“Junction”— the newest show for painter Chris Vance — represents the many crossroads in the prolific artist’s life during the past year. After quitting his job to pursue art full time, Vance has wrestled with personal and emotional sacrifices that at times have clashed and challenged his 10-year progression toward becoming a recognized, working painter.
His first large-scale, 100-foot mural is a nod to his interest in installation and conveys a personal narrative told through organic color and compositions, as well as his recurring snaggletoothed creatures.
Q - ”Junction” opens March 25 and will introduce a shift from what people expect from a Chris Vance show. What can people look forward to when they walk into the space?
A - When you walk into the gallery space, it’s going to look like one big mural. It flows from nonobjective, to my figurative work, back to nonobjective. There’s actually a new design for me, where I’m doing some really harsh geometric elements. I’ve never really gone down that road before—my work has always been very organic. So if you walk in and start on the left side of the gallery, it feels a lot like my old work, and then there’s a place where it opens up, and the cutouts will be featured there.
Q - The cutouts largely take the shapes of figurative characters that reappear in your work, almost like cartoonish plaques. Can you describe the cutout installation pieces?
A - The mural breaks apart into smaller pieces, and there’s an installation of cutouts where I’m experimenting with dimensions. They create cast shadows and are very engaging. Then it flows out into the new geometric work.
The cutouts have really been inspiring to work on. I paint thousands of paintings a year, and not that I feel defined by the rectangle or the square, but this has been an idea in my sketchbook for a long time. Since I’ve been able to quit my job, it’s allowed me to pursue some of those ideas that I’ve had but never had time to do. It’s going to be an interesting show. I’m really excited about it.
Q - How did the mural physically come together?
A - I started with the main 3-foot panels that create the 3-foot band that will wrap the gallery. I had 16x16-, 12x12-, and 10x30-foot frames built, and then I started hanging pieces on the top and bottom of them. Each piece is tied to the next piece. I can’t wait to see it all up together. Once it’s hung, people can start taking pieces away from it.
Q - So the mural is really a temporary piece even you haven’t seen before?
A - I’ve seen it in my studio in sections, but it’s not the same impact as being in a white-wall gallery. There will be a place in the gallery where, if you stand 6 feet out, all you’ll see is mural—it will take up your entire vision.
Q - This mural is designed to dole itself out into individual elements that people can purchase to create their own compositions. But would you sell the whole mural as one piece?
A - Absolutely. The mural could be marketed to a corporate client where I could do something similar in their space.
Q - This is a large-scale work you haven’t done before on this level. Are there any other departures from your work in “Junction”?
A - Visually, there’s the new geometric work I’ve never partaken in. While thinking about “Junction” and what it means to me and my life, things that have happened … like my dad really wanted me to be an architect. I got to college and found out it’s not working with your hands anymore, it’s all on the computer, so I changed my major to art. So there are a couple of pieces that have that architectural influence.
It actually hit me while standing in my friends’ entryway looking at a blueprint of their house, which is a really cool 1950s modern house, and I had a vision. I thought about taking some of that drafting background I had and perspective drawing, and all this stuff I learned in college, and take that with what I know now and change what people are expecting to see.
I think a lot of people think of my work as organic with a graffiti feel, which is still there, but there will also be a visual change and a dimensional change.
Q - What are you bringing in that’s classic Chris Vance?
A - Probably the figurative work. The show’s postcard gives a decent background of my work, but it’s done in a different way. There’s a visual history of my work within the mural. You’ll also see a representation of a cocoon that breaks apart and you have these weird butterflies, and then it goes into the figurative work. I’m not saying that’s what this piece is, but I kind of felt like that when I quit my job and I finally had the chance to do more. That’s where the idea of the cocoon started … it breaks open, and the butterfly gets its wings. This is how it developed.
The geometric work came about only three months ago and really wasn’t in my brain when I started the project. It will be interesting to see if people respond to it or feel like it’s a direction I should go. Those are conversations I want to have with people. That’s exciting to me.
Q - Who are these figurative characters that appear in your work and where do they come from?
A - I’ve always been influenced by children’s art. I have four kids, and they’re spaced out pretty far in age. I take what I see in their drawings and push it to another level, and like with the cutouts, give them three dimensions. So there’s children art and graffiti, but my influences and ideas morph. I don’t set out and say, “This is going to be an alien with three eyes.” It’s more of an organic thing of me feeling the shape and what feels right.
Q - Do they represent any kind of personality or people?
A - Sometimes there’s definite commentary. But I don’t always put it out there because I don’t want people to have preconceived ideas about my values and what I’m trying to say. I do make social commentary, but in a lot of my work it’s hidden. And that’s fine with me, as long as I know what I was saying. Most of the time, no one ever sees it. They might perceive something as cute, when it’s something very personal that I’ve put into [the painting].
A lot of my personal works deal with me being a dad. If someone read the title, saw the work, and maybe had some of the same experiences I’ve had, they would understand. But it’s not like I’m doing pieces that deal with my opinions on abortion. I’m not trying to put out heavy, heavy social commentary—more just my take on life.
I was part of a show with John Phillip Davis for a museum in South Dakota. The show was called “Disconnect.” One painting was about my feelings on social networking, Facebook, and my issues with how fast information travels now and how people’s business is out there when they don’t want it out there, so I did some pieces related to that. But if you looked at the work, it was still funny and cute, and a little dark because they’re always a little dark.
“Facebook Boy is Always Watching You” is one of the titles, and it’s this guy with these weird arms and clouds with eyes, and he’s reaching down and there are all these little eggs with a couple eyes on them. So it’s like all these little drones that are a part of it.
Another piece comes to mind called “Da Creeps on Da Corner,” which is about having a teenage daughter and having the boys prowling around. But when you look at it, the characters just look like punk kids. For me it was a way of getting that off my chest that these kids suck.
Q - What materials did you use to create the mural?
A - The cutouts are made of plywood, but the rest of the piece is clayboard, which has a really smooth surface. I like it because it allows me to do a lot of translucent, thin layers. I paint a lot of thin layers of the same colors to get a really rich color with a high-gloss finish. I’ve had people question whether they’re real or if they’re prints that are mounted. People think they’re encaustic, but they’re just paintings that have been sanded. Once they’re done and all the bumps and rough spots have been sanded away, it actually looks like a piece of glass.
Q - Have you experimented with texture before?
A - I did paint rather chunky for a while, but I got away from it. It didn’t feel right. I have a printmaking background from college with monotypes, and that’s probably where the layering process came in, because with the monotypes, I’d do several layers on the same sheet of paper. They were thin, translucent oil colors, and I liked the way they achieved this richness. So I try to achieve that in painting.
Q -You seem like you are achieving texture with your dimensional work and how you choose to display your pieces.
A -Yeah, there’s a texture there, plus a brushwork quality. Even though the pieces are really polished, you can still see the process, and I do a lot of little details to give them visual texture. It gives them a sense of depth without having a gigantic chunk of paint to give it dimension.
Q -You’re known for encouraging people who buy your art to create their own compositions and juxtapositions with your work. Where did this philosophy come from?
A - I’ve always felt like my artwork is validated when someone wants to spend money and purchase something from me. I could never understand why for some people possessing your own work became so important. Where they might view it as too important to let go, I think it’s awesome to have that connection with a person who owns that important piece of yours.
I get some sort of weird high from interacting with other people and having them engage with my work. I like presenting it in a certain way, and I also like watching how it unfolds—how other people take elements and start to do their own things with them.
Q - I find it an interesting contradiction that you’ve often referred to your work as your diary of personal experiences, even though you might camouflage them, but then you’re so willing to let them go.
A - You have to be. I want to continue to pursue the next thing and the next idea. I can’t get too caught up in holding on to them. That’s just my own philosophy. There are a lot of other people who feel differently than that.
I also try to find a price point where people can access it. That’s one of my big things as an artist: If you see a piece and you can’t afford that one, I want you to be able to find something that you can actually possess as your own. To me, that’s the coolest part.
Q - How many shows have you done at Moberg Gallery?
A - I think this will be the fifth one-man show, maybe the sixth. Historically, the Moberg show has been a show where I’ve really reinvented my work for the next year to show my newest direction, with ideas that are a little bit ahead of their time. For example, I remember the first show I started hanging my work together; people were not ready for that. They were like, “This is weird. Why is everything touching? They’re different paintings—why are you hanging them like this?”
And now that idea is expected. People expect to walk in and buy more pieces to add to their collection and hang them wrong. It’s been interesting.
The cool thing about the Mobergs is they’re open to new ideas. I took this mural concept in about eight to 10 months ago and said this is what I want to do with the space, and they were like, “Go for it.” That’s nice because I have a lot of ideas … and I’ve shown at galleries that weren’t quite ready. The Moberg show is my show, and I want people to be excited to come see the new work.
Q - What new ideas are formulating in your sketchbook?
A - In the last month I’ve been sketching a show that’s going to be nothing but the cutouts in organic, geometric, figurative shapes. So when you walk in the space it will lean toward installation, which to me is where I want to be and what I want to be doing. I have a concept in mind where the whole space is taken over, but I’m still working out the puzzle of all this visual information so you really feel taken over by the space. I think that’s the next level for me right now, figuring out when, how, and where.
View and Purchase New Works by Chris Vance