It’s exciting to talk about an artist who you believe is on the verge of erupting. You can tell, just by looking at her prices, that artist B Chehayeb doesn’t even realize how good she is. Therein lies the beauty, though — a pure desire to create and negotiate life’s problems on canvas. I’m a big fan of B’s work. She’s got bits of Cy Twombly’s style in her, but rearranged and serving a different purpose. Her art might make you ask yourself, “what the heck is that?” To which even she may reply, “I don’t know.” Just kidding, she’s actually awesome at explaining it, so keep reading. Highly abstracted and geometric at times, her works are mostly neutral in color, accompanied by bits of lettering and scrawl (which I find unbelievably alluring).

b chehayeb

Artist You Need To Know, B Chehayeb.

free world art.

size of the free world, 20″ x 20″, acrylic and graphite on canvas, $200.

She reminds us that art is not always just about paint put on canvas by working hands, but also the mind behind the physical act of creating. In her own words,

The goal of my most recent work has been to illuminate the processes by which we come to any conclusions or understandings regarding the spiritual or emotional (if they are in fact separate). My goals have been to retrace the steps by which I arrived at my understandings of these things.

How lucky are we to get a glimpse into intimate details of the human mind?

If this style of art isn’t your thing, that’s okay, but take a look at this before you jump ship. Then come back for more from this week’s Artist You Need to Know, B Cheyeheb.

passing of heaven

passing of old heaven, 15″ x 12″, acrylic and graphite on canvas $200.

V: How would you describe yourself as an artist and person? 

B: Busy and hungry, mostly trying not to have a dramatically bad attitude about time restraints, real life, etc.

V: How did your current style get to where it is today?

B: I think my style now is kind of an accumulation of several deconstructive processes. Each piece is an attempt to be more honest or less afraid than the last. 

V: What single moment in your life has influenced your art the most?
B: Working as an art teacher at a pre-school in Texas. Seeing new minds illustrate and talk about things like dreams, fears and other things that can be hard to put into words.The whimsicality of this classroom specifically, is something I will always look to and cherish.
young artists

B’s art students getting creative.

V: How has creating art helped you work through conflict or struggle?
B: If anything it allows me to redefine things that at times can feel out of grasp.  Like “’What’ is Heaven? Oh, it’s a ‘wild wild’ fire in a white space that fades into a peach muddy cloud and into the words ‘free’.”  I am constructing the idea of heaven into a vivid new presence that I can relate to on a more human level. It is less abstract.

I notice when young children recreate their realities, or make-believe worlds, through storytelling or drawings, they don’t usually fight with the sense that its not accurate. I try to take this into my creative process and without really planning on anything in particular, it helps develop a deeper sense of self, time and space.

wild wild free

The Wild Wild Free, 36″ x 36″, acrylic and graphite on canvas, $750.

V: How do you choose the words you incorporate into your pieces?
B: In most cases the words I’m using are loaded with imagery and are often describing nearly impossible human/spiritual concepts. Some come from poems memories, or dreams.
V: Where did the idea behind your piece, The practice of you fighting me off (below) come from?
B: The practice of you fighting me off is the beginning of a series working from single poem that I wrote almost a month ago. In this poem I wrestle with understanding the anxious mind, particularly of a loved one. Some of the marks are pre-conceived but most are impulsive and follow a pattern of their own. I almost don’t feel responsible for them but I resonate with them very deeply. This is also a diptych which I have never felt the need to make until the creation of this piece.

The practice of you fighting me off, 48″ x 24″, acrylic and graphite on canvas, $1000.

V: I’m noticing a handful of biblical references, like the flood, heaven, Jesus — what role do these play in your work?
I really wrestle with these ideas in their context, so any mention of them in my work is an attempt to understand and visualize them more. When we aren’t clouded with indifference, I think we can all relate to a yearning for a deep spiritual awakening or revelation. Working with the elements both in and out of their original context is helpful for me to study them.

V: Have people ever questioned your work, or are confused by it? What’s that like?
B: Yes. My senior year of college was a pretty exciting time for me, as an artist. I was showing in more places than I think I ever had at that point. When your work is public, of course, you hear more of the criticism and questions. It’s a very vulnerable place to be even if it’s not in a competitive setting.

I overheard a group of students one day in the University of North Texas gallery talking about a piece of mine that had won an award earlier that day. They seemed pretty surprised and even irritated by the judges decision, but none of them could really articulate why someone else’s work was more qualified than mine. I didn’t think too much about it.

But you know, Kelli Russel Agadon, an incredible writer and poet once wrote in her collection “Hourglass Museum”, 

To create is not enough.

We must live with our hearts in our hands—like Mary.

We must hold the blood-red heart and not be disappointed when others look away.

V: Have you ever practiced representational art? Do you have an example we could see?
B: Yeah actually. When I first developed an interest in art, ( I think I was 12 or 13) my interest stemmed from a strong desire to imitate life around me. This often looked like portraits of people I felt strongly about and imagery related to memories or desires. I regularly accepted commissions for family portraits, animal portraits, etc around this time. I practiced making work like this until the beginning of college until I had a professor challenge our class to make a painting based on things we couldn’t see. It forever changed me and some days, makes it difficult to make it through a representational painting without feeling like something is missing.
representational art

B’s more representational work.

V: What goes into creating a single piece – from creation to finish?
B: Lots of quiet at first. Lots of balcony sitting and reading.

Peace and quiet and balcony reading in Boston.

This quiet usually finishes into some noise storm of whatever music, whose energy I have been trying to channel for that week.

Being alone is also an important part of the process, though, there are times I will exchange inspiring material with close friends. (This will often be writing, videos, internet memes, songs.) There are two friends in particular whom I’ve shared nearly everything that inspires me with, their feedback and even their own personal writing/music motivates me.

Work in progress.

Work in progress.

bay window studio

B’s bay window studio space with a piece in progress.

V: Is your work spontaneous or planned out?
B: A little bit of both.
V: People often don’t “get” some forms of abstraction contemporary art, what would you say to them?
B: I would maybe tell them “get”ting it is not their responsibility, which can be a relief to hear. “Getting” someones art is no reason why you can’t enjoy, connect with or appreciate it in whatever context you find it.

Some are maybe not settled until they can, so that can be hard to know what to say other then, as the artist for a particular piece, give a statement of intent. Boring answer, I know.

V: Describe yourself in a word…
B: un-learning
wild wild free

B with her piece ‘The Wild Wild Free’ hanging in the background.

I feel pretty honored to have been the first one to read B’s responses, and “incredible” was pretty much the only thing I was thinking by the end, which is where we are now. Feel free to support this young, emerging artist by sharing her story.

If you’d like to keep up with B, her work is now available on Vango. Take and look and follow her to see when she adds new pieces, and see what she’s up to day-to-day on her tumblr.

+Follow B Chehayeb

Also published on Medium.