From castle to courtside Island artist trades scientific instruments for paint brushes

By DeAnn Rossetti' email='

Passion and color spring from the canvas of Frances Chapman's paintings.

Even a still life of fruit glows with vibrant colors and swirling brushstrokes. In her paintings of basketball players on the cover of the 2005 Islander basketball schedule, the figures seem to leap from the page A fan of Richard Diebenkorn, a San Francisco artist from the 1960s, Picasso, Matisse and Vermeer, Chapman said she is inspired by figurative and abstract artists whose art speaks to the viewer in a slightly different light.

Chapman's basketball art was inspired by her husband and children, who play basketball. She became fascinated by the movement of the game.

"I think it's a dance that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes violent,"

said Chapman. "That combination intrigued me. I started painting figures playing the game."

"At first I did them representationally, but then I got into the abstract nature of the figures," she continued. "The paintings progressed from basketball players to figures that you're not sure what they're doing."

Originally from Silver Springs, Md., Chapman earned both a bachelor of science degree in microbiology and an MBA from the University of Maryland.

She began a career in cancer research with the National Cancer Institute within the National Institute of Health.

Following that, she began working as a policy analyst in toxic substances for the Environmental Protection Agency. She did environmental consulting and did environmental conflict resolutions for years before getting married in the mid-1980s. She has a son and daughter.

"I wanted to be home more, so I started my own consulting firm in 1988,"

said Chapman. "I did environmental mediation and facilitation for Commencement Bay in Tacoma."

She decided to stay home full time and paint after the death of her father in 1993.

"I reflected on the importance of family and what I wanted to do with my life," she said. "So I started studying painting more seriously with the Deanne Lemley Fine Arts Studio in Kirkland, and then in 1995. I went to the Seattle Academy of Fine Arts to learn to paint oils. I thought it was important to get a classical (art) education in realism before departing from that genre."

Chapman began by painting scenes on Mercer Island (her family moved here in 1990) and sold several paintings through word-of-mouth.

"I am lucky to have people on Mercer Island who supported me by getting me in shows and talking about my work," she said. "I did a couple of shows locally, and then went to Italy with my family in 1998."

Chapman was inspired by the bold colors and rustic scenes she'd seen in Italy, and had a series of her paintings published in vacation guides there.

After a visit to Georgia O'Keefe's artist's retreat in New Mexico, Chapman started working with less boisterous colors and chose earth tones instead for her next series of oil paintings.

"I wanted a more subdued palette in 2002," said Chapman. "In New Mexico there's a more subtle, quiet light. I've always been interested in color, because it's everywhere, and sometimes its subtle and sometimes it's in your face. Right now I'm interested in layers of paint and color and how they shine through to create a surface quality.

Chapman's work has been in several art shows, with her first show being a Mercer Island Visual Arts League show in 1996. Her paintings can take several weeks to several months to complete.

"I tend to work on five to six paintings at once, because I get stuck if I stay on one painting," she said. "I'm a mom, too, which is a major commitment, but now that my children are almost through high school, I expect I will have more time to work on my paintings."

Her latest work is informed by reality, but not intended to be representational, she said.

"I try to engage the viewer's imagination; I don't want my paintings to be a literal portrayal of something," Chapman said. "I want to be enough information there so the viewer knows what they are looking at, but it can be off-kilter so the viewer has to bring their own experience into play."

If I am lucky, my work will evoke emotions and engage imaginations," she smiled.

Frances Chapman can be reached at

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