Chelsea Jessie-Rae Costello

When I first met Chelsea, I was instantly drawn to her. There’s a likeness in her spirit that’s articulated beautifully even before she speaks. This is a story of her life’s journey – her love for art and the driving force behind her happiness. I hope you’ll see her passion, her work and take away from her a surety that only love and vakabauta (faith) can bring. – Sina Suliano, Talanoa Intern.

Bula Vinaka Chelsea, tell us about yourself – who are you, where are you from and what are you passionate about?

Chelsea Jessie-Rae Costello is the name. Who I am, is a heart that’s meant to be sought out for God – long before it was decided that I‘d be a female artist driven by adventure and covered by grace. Jesus is my identity.

My parents are of Irish, Scottish, Rotuman, Samoan and Indian descent – I’m an unusual ethnical blend. I was born and raised in the sweetest of cities, in Lautoka, Fiji. It may not be the blood that flows through my veins, but it’s home. Always home.

I’m passionate about too much. God, music (I’ve never painted without music), colour, the ocean, literature, change, sun, sand, coffee and courageous talent. I’m passionate about my parents, faith-filled adventure, risks, laughter, kindness and my siblings. I’m passionate about people, and fresh air. These things stir me up. 

What’s a day in the life of you look like? 

My days aren’t typical, and if they were, it would be in a typically unpredictable way. I work for the Salanoa family who are proud owners of Mailelani Samoa (Natural Skin and Body Care).

Every day is different because I work where there is demand. Some days I’m painting for the Mailelani Gift shop and making little messes everywhere, and others I work on accounts, administration, and local and export orders, and sales. This job is teaching me to be more than just an artist with an urge to cover anything and everything with paint.

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My evenings are spent working on privately commissioned paintings, and in between the typical unpredictable, there’s a beautiful concoction of sea and sun, classical piano lessons, gaming, volunteering with the music program at the National University, boxing, babysitting gorgeous bubbas, exploring Samoa, worship and family time. 

What have been the most challenging experiences in your journey so far?

Being forced out of my comfort zone. Leaving behind the only home, friends and family I’d ever known. Putting distance between people that encouraged, uplifted and backed me, and moving to a place where I had to start creating life long trust units from scratch.

Moving to Samoa was the right thing to do for my family. But it still broke my heart. 23 years of a certain way of life can be hard to let go of. Life here is different from life in Fiji. I’ve since learnt that it’s different in all the right ways.

That’s not what I thought initially. I acted like a heartbroken little girl who didn’t fit in for such a long time it was ridiculous, but God just knows. He knows what we need.

I have never, never been so inspired like I am here in Samoa. I’ve met mind-blowing people and fallen in love with so much beauty. I’ve rediscovered who I am. I’ve been thrown head first into so many uncomfortable situations and I’ve learnt to appreciate how real the struggle is for so many. I’ve seen God’s love and mercy evident and so alive in absolutely everything and I’ve developed this undeniable desire to pursue art. Seriously, bravely pursue it.

What were the most rewarding lessons?

Two weeks ago I painted a prophetic piece at the Daughters of The King conference in Apia. That was a massive first for me. I’ve never painted anything impromptu in less than 15 minutes with hundreds of people watching. I’m a Rococo kind of person; I never paint in straight lines. I guess that’s the beautiful thing about faith – you have to let go of self, and just trust that God’s going to show up.

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It’s been said before that I can’t and shouldn’t try to blend the lines of my faith with my art, but that would make me a dreadful artist. I most certainly can and most definitely will forever make the wonders of this loving God known the best way I know how. I don’t know what I would’ve painted on that stage if it weren’t for my faithful God being the colour that drew brush to canvas.

I know he had certain people in the audience who he tailored bursts of love for through my artwork, and that’s a lesson every Christian should learn – vakabouta. Believing God can use all of you, fears, passions and all. When He does show up, it’s in a splendour.

What are the biggest misconceptions in your line of work? How do you feel we can address them?

Not all artists need a Bachelors Degree in fine arts to make a noticeable dent in the art world. Not every passionate artist will desire it, let alone pursue it.

Our society should encourage young and old to throw off the bowlines and pull away from the harbour, catch the trade winds in their sails and conquer new unknown waters unafraid.

I am however pursuing art school in Europe at the end of year, and it’s because I have limits and boundaries I need to push past. I’ve desired it ever since I was old enough to separate colours from shades, but I would’ve been a fool to have locked away my brushes till then.

I admit, I’d be a lousy artist without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It matters that my passions and talent are founded on more than just me. I’ve met many young people who are under the impression that they need to spend 7 years working a job they hold no passion for, to help fund a degree before they let their magic show. If we sideline our passions that’s where they’ll stay. It’s not okay to sideline anything of value – not people, passion, talent and dreams.

When you look back at your life in twenty years time, what do you hope to be most proud of?

Twenty years is enough time to change the world. I hope to proud of how the name of Jesus was written all over my dreams, my words, my spontaneity, my actions, my mistakes, my adventures, my people.

I’d like to believe that by then, I’d have lived life for what isn’t tangible, what won’t decay within time and space. I’d like to believe I would’ve lived those years for more than just myself.

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I hear and see big dreams and enormous vision in our world fuelled by want for a better and easier life. I love people who push past boundaries in the hope to be and do more.

I’m unshaken where I stand. When all is said and done, God will be all the “more” there is. Beginning to end, I want to remain unshaken. I hope to be proud of that.

What advice do you have for young Pacific people who might be thinking of pursuing a similar pathway?

For an artist, time is always redeemed, nothing is lost, and wonders never cease.

Celebrate your differences. God does and the world will too. It believes exactly what you tell it. Through your choices and actions, words and adventures, the way you care for yourself and others tell the world you’re one of the kind.

Tell them the truth and expect to be accommodated. I’m barely starting out and I’ve made a wealth of mistakes. I learn and I live. There is no right or wrong way in the art world, create a way and make it just yours.

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Being an artist (one that’s serious about that kind of career) might mean you’re weirder than most, more expressive than some. Different from everyone. Wear your difference and strange beauty like war paint!

Make no room for fear, let courage and kindness take a seat. Practice colour, recognize form, hone your natural gift and let absolutely everything you experience teach you to never be a comparison. That is how your work precedes you. That’s how art lasts.

How can we support you and your work?

I’m barely starting out as an artist (one that’s serious), but I have my first ever private art exhibition coming up in December 2016. I’m still marinating in ideas and plans at the moment, but I’d love for them all to eventuate before I leave Samoa on my next adventure end of year.

Right now all I need is publicity. It works wonders when the word gets out through familiar communication lines. I have guest artists and friends who are impeccably talented who will be featuring their work too. I’d love for their family and friends all over the world to know how brave they are for stepping out of their comfort zones.

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Thank you Chelsea for sharing her story with us. To follow her work, you can find her on Facebook via Creatively Jessie Rae.

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Arieta Tora Rika is a writer, Pacific storyteller, and Talanoa's Founder. With over 10 years of experience in social impact and non-profit communications across Australia and the Pacific, Arieta has dedicated her career to writing for positive change in vulnerable communities. She is currently a Communications Manager for The Salvation Army's aged care services, a part-time student at Western Sydney University as she completes a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology), and a sometimes storyteller and cultural advisor for Talanoa.