As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Christopher Russell. See the full studio visit and interview with Marci and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
Christopher lives on a quaint and quiet street in Glendale, just outside of Los Angeles. We met him at his studio, a converted freestanding garage that looks a lot like a barn that he’s set up as both an office and an art making space. Christopher’s work employs photography, writing, bookmaking, and digital printmaking to create subversive, psychologically dark artwork that often explores an unsavory and unsettling side of humanity.
Though I had no concrete expectations of what Christopher might be like, I was surprised by his gentle demeanor, and soft unhurried voice; there’s a shy, almost childlike quality to his presence. And yet it didn’t take much coaxing to get him talking. Christopher’s brain is like a library catalogue, an endless inventory of ideas that cover a range of subjects far and wide— our conversations abounded with his very specific references to historical and current events, literary figures and movements, artists, political parties and landscapes, and religious texts. At times it was difficult to keep up, mostly because he jumped from idea to idea, but also because he didn’t spend too much time explaining each reference. I’ve noticed this is a common phenomenon among artists who spend a great deal of time immersed in research— steeped in the process of inquiry and investigation, certain topics and ideas become incredibly familiar to them and as they continue to acquire information, they reach a level of intimacy with the subject matter that allows them to think of it as common knowledge. But usually it’s far from common knowledge! Though sometimes conversationally challenging, encounters like these are inspiring; they’re full of the opportunities to learn something new and see the world from a different vantage point. Throughout my conversation with Christopher I wildly jotted down notes so I could look stuff up when I got home. And boy, do I know a thing or two now that I hadn’t before.
When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
It depends on context. I tend not to admit to being an artist in circles where there isn’t already a presumption about what a contemporary artist is. If I’m teaching at the time, I will say I’m an educator. Otherwise, I often say I’m in between things just because I don’t want to have to answer all the questions that usually ensue if I say I’m an artist.
What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I am a photographer. But I do a lot of drawing, some “painting,” and sometimes I just attack the pictures or mark them with jizz, like an animal or some such. Subject matter wise, it’s psychologically dark; I gravitate towards despair.
I take photos, digitally convert them to patterns, and then print them out on photo paper. I then scratch and etch into the surface, sometime delicate drawings with an X-Acto knife, sometimes violently with a meat cleaver.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I am in a huge production mode, working 12-14 hours a day in the studio, so I’m not actively reading at the moment. I don’t think I could really take additional input at this stage of my production. For my current project, my curiosity is provoked by current events, by the train wreck of politics and what passes for journalism. It creates a sense of defeat unlike any in literature.
What are you most proud of?
Points of pride become a stopping point; something from which all other things are compared. The high school jock in his 40s reveling in the big win. No. I push myself to change my aesthetic, to really push how far I can take my work. I don’t think my practice allows that line of thought.
How will you know when you have arrived?
I’m not interested in goal driven production. Arrival seems to be about money, the conscious creation of commodities, career trajectory. I often make things knowing that they will never be sold. When I make money from my work, it allows me to put more money into the work, more time to make it, but I don’t think there’s a piece or a show or a collection that is defining.
To read the full interview and see more of Christopher Russell’s work go to www.inthemake.com.