This blog exists to inspire people to seek out all the great art that lives in and around the Minneapolis skyway.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Interview: James Chronister on "Ceremony" at the Burnet Gallery

"Ceremony"/James Chronister
Burnet Gallery/Le Meridian Chambers Hotel
Opening: Friday, September 24, 2010, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Gallery run: September 24 - November 7, 2010, FREE

James Chronister's six paintings at the Burnet Gallery reveal his process as well as an astonishing finished product. Opening Friday, the show combines seemingly unrelated subject matter with a very specific technique giving the entire presentation literal and figurative depth. The native Montanan's four treescapes and two rocker portraits, of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, reflect shards of his youth but also speak to the construction of the art. This set of works were made by covering the canvas entirely with black and then adding a lighter color like white or tan to create the ground. From there, a grid is applied to the ground, and Chronister fills in the image square by square. The effect makes for small disconnects in the full painting, that become apparent at close range. In that way, there are layers of oil paint on the canvas that hint at the process, in addition to creating a whole image.

Usually, I stick to the visuals on this site, but I got the chance to interview James, who now lives in San Francisco. His responses are smart and accessible and truly shed light on the show. One caveat though -- this is by no means a substitute for seeing James's art in person.


Skyway of Love: Where did the title “Ceremony” come from?

James Chronister: Wikipedia says: "Ceremony" is a song by Joy Division, released as New Order's debut single in 1981. The song, as well as the B-side, "In a Lonely Place", were created by the band prior to the death of Ian Curtis. Both tracks were carried over to the band's re-incarnation as New Order, after Curtis' death.

So, the show is named after the New Order song “Ceremony.” I wanted the title to tie back into music in some way because music is a partial theme of the show. My show at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in 2009 was titled “All We Ever Wanted Was Anything” which was a riff on the Bauhaus song “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.” I wanted to keep that tradition going. “Ceremony” by New Order, is not only a classic song from a fantastic band, but it embodies a kind of longing that I find interesting. If I ever need to get my brain into a certain place, I can always listen to early New Order.

On a literal level, a ceremony can relate to the act of making art, presenting it and celebrating it at an opening. Plus I like the way the letters look together. Kind of like when the founders of Kodak came up with that name. They just liked how the K’s and D look together.

SOL: What led to your interest in revealing the process in the presentation of the art?

JC: In about 2004 my friend Ryan Thayer and I were talking about my new paintings and he mentioned that he enjoyed the notion that the process was evident in their making. He was referring to the fact that I use a grid in my process and the delineation between squares was apparent. This was something I hadn’t thought about before and I enjoyed the idea that the ‘wizard behind the curtain’ could be revealed, at least to a certain extent. Having said that, I’ve worked pretty hard to conceal that wizard in the last few years. Ideally there would be a tension between what the paintings look like and how they are actually constructed. I try to divulge clues but not the entire story. To me both complete opacity and absolute openness are less interesting than a tango of both.

SOL: You've said that the paintings reflect times in your youth walking in the woods listening to rock and roll (in the most obvious connection). What are you listening to now?

JC: Yes, that is a very tidy explanation that I offered for the inclusion of both rock imagery and landscapes. Perhaps it is a little too literal. Behind the surface of the paintings and what they overtly depict, I try to imbue a sense of the past. I’m not interested in a particular rock star or patch of forest, but rather what they might connote. I try to combine source imagery with my process of painting in order to point to the past. A memory that I always conjure is looking out of my little bedroom window towards the forests and mountains and listening to my father’s vinyl copy of ‘Hot Rocks’ by the Rolling Stones. On the other hand, I would not paint the guys from Rush because I never listened to Rush growing up.

I listen to a wide variety of music now. I enjoy new music like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Holy Shit as well as older bands such as The Moody Blues and Neil Young. I’m also in a band named NeoLance based here in San Francisco.

SOL: Is music influencing you the same way as it used to?

JC: It is influential in a different way. When I was 12 and listening to my father’s old records and walking around in the forest, I was not making art. Back then I was more interested in Dungeons and Dragons and playing guitar. Now that I am older (32), I try to channel those memories into the studio. The music and art that I am interested in creates a unique mental space. The best musicians and artists are able to surmount the materials they employ and create a place that is entirely new. I am interested in worlds, not just notes and colors of paint.

SOL: Any particular visual artists that have influenced you?

JC: Like many painters in my generation I enjoy museum favorites Luc Tuymans, Gerhard Richter and Victor Man. These guys really take painting seriously and make work that accomplishes a lot. It is interesting what they can say with a tube of paint. Of course there are also a lot of bad asses who are more my generation. Allison Schulnik and her boyfriend Eric Yahnker are some pretty great LA artists. Kathy Grayson’s gallery The Hole in NYC is full of artists with new visions like Evan Gruzis, for example. Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco has a lot of energy right now, too. On a musical level, look for Ariel Pink’s song “Jagged Carnival Tours" on YouTube. It’s an unofficial music video for the song filmed by Jon Leone. The marriage of the audio track and the visual film is flawless.

SOL: Any other random things that inspire you? You know, architecture, TV shows, pets...

JC: While this is not inspiration per se, at the end of the day, I am a person who likes to spend eight hours a day in a shitty room, by myself, making dot after dot on a canvas for months on end. I have no idea why I can do this. My father, who is a law clerk in Montana, has made amazing, intricate reproductions of Native American bead works for most of his life. He has even had pieces in movies; Dances with Wolves, for example. I must of gotten the knack for detail from him. Support from those around me never hurts either. And, our cat Izzy Wu has always been a BIG influence.

SOL: Have you ever been to Minnesota before? We respect Montanans because we know they understand what winter is.

JC: I have never been to Minnesota before, although my wife’s side of the family hails from the Twin Cities. Regarding the weather, I’m really glad the show is in September and not February!


Word on the street is that curator Jennifer Phelps is dazzled by these paintings. Can't make the opening? You'll miss the artist, but will still be able to see the show which runs through November 7.

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