Kris Chatterson and I have simultaneous solo shows up this month, if you're a New Yorker go see Kris' show at Greene Contemporary in the LES. Images in this post are both installation shots and pix of individual pieces - his "Nocturne" is my personal favorite. Congrats Kris on your first New York show! Cool!
The two of us decided we wanted to do something a little different for the blog other than just posting reviews and images of shows we've seen in our home cities, so we thought we'd interview each other asking questions about our respective processes and lives. We exchanged email questions and answered them and here are the results. I learned a lot I didn't know about how Kris operates and what the New York art world is like! I hope you all enjoy our exchange.
And by the way, the Louise Bourgeois show at MOCA rocks, if you live in LA you must see. What a tough 96-year-old artist she is! Utterly fearless, immaculately made work. Very moving.
(Cole Case) Has moving from LA to New York changed any aspects of your process, and if so, what and how?
(Kris Chatterson) Yes absolutely! But it’s hard to say or distill one specific thing because more changed than just moving to New York. Aside from moving, a big change was switching from acrylic to oil. I was really nervous to do it, but I knew I needed to in order to get what I ultimately want from my paintings, which is to exploit the working properties of oil paint to achieve a more luminous and visceral painting. I was experimenting in LA on the side with oil with no real luck. I finally realized in order to make the switch I needed to be fully committed. I knew my work would change anyway from the move, so I thought why not throw another wrench into the mix and see what surfaces. Just that simple change shifted my process a lot. I look back at the work in LA and realize that it had a lot to do with restraint and self-imposed limitations. The work I am making now has a similar framework but with more options. For example I have five different brushes and other tools I use to investigate a larger vocabulary of marks and spatial devices. I have also started working from drawings, which I never did in LA because the final image arose out of the process of the painting. I now keep three sketchbooks and I’m always recording things I see and ideas I get for new compositional arrangements and color. I then redraw the sketch at least four or five times; and if I am still excited about the idea, I make a small working drawing that is the premise for a new painting. Once the painting gets started, the drawing is put away and I take the painting on as its own endeavor.
The "how" of your question has a lot to do with working as a painter in New York. This is really home base for painting. I have the opportunity to see a lot of work and meet a lot of artists who I admire and respect. In other words, I’m saturated. Painting in LA always needs something to go along with it. You can't just be a painter — you’re an "LA Painter." In New York you can just be a Painter and all that comes with it for better or worse.
(C.C.) How did you develop your huge brush technique?
(K.C.) The big brush technique emerged out of a series of works I made as I exited graduate school. I eliminated everything I was doing in school in order to see what would emerge. I started with making small works on vellum using simple lines with ink. I was exploring the grid then warping the grid and finally destroying the grid with swatches of paint applied with a bigger brush. I’m always rebelling against myself. I have always felt more comfortable working large, so the question was how can I keep the scale of mark with a large painting. I had to actually build brushes by aligning smaller brushes together on a strip of wood that was then attached to a long pole. The big brush has more to do with the proportion of the mark to the size of the painting rather than just making big marks for the sake of it.
(C.C.) Do you work on the wall or the floor?
(K.C.) My way of working in LA developed into a process of working horizontally on the floor. I mixed large amounts of acrylic paint and poured it directly onto the canvas that was then manipulated with my custom-made brushed. I now find myself working more vertically with the paintings. The importance of the large marks has diminished. I am interested in manipulating space with gradations and glazes, so my process has become, in some ways, more traditional but also more complex as I am asking more from myself and the paintings. When it comes to the larger passages of marks I do move the painting to the floor.
(C.C.) What governs your color decisions?
(K.C.) I ask myself that question a lot. There are certain colors that I am drawn to, like orange and blue. Usually before I decide on the color I think about the temperature I want the painting to be and the kind of light and space that I am after. Once I know that, I think about how much contrast I want or don't want and go from there. Usually I end up with something completely different, but still roughly, if not on the same page, at least in the same book.
(C.C.) How do you choose your paintings' scale and proportions?
(K.C.) I first think about what I want the painting to do. How I want it to interact with space and people. I then go through a process of taping out the wall so I can actually see the scale and get a feel for it. I move things around and once I'm happy I measure it.
(C.C.) How do you come up with titles?
(K.C.) I name my paintings rather than title them. Titles are for book and movies. I live with these things so after a while a name comes along. Usually there are a few names before resting on one definitive name.
(C.C.) Has being married had an impact on those same factors?
(K.C.) Yes and no. I actually never thought of myself as ever getting married. What I feel I have is a life partner and best friend. That definitely ups my confidence.
(C.C.) As a 5th generation Californian, New York is this exotic fantasy world to me, like the Oz of Painting. Elaborate on what's the same, what's different, and what are the best -- and worst -- aspects of each city as a place to be a painter.
(K.C.) Great Question!
Overall each city has it's own history with regard to painting. The two general differences are that LA is more cool and conceptual and NYC is more rough, painterly and tied to painting’s history. A question I am always asked here, but rarely asked in LA, is "Who are you looking at." LA can be a little suspicious about painting I feel. In NYC painting is a very serious proposition and in LA it's more tongue-in-cheek. One of the biggest differences in LA is the pleasure principle seems to be king. By that I mean painting is about visual pleasure or the pleasure of painting. Michael Reafsnyder's signature smiley face comes to mind. At the moment all of the old ideas each city has about art are in flux due to the collapse in the market, so it's hard to give a definitive answer. I have already detected changes here in NYC. Right now in New York it's all about the Lower East Side. There are a lot of young dealers showing new art by young and not-so-young artists.
In terms of living and working as a painter you really can't compare. It’s really two different ways of living and engaging the community. In New York life is on the street and it is very easy to do a lot in one day. LA is life stuck in traffic, so it’s a slower pace. Once you get to where you are going you generally want to stay in the vicinity.
In the end, LA and NYC need each other even if reluctantly so. LA has the highest concentration of MFA programs in the world. That is a big deal and means to me that the experience of being a young artist in LA is an important one. A lot of these MFA grads will end up in NYC and LA galleries and go on to shape this and following generations.
Keep in mind though that New Yorkers have a similar view of LA as being a fantasyland. I remember driving towards Pasadena on the 210 being able to see downtown LA in the distance and thinking to myself, "It's just like Oz."