In the fall of 2002 I stopped painting. I didn’t intend to make a break with the medium, it just dawned on me that I could actually make these things that I had been picturing for years. I have always painted pictures of things. My thinking was abstract, but the imagery concrete. During the last several years I became increasingly interested in the theme of multiplicity - obsessively repeating an alphabet of emblematic motifs that had developed more or less organically throughout my history. This almost Hindu notion of infinite objects and events adding to and becoming the whole awoke in me a fascination with mechanical (re)production by means of mold making, casting, and industry in general. This line of thinking has taken me towards the notion of a modular form of sculpture that can be broken down and rearranged at will. This lends an industrial functionality to the work that playfully encroaches on architecture and design.
This work in sculpture, (painting), and bas relief is idiosyncratically American, its roots born in post war faux utopian consumerist wants dreams and desires, as well as real functionary needs. It is informed by sports cars, hot rods, speed boats, interstellar spacecraft. The design format remarks on graphic marketing systems: logos; emblems of the corporate identities they exhort – themselves imagined representations at once removed from people and products – the needs and functions they represent, referencing the entire synthetic aesthetic of a mechanized society. Markedly, the ultimate consumer item and demarcation of elitism, intellectualism, status, and surfeit wealth: art.
Road signs for the international freeway culture – the language of the open road; born of the mass industrialization of the twentieth century and successively evolving pathways splicing suburbia, dystopias, and eventually omnipresent throughout actual urban centers worldwide. This same vernacular has been recently applied to the internet’s fictive digital reality as directive signposts, guides to cyber systems, information locators (search engines) – a “Route 66” for superstores both quaintly physical and overtly artificial – pathfinders to what ever we may desire as a society as a whole or individuals within that stricture. What originated as an arrow to ‘John’s Farm: that-a-ways,” or a pile of rocks designating a pathway or landmark: “Over them mountains yonder,” has now all become fodder for commentary.
They rotate on signposts; they hang on chains suspended from the ceiling; or are mounted as placard on the walls – and they sell you …nothing! Themselves! They marketeer their own aesthetic of ambivalence.
A friend said, “They look like boogie boards for an alien ocean.” Actually though, the evolution of the work began several years back when I visited a hotel on the outskirts of Rome. It was decorated in rather grand 1970s chic. There were a lot of metallic tints and ornamental ceramic work. This was also around the same time that I first learned to drive a car. Having grown up in Manhattan it is not unusual to have limited experience with automobiles. Soon I started noticing those metallic colors on cars and began mimicking them in oil paint on canvas. Later on I started to favor sculpture over painting. It all came to a head when I started painting the sculptures for purely pragmatic reasons. (I was working with resins that are not UV stable and must be painted to stem degradation.) Soon I was set up with a virtual auto body shop.
Interestingly, I have found that the viewing public at large will more readily accept abstraction in a sculptural format than in two dimensions. A picture by its very nature implies that it is a representation of something, while in three dimensions it already is something which we can relate to viscerally. After all, all form is essentially abstract. A nose or a tree are only shapes until we assign meanings to them – learn what they are - during the first year or so of our lives. My paintings at the time came out of the abstract expressionist tradition of the New York School. That is not to say they were Ab X, I related far more to a surrealist model, but the improvisational, and chiefly biomorphic, modus operendi was rooted in the NY School. And so again the American reference in my recent work. The structure or armature, the substrate for the subsequent painting on the surfaces, is Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam. This material allows me to really have at it immediately with a freedom and spontaneity unavailable in other mediums. In general, sculpture requires quite a bit of technical foresight. But my method of carving the initial shapes from EPS and later coating it with resins – a technique very similar to making a surfboard – makes for a flexible approach akin to jazz, blues, and rock and roll. Metaphorically speaking, once the bass line is established the lead guitar can improvise freely, and it is the same with these painted sculptures in bas relief.
Recently a client asked me,"You're so dedicated. How did you decide to be an artist?" My reply: "I'm not dedicated at all. I do what I want. Dedication is doing something you don't want to do. As for deciding, I never decided to be an artist, I probably decided not to be one about a hundred times. But, you are what you are." Then she asked me the proto typical question: "Who are your influences?" But, I have a backwards way of looking at it. If my work starts to look like another artist I ditch it."
Christopher Hart Chambers