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It’s All About the Star Stuff: Artists-in-Residence Fiona Chinkan and Maria Doering create art that is influenced by bodies—both human, and celestial

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Maria Doering (left) and Fiona Chinkan started their collaboration during a summer break when they were art students.

Fiona Chinkan and Maria Doering were both students at the Hartford School of Art when Chinkan was visiting Doering at her home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one summer. There was a lot of art being created, and as Doering was drawing in a sketchbook, Chinkan joined in. As it turns out, that impromptu collaboration was the beginning of an artistic partnership.

“We realized, ‘That's kind of neat,’” Chinkan says. “I came home after vacationing there, and one day I looked through the mail and I had these drawings from her and a note saying, Why don't you add to this?”

They have been creating art together for the past 14 years, and their current project, “Shared Energies: Cells, Stars and the Fluidity Between,” has brought them to the Paul Robeson Center of the Arts in Princeton as the Arts Council of Princeton’s spring 2017 artists-in-residence.

The ongoing project combines Chinkan’s interpretations of outer space imagery and Doering’s drawings of the human body’s inner space. With these works, the artists are attempting to juxtapose the formation of solar systems with human cellular structures.

Chinkan, who grew up in Princeton, says Doering’s work explores the question, If a cell had a personality, what would that be like?

“So hers is very cellular form-based,” Chinkan says. “And then my personal interest is in astronomy and stars and nebulas and how they form. And we realized a lot of the patterns are similar, so when we started combining those things, we saw that energy coming together on the page.”

She says the concept is captured in Carl Sagan’s famous quote: “We are made of star stuff.”

“That's what kind of universally ties our work together,” Chinkan says. “It made sense visually and then also on a deeper level for us to collaborate.”

The collaboration is not only of art, but of inspiration and encouragement.

“For us, even working in the studio together, we would keep each other's energies up,” Doering says. “Just sitting in the same space, we complement each other very nicely. There's no competitiveness, no bad feelings, none of that.” Then she adds with a laugh, “I think.”

Both artists also work on their own, with printmaking being a focus of Doering’s work.

“My whole practice was, until the last couple of years, very, very representational, hyper-realistic, portraiture,” Doering says. “But I was always interested in the body, so I went more and more detailed, and thinking more about the inside of the body.”

Neither artist has studied science in any formal way, but Chinkan says she has a strong interest in the subject. “I started to see how those lines and forms could represent the things that we see in stars and the way galaxies form,” she says. “That's kind of what tied it together for me.”

The residency involves both artists working in the Taplin Gallery at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon St., Princeton, through May 3. Doering is there most days, while Chinkan is there sometimes, but has to return to Brooklyn, where she lives, for work.

Among the days the artists will be at work is during Communiversity ArtsFest on April 30, 1-6 p.m. After their work in the gallery is finished, there will be an exhibit of “Shared Energies” on view May 6 through June 11. The residency also includes two workshops, one about artistic collaborations was held April 22, and a second, about sketchbook collaborations, is scheduled for April 29, 1-4 p.m. During the April 29 workshop, the artists will talk about sketchbooks and how they collaborate.

“We actually make people collaborate in the workshop as well,” Doering says. “It can be an uncomfortable thing, but uncomfortable can be really good and challenging and open your mind.”

She adds that she and Chinkan are at the studio to work until they run out of time, at which point they will hang their exhibit.

“In the meantime, people can come through and visit,” Doering says. “Say, ‘hi’ and check it out and see the progress. It's a very open-door type of scenario.”

She says engaging with the public is one of the best parts of the residency for these two artists.

“We have already had many wonderful visitors,” Doering says. “We even had some recurring visitors who will stop by to see our progress whenever they are in the area walking by. We are grateful to the Arts Council of Princeton for this wonderful opportunity.” 

"Shared Energies: Cells, Stars and the Fluidity Between will be on view in the Taplin Gallery at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon St., Princeton, through June 11. For more information, go www.artscouncilofprinceton.org or call 609-924-8777. For more information about the Shared Energies project, go to www.fionac.nyc/shared-energies.

Doering is there most days, while Chinkan is there sometimes, but has to return to Brooklyn, where she lives, for work.

Among the days the artists will be at work is during Communiversity ArtsFest on April 30, 1-6 p.m. After their work in the gallery is finished, there will be an exhibit of “Shared Energies” on view May 6 through June 11. The residency also includes two workshops, one about artistic collaborations was held April 22, and a second, about sketchbook collaborations, is scheduled for April 29, 1-4 p.m. During the April 29 workshop, the artists will talk about sketchbooks and how they collaborate.

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