Somerville Artist’s Work Unites Dual Passions

Courtney Chelo is a policy coordinator at Health Care For All by day and an artist under the name Closer to the Ocean by night. Her job takes her to Downtown Crossing each morning, but her home studio brings her back to Somerville each evening.

While her dual passions–public health and art–don’t seem to have a lot in common, Chelo often finds ways to incorporate anatomical imagery into her work.

“I’ve always really liked the imagery of teeth and anxiety” said Chelo, who advocates on behalf of patients’ oral health. “I’ve had the teeth falling out dream. Day job, night job, the teeth are always there.”

In addition to using teeth as a motif in her art, Chelo creates pieces using collage, image transfer, block prints and embroidery. Old books, photos, postcards, maps and other found items feature heavily in her work. She enjoys hunting for treasures to use in her art, often visiting the Brimfield Antique Fair when time allows or taking a trip to Somerville’s thrift stores or Davis Square’s Artifaktori vintage shop.

Pro tip: Chelo says the Salvation Army on Broadway in Magoun Square is less picked over than the Davis Goodwill. “It has tons of books not all in a giant bin,” Chelo said. “Artifaktori is awesome for postcards, photos, jewelry, knickknacks. Every surface is covered.”

Chelo uses the objects she finds on these thrifting adventures in her art, often employing them to create custom work for people. You won’t find Closer to the Ocean at any of the area’s craft or holiday markets this year, but Chelo is happy to work with anyone interested in purchasing her art.

“I’m taking this holiday season off after going nonstop. The idea was to try new things and make new work,” Chelo said of her show hiatus from August through the new year. As the weather grows colder, Chelo said she anticipates that she will “spend many nights in here [her studio] working on all new stuff.”

In her time off from craft fairs and art shows, Chelo has found herself returning to some of the processes that she originally used to make her art, like image transfers. She also does a lot of work with shadowboxes and is hoping to do some larger scale projects.

“Everything I’ve doen previously has been craft fair friendly,” Chelo said of her desire to experiment with works of various sizes for Closer to the Ocean.

Though Chelo doesn’t have any formal art training, she did grow up loving Bob Ross, the soothing American painter and television host. She also finds inspiration in Joseph Cornell’s work. Chelo had never heard of Cornell until someone introduced her to his work a few years ago because of its similarity to her own. Now she has something of an obsession with the American artist and sculptor (a medium she hopes to tackle soon too).

Chelo has lived in her cozy Somerville apartment for four years and has the good fortune to have enough space to have a designated studio area, which is where she creates her art and stashes bits of inspiration.

Living in Somerville has also provided Chelo the opportunity to bring Closer to the Ocean to the community through the annual Open Studios event. Chelo has set her booth up at the Arts at the Armory (191 Highland Ave.) for the last few years, which has enabled her to meet other local artists and see their work.

“Open Studios is probably the biggest bonus to living in Somerville,” Chelo said. “I’ve done it every year since I started doing this. One of the things I love about Somerville is that Somerville has a more diverse community age-wise. There are older, established artists in Somerville, which is great.”

P.S. Though Chelo isn’t showing her work this holiday season, there are several markets and open studios events upcoming in Somerville. Check back next week for details about them all!

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