks at a rapid pace, but also paints and lives at the same borderline‐psycho rate. When we meet, she’s showing at four galleries, has just released a self‐titled book and is planning art fair appearances and a solo show in Paris.
“If I could clone myself and be painting right now and also be talking to you and also be going to a show and then also be climbing a mountain and checking out the foliage, I would be doing it all at the same time,” she says with a laugh, but she’s clearly not joking.
The cover of her book features a painting of her holding her book, holding her book, holding her book, holding her— you get the idea. It’s a kind of call back to one of her earliest projects, ‘Literally Me’, a series of “selfie” self‐portraits that examined the gendering of internet self‐representation in a LOL way.
“Self‐deprecation is part of my work, for sure, and also just talking about [how] we interact with our image and our self and our work as this over‐the‐top, self‐involved, constant flattening of images, where it’s like this immediate scroll,” she says. “This endless, immediate, infinite scroll.”
Apart from that project, she insists that her art doesn’t have anything to do with the internet other than the fact that it’s on the internet. Instead, for her, it becomes about the “hamster wheel of perpetual want,” which she says is beautiful but also really dark. “[It] makes us aim higher and climb mountains and reach for something, but it also makes us never feel satisfaction and never appreciate what we have.” And since her country’s new president was sworn in, things have shifted from “can’t get no satisfaction” to “count your blessings” for Wise.
“The thing that’s making me really feel hopeful is watching the way that my friends have stepped up to the plate and been like, ‘Okay, we have to speak now, we have to get together and we have to work and mobilise and organise,’” she says with characteristic pep. She is referring to the open‐minded artists who appear in her work, people like Hari Nef, Paloma Elsesser and India Menuez — people who live in the New York art scene echo chamber, a place that has previously been shielded from the politics of discrimination. Though she values that circle of like‐minded peers, she also wants her art to travel outside it and into the mainstream.
“I’m trying really hard to talk to people who aren’t my amazing, cool, awesome, understanding, totally progressive, intersectional friends,” she says. “We have created our own bubbles because of the algorithms of Facebook and Instagram, where things pop up to the front, and that’s not actually a democracy anymore because no longer is everything seen in an equal way … You’re creating a bubble of things that you prioritise as true and that’s not what truth is.”
Like the mainstream appeal of a fast food buffet, she’s set on creating something for the masses. “Something that invites viewers from different age groups and points of view. As opposed to only targeting a specific art world, which is one of privilege and education.”
“I want my work to be accessible in a way that I didn’t want it to be accessible before,” she says. “I’ll go on, I don’t know, The Today Show or some shit. I’ll do it!”
Wise’s world — all sweaty fruit, scattered Caesar salad and suggestive still lifes — is about inviting viewers into relatable, human scenarios. “It’s not particularly divisive,” she says. “Artists are having to face the harsh reality that while art is this avant‐garde, really intellectual, super highly acclaimed venue or realm of creation, if we’re not reaching people who don’t have a master’s degree, then how are we changing the world?”