Please share a bit about yourself and your creative background.
I grew up in the North East of England. My father is from London and my mother is from Darlington. I grew up in Darlington and travelled around the country. When I was younger I went to Rose Bruford, the drama school. I was interested in acting, I still am in a way. I did technical theatre and continued on working in museums. I went along with a friend to visit Bath College of Art. They were going to join but in the end they didn’t and I did. It was an accidental start; it had always been in my mind but I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it.
I studied painting but when I left art college I didn’t want to do that. It felt too easy and I wanted to do something that was unusual. I started working with wood, making furniture and sculptures. I developed a love for wood which has continued to this day. I live in the countryside and like to collect things on the beach, or tree branches from the woods. Painting is still important and I’ve come back to it again. It relates to some of the teaching that I do. It’s quite a simple thing to teach and talk about. It’s only when you’re talking to people that you realise how much you’ve learnt yourself! It’s a constant realisation, like a shell going into a shell and finding more.
I’m interested in words and writing too. After art school, I went into Illustration and wrote some graphic novels. I’m in a bit of a battle with myself usually to do with words and pictures. They can be different parts of you, they don’t always have to come from the same points.
What sort of writing do you do?
Mostly poems but some prose too. I made a piece which contains writing from a story called ‘Outlines,’ which was based around The Tempest by Shakespeare. It’s about how a storm out there in nature can also be a storm inside your mind. It’s a psychological storm that we often go through. The elements out there are sometimes reflected in the way we feel. I played around with making objects that included some of those words. It’s been challenging but necessary to me.
Can you tell me how your work is influenced by mental health?
As you get older and experience more, I think it would be hard for your work not to be affected by your mental health. Everyone has moments of doubt, worry, anxiety or depression and it is reflected in the pieces. To me, making work is a pleasant and painful experience at the same time. It’s a pastime but it’s not a leisure pursuit.
It’s interesting because in order to make art, you sometimes have to be somewhere else. Concentration doesn’t always produce the greatest pieces. I like playing music, it actively distracts parts of your mind with something else so that you kind of forget where you are. You’re trying to reach your inner world and parts that aren’t on the surface. It’s similar to meditation, it has that element where you’re doing something but you’re also somewhere else.
Can you talk a bit about the video you created and how you came up with those ideas?
I started working with some other people, which was really important because I've always been a solo artist. I thought it would be nice to have a soundtrack to the video. I thought I could try things or I could work with someone who knows more about music. It became important for me to find other people who had other skills and to make something else; pulling other thoughts, depths and ideas together. Someone once pointed out to me that another person looking at your work is creating a piece of art in themselves. That distance is important because they are not invested in it in the same way I am. They're providing an outside view and different perspective, which helps me see clearer perhaps.
The music was by a lady who runs the Electric Voice Theatre. They do a lot of other educational work and compose music. She was very interested in the project and managed to get other people involved too. I was quite nervous about it but people seemed to like the idea and wanted to participate.
What other projects are you working on?
I have an exhibition coming up called ‘Earth Requiem.’ I wanted to make something related to books, looking as if it’s been around for many millennia. I created an art piece with a circle on a big wooden panel. The panel forms one of a series of book pages, which are looped together with a big rope. There are 12 images and I want it to be bound together, but it’s quite hard to view it like that so I’m still trying to figure it out.
I like to work outside and incorporate natural elements in my work. I do some work in museums in Edinburgh and there’s a project coming up which is kind of on the back of COP26. It’s an environmental project, creating a mural and also making a couple of benches. I’m using recycled materials for it, different kinds of old recycled wood and branches.
I also wanted to mention another project of mine called ‘Shadow Players.’ It’s a graphic novel and memoir about myself and things that have happened to me. I found it wasn’t quite what I wanted, so I invented another section rather than just revisiting parts of the past. In this section, I was stranded in a theatre during a snowstorm and I had a journal with me. I was on my own looking at this book and then Orson Welles comes in. That set something off which led me to do lots of research on him. I’ve written a piece trying to use that information. The research was becoming more fascinating and it became a performance piece which I’m working on. The avid study, collection of information, revisiting TV and films and the repetition of this is comforting to me.
Something was growing within me as an artist, writer and someone who deals with matters of the mind. Having had some kind of counselling myself, I found I was jotting down ideas that I liked too much myself and wanted to play with them myself, rather than share them with someone else. I felt it was important to use these ideas and find opportunities to use on a project, writing or developing a visual idea.
It’s been a journey over 2 or 3 years, before the lockdowns. All the drawings and written work and sharing with people. I was also still doing research on Orson Welles because he was such a fascinating person. He was a massively creative person and suffered from various issues which manifested in some of his creative work. That perseverance and bloody-mindedness, certainly beyond determination, was a very positive experience.
What’s next for you?
I’m continuing to make things. Over the last year or so, I’ve started painting on some wooden blocks. They make up about 10 larger pieces and six smaller ones. They're kind of abstract images that use paint but I’ve also been cutting into the wood. I realised working on wood was a good choice because you can use the texture, you can create texture and create lines cutting into the surface, which is more important to me than just painting on the surface. It gives it some substance. The tactile nature of creating work is important to me. It’s more than just looking, you're holding it, you're with it, it has a connection with you.
Can you share any lessons you’ve learned from your artistic journey and ongoing practice?
Continuing - that’s been important. For a little while, things got knocked out of me a bit. I had a short phase about 20 years ago where I found things really hard and I wasn’t in a comfortable place. As soon as I was feeling like 1% better, I would try to make a drawing or painting.
I started making things when I was very young. My dad would bring home paper and pencils which was the best present. My dad made me a little easel and I loved painting. I recognised that there was a strange original idea that didn’t come from my family but came from within. If you have something that makes you feel comfortable in some way, that’s a huge important thing to have.
When people attend my classes who haven’t created in years, you can see a certain brightening in their personality when they start making work again. To have something that gives you a sense of achievement is so important and I would just push it, push it as far as you can so you can learn more about things. Do and learn as much as you can to find yourself. It’s all about identity, finding yourself and discovering an identity. When you’re younger, you don't realise how much there is of you. Through your experiences you develop as a person. By trying things with all your might, you learn so much and it doesn't matter if you fail.
See more of Chris' work on his website.