Paris Center Stories: Chelsea Mortenson, '08BC

Meet Barnard alumna and Paris-based visual artist Chelsea Mortenson.

October 04, 2021

What is your connection to Columbia/Barnard and Reid Hall?

Well, I happen to be a strong, beautiful Barnard alumna (class of 2008).

What brought you to Paris?

I met my French partner in New York, working on a Columbia University graduate film. I eventually decided not to be a film technician and came to Paris to pursue fine art, did a year of intensive prep school and got into the Beaux Arts de Paris.

You recently published a children’s book. Could you tell us more about it? Where did you get the idea for the subject?

Yes! I co-wrote The Red Forest (published in France as Dans La Forêt Rouge) with my friend Jen Rice (also Barnard '08). We had talked about the project for a few years and began work around the 30-year anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown (we were both turning 30 that year) We imagined the story like a folk tale to be passed down, and set out to make a picture book that would touch upon the trauma of lost generational memory. Our book tells the story of a young tree growing up in a strange kind of forest with no elders to tell the young ones what happened there, we wanted to revive and remember that story. I made the woodcut illustrations and printed the original English version of the book during a residency at the wonderful carpe plumbum printing studio in Leipzig.


What projects are you currently working on and where else can we see your art?

The exhibition Transport Commun opens October 11th at the Collection d'Art Société Générale here in Paris with one of my engravings and other recently acquired works.


Some of my paintings are featured in Francois Ozon's new film Tout S'est Bien Passé which screened at Cannes and is opening in theaters this week. And some of my recent work is on the cover of Nos Mondes Sauvages, from the association Colères du Présent, and included in the Almanach Ides de Mars; two catalogues made during the pandemic.


What advice would you give a student deciding to move to France as you did a couple of years ago?

If you decide to move abroad, definitely do it for love or a life calling, and build a strong support system. Reach out to your fellow alum and alumnae!