“There are opportunities with the foundation for women to become empowered; to move beyond their present creative positions and create who they are individually and collectively as a more powerful and more effective voice in the world one that ends gender discrimination and creates the possibility of a future free from bias” – paul chelko
Paul Chelko, was a vital presence in the Atlanta art scene for more than 40 years. His abstract painting, ultra realism, portraiture, performance art, music, poetry and film is world-renowned. He has shown in both The High Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institute. Chelko taught at Emory University, The Quinlan Art Center, Massey Junior College and was a member of the White House Art in the Embassies Program. He served as the official artist for The Annual National Charity Awards Banquet in Washington, D.C.
His work hangs is in the collections of Oprah Winfrey, Frank Sinatra, Vincent Price, Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, Senator Max Cleland and Coretta Scott King, among others.
A man of the moment…
That isn’t a way of saying he’s all the rage in the current art scene…although with a career that spanned more than 45 years, that distinction surely has been his. No, he was literally a man of the moment…. this specific moment.
“I don’ t think we need to have any emphasis on what I said a moment ago a year ago or 30 years ago”…“ What might be viable is what we bring forth in the moment in a creative act together, which calls upon us to continually be present in that moment. It’s like keeping it clean and creating it from nothing until something shows up. Creating something truly shocking, astonishing, beautiful.”
Chelko had his own philosophy…
“…judge if you want but ye shall not be judged by me… You can be any way you want to be with me” he would say with a laugh, “ I gave up my seat on the judicial bench of life. I think I reached the highest level that I could operate on as a creator and a communicator when I gave up needing you to understand who I was or what I was attempting to explain, define or bring into existence.”
Those who knew him understood and appreciated the vibrancy and positive energy that flowed freely from Chelko. While others labeled him as flaky or “an artist”
Paul’s freedom from judgment allowed him to move beyond the boundaries of expectation, giving his life and art a deeper passion and allowing him to discover a truer, deeper love in others and in himself.
The act of creation, while free, was still fraught with complications, and the vision was not always solely his own. Inspired by the beauty of women… one of his most striking pieces is “ The Three Faces of Eve”. Chelko admits to drawing inspiration from a twin sister who was lost at birth, but “… who lives in my life. There is no separation. She is the female counterpart to my masculinity. She lives in the eyes of all of my art and behind my eyes.”
The conflict in the vision behind his art transferred to the canvas:
“Every time I did a painting, I would do three paintings”, he said. “ There was the one I was going to do, the one I did and the one I should have done. Then one day, I started choosing it the way it is.“
Chelko was about one thing and one thing only: Love. Everything he touched is imbued, permeated with a love that shines an elegant truth.
Theirs was a magical love story…
They met at a party one summer in the 1970’s at his cottage in Nantucket, Mass. She came to the party with a good friend and… as Chelko would later find out… said on the way out of the door that she knew she was destined to be Mrs. Paul Chelko. Months passed… while he longed for her, she searched for him but could not find him, thanks to his unlisted New York phone number.
By chance they talked on the phone a few months later, when he was making an airline reservation to Atlanta and she was taking the reservation for Delta Airlines. Shortly after she attended a party in Manhattan where they were reunited and an unbreakable bond was formed. They married and were together until she succumbed to leukemia in 2005. Debbie, his soul mate rocked his world and turned everything upside down.
“Before I met Debbie, I was always in denial of who I was, but Debbie wouldn’t allow me to continue living that kind of a lie,” he said. “One day, I got the commitment. I got her commitment and in that moment, I was moved and touched and inspired and altered in a way that was irrevocable. I couldn’t believe that someone could care that much about me. But… It wasn’t personal. What Debbie was committed to was the love that she saw within me. It was love seeking itself, and in that moment we began to experience freedom in our relationship unlike anything. We were free to be with each other and it was beautiful. I got my life back forever.”
“In my experience as and artist, as a creator, I have spent my life creating what I refer to as, ‘doorways’ that provide people with an opportunity and an invitation to come through, into the house of being and when one is present, when one accepts that invitation and stands in the house of being, one is then just naturally returned to that place inside where the truth lives and we recognize who we are and our own ability to create.”
“Ideally, in that moment, the individual will begin to create his life as a work of art. So it’s like the paintings are stepping stones or star gates or windows or bridges to another reality in which all possibilities live. Including human beings rediscovering again who we really are.”
“I am the purveyor of magic. I’m a magician, not a painter, not an artist. I’m not any of these conventional historical labels. I deal in magic and beauty and life and love. I never really discovered who I was as a magician until I met my wife, who died. We were together for 31 years She was my favorite love, Debbie.”
The lasting creation:
In 2005 Paul created The Chelko Foundation in memory of his favorite love, Debbie, with a mission: To empower all women through art, education and partnership to create a better life for themselves and their children.
“There are opportunities with The Foundation for women to become empowered… to move beyond their present positions and create who they are individually and collectively as a more powerful and more effective voice in the world… one that ends gender discrimination and creates the possibility of a future free from bias”
Paul lost his 12year battle with Non-Hotchkins Lymphoma in 2007 leaving his entire collection of over 500 original paintings and endless writings to the Foundation. The collections are being sold to fund scholarships and grants to individuals and organizations whose current projects parallel the mission of the Foundation.
The Foundation continues to “channel” Chelko with its groundbreaking exhibitions opening channels for creative expression and enabling all to move beyond their current circumstance to live without creative boundaries.