September 2017 Artist Interview
Chris taught himself book binding out of a need to present a completed work to a potential publisher as an example of exactly how he expected a finished project to work and look. The process of bookmaking soon took over the painting that he had been trained for and now takes up all of his time. Three of his pieces were chosen to be included in the Allan Chasanoff Collection, now part of the permanent collections at Yale University Gallery of Art, New Haven. He has shown in many venues across the country and currently resides in Ridgefield, Ct.
At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to become an artist? Did the realization emerge slowly?
Most kids like to make things with their hands, myself included. Art school was only one of three possible choices of college after high school and it wasn’t until I was actually near the end of my first semester there that I met the right people who inspired me and showed me how to become an artist full-time. Three instructors and a fellow student who was two years ahead, along with the invaluable experience of sharing a 10,000 square foot studio with 20 others painters led to the decision to make painting my main focus in life.
How did you evolve your style and favorite mediums?
Even though I was trained for and spent most of my art career painting I still drew a lot. It was because of a long-term drawing project, started many years ago, that I decided to learn book-binding and soon found that that was all I was doing. The books I make utilize all the traditional materials that go into making a book – paper, fabric, boards. Besides canvas and paint, paper has long been one of my favorite materials and making books allows me to spend many hours cutting and gluing it.
What are your time management techniques? Do you have regular working hours...or favorite times to work?
Since my studio is in my house and I no longer have to go out to work, I can just walk into the next room and go to it. I don’t have a favorite time, anytime works as long as it moves me forward. Sometimes the cutting becomes very meditative and I can stand at my table for hours, other times it’s a chore and I know I have to just move onto something else in the process and set the knife down.
Do you work on more than one piece at a time, or primarily just on one?
No, each piece is planned and produced one at a time. The only time I can work on two is when I have a lot of gluing to do that takes days for multiple coats and positions. Then I start the planning and laying-out of the next. The reason I don’t do more than one is that sometimes after finishing one I decide not to do the next one I had planned on doing. Something about the just-completed piece leads me in a different direction than where I thought I wanted to go.
What would you say is your biggest influence -- that which keeps you working, regardless of all else, your most steadfast motivation?
I don’t always know what a piece will look like when it’s finished. Sometimes it fails, the paper doesn’t fall the way I wanted, the pile of volumes is awkward looking or won’t support itself, what I thought would, just doesn’t work. And sometimes it does something I never expected and could not have foreseen had I not made the piece. Paper is a sometimes forgiving thing and sometimes it just stymies anything I have planned for it.
Does trying something new and not knowing the rules -- the boundary pushing -- create anxiety or excitement in you? (Or both?)
Boundaries will be broached and rules will be broken. Don’t tell me I cannot do something because you will only inspire me to try my hardest to do just that. I’ve had people express horror that I take old books and do horrible things (in their eyes) to them. They’re just books, there are many copies remaining in the world, and the ones I use are mostly cast-offs, found in the recycle bins at my local libraries. The other rules I like to try to break are the ones that determine what paper can be made to do and what I can tease out of the book shape itself. I work very hard to make things that have never been seen before and I get excited when I am successful, but only slightly anxious when I start to think I’m not.
Do you enjoy having the "duality of both chaos and control" or are you happiest with a set plan?
Every piece is meticulously planned, how many pages, where the cuts are and how big or small, are they random or calculated, how many volumes in the piece and what colors are to be used for the book cloth and cover papers. From there, chaos can rule. It is what I hope for sometimes – that unexpected thing that I cannot plan for. It has led in several pieces to an epiphany, a WOW moment, and I find the work making an abrupt change. My first WOW moment led to the decision to make the books sculptural, a later one to how to move from the pedestal onto the wall, and recently how to make them large, as large as I can imagine, room-fillingly large. Chaos is very important.
Do you have any projects or events forthcoming?
In addition to adding to the Ripples series, a fellow book artist, Alice Walsh, and I are co-curating a book art show that will open in the spring of 2019. We have 5 venues already committed and are actively looking for one, possibly two museums who may be interested in ending the show in the late summer/early fall of that year. We are planning on showing at least 50 artists from around the world and a minimum of 150 pieces, along with a published catalogue, artist talks and opportunities to teach kids how to make a book. And all this without including our own work, its all about everyone else. It’s very exciting and we are having a great time looking for new artists to work with.
23 Bayberry Hill Road
Ridgefield, Ct. 06877
40 x 122 x 11
Altered books, paper, fabric, wood, aluminum
48 x 24 x 16
Paper, fabric, stainless steel
18 x 15 x 18
Paper, fabric, gel acetate