Westbound:

The Journey of Chloé Gaillard

 

 
When I came here, I knew in my heart that’s where I was supposed to come.
— Chloé Gaillard
 

 
 
 
 Chloe Gaillard

Chloe Gaillard

 
 

By: Maria Egolf-Romero

If you follow your heart you find happiness. This may sound like a played-out mantra, but it's one we should listen to: Trust your path. "I know that I had to come here," Chloé Gaillard says. "This is where I met my husband, too. I know that I'm where I'm supposed to be for sure."

Chloé is a fine artist based in Taos, New Mexico, and her story is a shining example of letting the world push you in the right direction. Born in Poitiers, France, and raised about 30 miles away in Azac, she moved thousands of miles to New Mexico. Now she hikes the mountains around her home in Arroyo Seco every day, gathering visual inspiration for her Western paintings.  

She's moved twice and gotten married in the past year, but her journey to the high desert mountains is one that started five years ago.

 
 
 Zuni Women

Zuni Women

 
 

In 2013, she relocated to New York City on an artist visa secured with the help of Oscar-winning producer Anthony Katagas (12 Years A Slave). Chloé met him when she was babysitting to make extra cash while painting. "I was working with him too; I did the entire decoration of his studio. So, that's how I started my real journey here in America," she says. "He really helped me stay here. They are like my family here in the U.S."   

But New York wasn't really Chloé's scene. A French country gal at heart, she missed nature and solitude. So she packed her bags and headed west. "I did not know Austin at all. I had never been to Texas, and I went there with $30 in my pocket, knowing no one," she says. "It was really hard at the beginning. I really threw myself in a place that was 100% risky; I had nothing."

After a bit of traveling and meeting a few new friends, Chloé visited Taos just before Christmas 2016. "I fell in love with it because it's so similar to my hometown in the mountains," she says. "When I came here, I knew in my heart that's where I was supposed to come." Taos, the mountains, and the environment around her studio are her creative dreamscapes. "For me, working with this, it has no price ... I'm a mountain person, and for me it's perfect here."

Artists, directors, authors, illustrators, and many other creatives build worlds, which viewers enter when they experience their works. Chloé is an artist who takes her curatorial eye beyond her brush and canvas and into her own life. She lives in the landscapes she recreates, and her home studio is laden with items you'll see in her pieces. She tells me she paints wearing jackets she's embroidered, usually early in the morning.

 
 Cowgirl Folk Art

Cowgirl Folk Art

 

Her painting desk is in the middle of a cozy room decorated with grizzly pelts (bears are a consistent theme in her art), beaded jackets, leather boots, and her own finished paintings. When I sit with her over a cup of green tea, she wears an Asian embroidered silk blouse and flared pants in a matching red hue. As I listen to our interview, I hear her big, silver bangles and turquoise cuffs hitting the table. She is effortlessly cool and genuine, and her delicate French accent completes her allure.

And she's a natural beauty who's modeled for Filson and Ralph Lauren in the past year. She's in the process of signing an exclusivity contract with the Seattle-based Filson, which seeks models with interesting backgrounds as well as beautiful faces. Chloé says she feels good about working with them, which she will be doing consistently: "They hired me for who I am as an artist, too. Not only for who I look, but also for who I am," she says, "there is an ethic that is very strong."

Chloé has worked on the other side of fashion as well. She lived in Paris for three years, styling for John Galliano at Christian Dior. "I had a great time and experience," she says. "It started to get old at the end of three years; I wasn't finding myself in this environment." She didn't love the density of the city, or the cutthroat industry that encouraged young girls to be unhealthy, so she moved on. "But I don't regret anything," she tells me. "I don't see it as a negative path of my life at all, but a real-deal experience alongside designers, photographers, models, and artists."  

Today, she still uses some of her fashion skills to embroider and bead her own clothing, as well as pieces she occasionally sells. One of her grandmothers was a sewer, and the other a painter, and she says they influenced her life trajectory. "I don't think I would've been a painter if my grandmother was not a painter. I studied fashion in London when I was young because my grandmother was a sewer, you know? I followed their steps."

During our visit, she shows me a handmade leather vest she's recently finished, as well as bears she's embroidered on her vintage wedding skirt and a retinue of folk art characters she's added to her Indian cotton jacket. She embroiders her own blouses, so when she paints one she knows how it should appear, and this gives her pieces a tactile presence.

I encountered Chloé via Instagram, so when we meet I ask about the textile works I've seen on her profile. "It’s not my main thing, but it's part of my inspiration," she says. "Native American beadwork, embroidery from all over the world, I used to paint a lot of folk art. This was a big influence in my life, for my art, for myself, for my research and everything, and it led me to Western art, so it's really important for me. That's why I show all my craft work," she says of her Instagram account, which boasts nearly 12,000 followers, "because that led me to what I am doing now."

Before heading west, Chloé created a Tarot deck with Uusi, a design company based in Chicago. The $48, 22-card deck is sold out on their site (uusi.us), but you should check it out anyway. She painted the first versions of the cards on the backs of broken-down cereal and votive candle boxes she took from her restaurant job in New York.

 
 

The cards feature folk art characters surrounded by tiny flower patterns, or geometric designs that echo elements from the works she's doing today. Looking at one of her Western paintings after seeing these cards, you can see that she imbues her current work with little nods to her artistic evolution.

Though you wouldn't guess it, Chloé is new to Western painting. She's been focused on this medium for about a year. "I am a beginner here," she says. Studying and recreating paintings by Western masters like Remington and W.H. Dunton has given her works a classic feel. But it's the details — like patterns on textiles and pottery, or the metallic look of the squash blossom necklaces, or the movement of her brush strokes mimicking the wind — that make her oil paintings stand out from others attempting something similar.

Her works capture the feeling of the Southwest — not the stereotypical scenes you see in cowboy movies or on old postcards, but the truth of it: the robin's-egg-blue pigment of the midmorning skies, the fullness of summer monsoon clouds, the loss of focus near the distant horizon, and the pink undertones of desert sand. I've seen a lot of Western art, but none that I so much want to experience, like a dreamy version of my own reality.

Right now Chloé is working toward the first exhibition of her Western works, which is scheduled for sometime this summer at Parsons Gallery in Taos. The dates aren't solid yet, but keep up with her on her Instagram account, @chloemariegaillardburk, for updates on details, and to see her wonderful work. I am betting you'll hear much more about this artist in the not-too-distant future.  

 
 
 
 

About the author: Maria was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she currently lives, working as a freelance journalist. She wrote several 2017 cover stories in the Santa Fe Reporter, and formerly had a column called Bed Head, which focused on New Mexico-based fashion. She also makes clothing and sells curated vintage through her online shop Heirmana. Over the past year, Maria has become more and more dedicated to tellings women's stories as she feels it is the best work she can do during this time of change, awakening, and female empowerment. She highlights women who are inspiring movements, breeding positivity, and spreading supportive messages to other women through their art, music, food, design, writing, and more.