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Image: Aleah Chapin featured in The Sunday Times Style Magazine
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Aleah Chapin featured in The Sunday Times Style Magazine

'When you first see the Aunties, as this series of paintings is called, your instinctive reaction is to laugh. They look so jolly and so splendid, a bunch of female friends having a good time. Except, of course, that they are naked. And old.

At first sight, they are also shocking, but, perhaps ironically, the shock of the new is the surprise of the old. We are simply not used to seeing age in all its wrinkled, sagging and mottled glory. Age is something we hide, mourn and regret. The ideal is young, glossy and perfect, an image so universal that we have come to believe it's what women really look like. The only celebration of age is actually a paean to youth - "Look how fabulous Susan Sarandon looks. Isn't Goldie Hawn amazing? Aren't they marvellous? For their age."

These paintings however, which are slightly larger than life-size, are warm, affectionate and funny. The women's laughter is infectious, they scarcely seem to notice their nakedness - or care. They are, in essence, family portraits. 

The artist, Aleah Chapin, is a petite, pretty, gently spoken 27-year-old who hails from a small town on a small island - Whidbey, near Seattle, Washington. And when she says small, she is not kidding. The island has a population of about 55,000, and the town is a close-knit communitywhere the kids hang out together and the mothers look out for them. The women call themselves the Aunties, hence the title. When Chapin was born, there were 10 women crowded into her mother's bedroom.

When Chapin arrived in New York, she found the art scene so cool and edgy, she struggled to find her voice. "Everything felt contrived, as if I was trying too hard. I knew I loved painting people and representational art, so I started painting from my own life."

Sally Brampton

www.thesundaytimes.co.uk

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