The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community. They join us in inviting you to take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist . . .
“It’ll show itself if it’s supposed to. I like watercolor. I know there are oils and acrylics. But, that smarmy troublemaker is more interesting to me. There’s this nexus of not overworking and doing just enough to capture a moment.” – Lani Chaves
Lani Chaves, Chatham County watercolor artist, is full of surprises. I am not expecting, when pulling into her wooded cul-de-sac, that upon exiting my car I will be greeted by a beautiful waterfall—it looks like it has always existed in this spot. Lani’s home is deeply connected to her. She sees it as a partner. It’s full of turns that reveal beautiful things—like a garden path—and, while the choices are her choices, they come across naturally. Entering the home, there’s music. The music must always be playing. Things are warm, inviting. I realized later that, for these moments, I am living in Lani’s watercolors. In her home, she creates a place where one can just be–both in art, and in life.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, writes in his book, True Love A Practice for Awakening the Heart that “[we] must not lose ourselves either in the past or in the future; and the only moment in which we can touch life is the present moment (83).“ Lani and her work resonate with this sentiment. Over the course of the interview, as I would ask about things from the past, she was lucid in pinpointing pivotal moments, but, for the most part, she used broad brushstrokes. As our conversation progressed, I realized that this was because of her attention to the present moment. Lani trusts that things in her life are meant to flow. I gather that she tries to not get in the way—to allow things that are meant to happen, to happen.
“So many times you create, but you don’t know how that will expand and show itself. Those kinds of surprises excite me.”
As we make our way into her studio, a light-filled space housing her paintings in various stages of completion, a sign above the door catches my eye. “I knew when I met you a grand adventure was about to happen.” A.A. Milne. Lani’s life has been a series of grand adventures, one after another. She’s been ready to embrace each one.
She talks about her father and his entrepreneurial spirit. He was the kind of person who got a became an expert at something if it was needed. He taught himself metallurgy after selling warehouse space to a metallurgist. When he became an organic farmer in the Ozarks, he learned about soil first—and then built a farm from the ground up. From this, Lani learned that all things are possible.
Lani earned her B.F.A. in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University. She dabbled in performance art at that time but, at 22, didn’t feel like she had something to say. Those experiences flowed into a career as a stand-up comic. Lani lived and worked as a comedian for 10 years. She traveled around the US, performing in comedy clubs. Dennis Miller visited her apartment. She met Seinfeld. After a decade, her life flowed in a new direction. The comedy game had run its course, and it had taught her something useful: “When people laugh you are creating an understanding. You’re lessening separation.” As a comic, she was a storyteller, she says. Her paintings tell stories, too.
“Decide what you want to do and lean into it and keep leaning into it until, Oh my God, you’re it.”
After comedy, Lani settled into a different kind of existence, working at various jobs including doing graphic design for AutoTrader magazine and then as a middle school art teacher for seven years in Sanford.
Sometime along the way, Lani found watercolors again. She remembers once in high school being blown away by a watercolor demonstration—that seed was planted very deeply and didn’t emerge again until well into her journey. That’s hard to imagine when you look at her current work. From an initial workshop with Linda Dallas, it’s all she wants to do. Lani’s education as a watercolorist has blossomed in typical Lani fashion. From weekly painting sessions with local artists to studying watercolors in Italy with renowned artist Sarah Yeoman, Lani has turned herself into a watercolor artist. A recent exhibition of fifteen watercolors at Fine & Folk Art Carolina Gallery in Mebane resulted in a couple of sales and six paintings being kept on display at Reed’s Coffee and Art next door. This is a first for her!
“We are all, always, creating all the time. All of us. Not just ‘artists.’ There’s a power in that, a freedom in that, a responsibility in that. And so, I define art as creating…It’s not just a picture, a dance, a recipe. I stand for that idea the most. You can’t draw, so what. You’re still always creating.”
Lani is also passionate about being an advocate that offers people space and support to find their own art. I asked Lani if she was an evangelist. She laughed her hearty and infectious laugh and then responded saying, “I’m just doing my little part by living my best life in this pretty little house and inviting people to come and paint with me—not to learn, not to be taught, but to just be. I have a passion for letting people know their divinity as creation.”
As the co-president of the Chatham Artists Guild, Lani expands on this personal mission. She sees her role as someone who is making connections between artists and facilitating a well-worn process that has been refined over time. “Twenty-seven years of a community, and I just kind of showed up to be a caretaker for a little bit. We have a great board. It’s a well-worn track that the Guild has. I’m not steering them as much, moreso I’m supported by them. And, I’m loving being a part it. I’m being guided am grateful for it. Within the Guild, I have a willingness to ask for what we need and someone always steps up.”
It’s not about her. It’s about nurturing art and artistry as a way to experience personal growth and joy. Even in her own work, she’s trying to remove herself from the picture. “The tension I have is between my ego and the art. The art is the art, and it has nothing to do with my value. There was a time—doing comedy—if I got enough people to laugh, then I’m worthy. That was a thing for me. And then there was a time when I was making art, that if I make good art, then I’m worthy. If I’m selling art, I’m worthy. Well, I’m working on cutting those threads. I’m trying to see what the art is now. If I’m not painting out of trying to be worthy, what am I painting out of? Curiosity? I’m big on discovery, on wonder, and I’m big on surprise. It is always a delight when I finish an artwork. Did I do that? How did that happen? I’m letting it just happen. I’m not efforting. That’s when it is the best.”
The beauty of Lani’s artworks and her delightful trust in flow is in its transparency. Lani is the catalyst —a hidden force. We can all find ourselves in our own artistic endeavors, but maybe we need a nudge from Lani, first.
“I like finding light in the darkness–in my paintings and in life. That’s what brings us together. Your dark ain’t any darker than my dark. When we’re vulnerable enough to know that, there’s a connection. Everything else just dissolves. Maybe my painting is about meeting people. It’s a meteor shower in a pond. The ripples are everywhere. There’s not just one stone. I’m happy to be part of that meteor shower those ripples happen everywhere, and its just a small part. A small part.”
From The Artist
Full Name: Lani Frazier Chaves
Born: Chicago / I live in Pittsboro
One of your favorite childhood memories: Making my mother laugh.
As a kid, my dream job was to be: On the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Some jobs I’ve had are: Bartender, Teacher, Comic
Three words that describe my art: Full of contrasts
I am inspired by: Nature, Mediation
When I am not creating art, you’ll probably find me: Cooking or sitting in my front yard
Most people don’t know I: I am not telling!
Next on my bucket list is: To fall in love.
The most dangerous/craziest thing I ever did was: becoming Co-President of the Chatham Artists Guild
On my bedside table you’ll find: Places that Scare You by Pema Chodren
Three Chatham County places I frequent are: Small Cafe, the trails in Fearrington, and downtown Pittsboro
My favorite place to be in Chatham County is: Down any country road.
Three Chatham County artists I admire are: Sarah Graham, Jake Brower and Beth Bale
Links: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Blog