Chaselyn Wade reached for the stars by painting the stars

Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
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Chaselyn Wade has always looked for ways to express her creative side. But although she’s been expressing herself artistically throughout her life, it wasn’t until recently that she decided that she was really going to reach for the stars, and that she would do it by painting the heavens.

“I’ve painted all my life,” Wade said in a recent interview, recalling what her first grade teacher told her parents. “She said, ‘This child is extremely talented,’ and she went out and bought an art kit and gave it to me. That was the first person who ever told me I was good at something. That really stuck with me.”

Wade said there are still murals on the walls of her high school that she painted when she was a student there. And she has continued to “paint,” so to speak, in her career as a freelance makeup artist, and her work as an actress and drag performer has meant that “art has always been with me.”

But as for picking up a brush and putting paint on canvas — well, that had taken a back seat to life.

“I painted, but I never did anything with it,” Wade said. “I always said that when I retired, I would be a painter.” She was putting her dreams on hold.

And then, a little more than two years ago, Wade’s boyfriend, Jake Ray, died suddenly. And everything changed.

“After Jake passed away, I realized, I can’t keep waiting for some day. I need to live my life the way I want to live it, and I need to do the things I want to do. And I need to do it now,” she declared. “There’s no reason not to.”

So about a year-and-a-half ago, Wade said, she made the conscious decision to start painting again.

“I just started painting, just stockpiling paintings. My walls are covered with my own paintings,” she said. “But I had never shown any paintings publically. I’d only ever given away paintings to my friends.”

Wade said most of her work is “abstract stuff,” like “fragmented, color-block pieces,” although she can do photorealistic works, too — “just no people. I don’t paint people.”

Right now though, she continued, “my current style is all about space and galaxies, nebulas and stars, things like that. Israel Luna asked me, why space. I thought about it, and I think it’s because nobody owns space, but everyone can look at it and say, that’s mine. We can all sit here on this little blue pearl and look out into space and say, that’s all mine.

“Being a transgender person, an artist — just being a weirdo — I fantasize about not being on this planet, not having to deal with all the hate and bad stuff. And I don’t want to look at another bird in a tree. I want to look at something otherworldly. There’s just so much out there we have never seen, and it fascinates me!”

And, she said, space isn’t a new fascination for her. “I remember, when I was little, putting glow-in-the-dark stickers of moons and stars on my ceiling,” she said. “And when I was like 10, I took white sheets and made them into curtains, and painted silver stars on them. I mean, who does that?! Me — I did that.”

When her friend Michael Moran’s birthday rolled around, Wade gifted him with one of her paintings to hang in his apartment. Another friend, Corbin Milam, saw that painting and asked Moran who had painted it.

Coincidentally, Corbin’s mother, Vickie Little, is the person in charge of booking artists to exhibit at a local restaurant called Café Izmir. So, when an artist scheduled to exhibit at the café backed out the day she was supposed to bring in her paintings, Corbin told his mother, I know somebody who has a bunch of paintings around her house.

It was, Wade said, “a dream come true! It was exactly what I had been wanting, and it just fell into my lap! You know how people tell you that you have to be prepared for ‘that moment’ when it finally comes? Well, honey, I was prepared for it!”

Wade said she gathered up some of her paintings and headed to the venue without even knowing exactly what the space actually looked like and how much room there actually was.

“But like they say, art will find it’s place,” she said. “When I got there, it was perfect. I had pieces that fit on every wall. There was no question where each piece would go, because it was perfect, like I had painted each painting for a specific place on a specific wall. And it all just looked so good!

“I cried the whole day. The whole day!” Wade continued. “I called my mom, just sobbing. She said, ‘Why are you crying?’ Because of all the things I have accomplished, of all the things I have done, this means the most.”

Wade noted that she has made a successful career for herself as a makeup and hair artist over the last 20 years, and she also is successful as a drag performer, including being a cast member in the “Girls Like Us” show every Tuesday at JR.’s. She has appeared in several movies and is one of well-known local filmmaker Israel Luna’s “go-to actresses” in films like Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives and Kicking Zombie Ass for Jesus. She also recently landed her first lead actress role, and has shot the pilot for a TV series in which she will be, she said, the first transgender actress playing a cisgender woman in a recurring TV role.

But her first art exhibit outshines it all, she said.

“I come from a tiny little town of about 1,500 people, and now I am here in this city of over six million, and my art — MY art — is on exhibit in one of the most popular restaurants in the city,” she said. “I think about it and I am just so amazed at what I have accomplished, and with such little support.

“I mean, my family are wonderful people, but they don’t know anything about art, or about drag. They didn’t know what transgender is. And so much of what I do they’d never understand,” she said. “They’re like, oh, you’ve been on the radio? You’ve been in a movie? They don’t really grasp that. But if I say my paintings have been exhibited in a restaurant, they get that.”

Even if they didn’t though, Wade said, the exhibit would still mean the world to her — because it is the beginning.

“I’m proud to say that I am living my dream now,” she declared. “I’m being an artist. I am creating beauty — whether that’s on canvas, in makeup or on screen. I’m living my dream.”
Wade’s exhibit at Café Izmir ended at the end of August, but she is already planning for a second exhibit, set to go up in The Granite Room at S4 in time for Pride weekend. Wade said that from what she understands, she is the first artist with an exhibit in The Granite Room, and her paintings will be on display there for two months.