“Painting for me is a constant search to hold a feeling tangible.” -Louisa Chase
Louisa Chase was born in Panama City in 1951 to Benjamin and Wilda Stengel Chase. The family moved to Pennsylvania in 1958 where Chase attended the George School, a private Quaker boarding school in Bucks County. Originally planning to study Classics at Syracuse University, Chase was exposed to, and learned printmaking, and ultimately graduated in 1973 with a Bachelors in Fine Arts. She later attended the Yale University School of Art, earning her Masters in Fine Arts degree in 1975.
Chase met with early recognition and success. In her final year of graduate school she was selected for a solo show at a non-profit gallery dedicated to showcasing emerging talent called Artists Space, on Wooster Street in the heart of Manhattan’s then developing artist neighborhood of Soho. This early attention motivated Chase to move to downtown Manhattan, placing her squarely within the heart of NY’s vibrant art scene of the late 1970s and 1980s.
From 1975-1979, Chase commuted to teach at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. From 1980-1982 she taught at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. During this timeframe, Chase was productive in her studio and participated within a host exhibitions that highlighted artists of the time including Barbara Rose’s famed 1979 exhibition at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University titled “American Painting: The Eighties;” the Whitney Museum Biennial of 1982; and the American group contribution to the Venice Biennale in 1984. Chase was represented by Robert Miller Gallery in New York throughout the 1980’s. Her work attracted serious, positive, and considerate observation in the art press including, among many others, The Village Voice (Kim Levin, “The Secret Life of Louisa Chase,” Jan. 28, 1981), Arts Magazine (Richard Kalina “Louisa Chase,” May 1989, p. 90), and The New York Times (‘Louisa Chase,” February 17, 1989).
Throughout her career, Chase actively experimented with materials while interrogating the surfaces of her works. Similarly, her oeuvre bares a variety of approaches so that, despite having attracted a number of labels, among them “new image school,” and “neo expressionist,” there is not one distinctive label that defines her practice. Her credited influences range from the Sienese Paintings of the Middle Ages through the Abstract Expressionist practitioners from the 1950’s, particularly Jackson Pollock. Chase admired work that tapped into raw emotion. Though she was constantly searching for new visual languages, her pursuit to capture and preserve ephemeral emotions within the act of painting never waned. For a 1982 group show at the Whitney Museum, Chase wrote “The forces closest to landscape are the closest to the internal forces that I am trying to understand. . . The location is inside.” Though much of her early works reveal indications of landscape or figuration, her later works escape those identifiable aspects that were previously the armatures for her abstraction. These subsequent works became physical explorations of gesture and abstraction that haunted Louisa, sometimes causing her to work on a painting in excess of ten years.
In the early 1990’s, Louisa exhibited with Brooke Alexander Gallery in New York. Chase began working with Goya Contemporary Gallery (then Goya-Girl Press) in 1997. She continued to work with the press and the gallery until her death. During the 1990’s and 2000’s the artist returned to printmaking and drawing in a major way. Over the years, Chase produced 30 different editions with Goya-Girl Press, as well as a number of monoprints. In an interview in 2005, Chase said: “Drawing and printmaking are like writing… They allow me to scribble my thoughts, and release them so they do not haunt me.” The act of drawing influenced, and entered into Chase’s larger works on canvas and remained there through her final days.
In 1991, Chase moved part-time to Sag Harbor, on the eastern end of Long Island, and then to nearby East Hampton where she bought a small 1930’s farmhouse with a separate studio. She maintained her Manhattan studio on Varick Street, and after September 11, 2001, Chase started to exclusively paint in her Long Island studio. Chase was living in East Hampton when she died in 2016 after a seven-year struggle with pancreatic cancer.
Chase’s work is represented in the permanent collections of a number of prominent museums including the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of Art in New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York; The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA; The Library of Congress, Washington, DC; The New York Public Library; the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine; and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.