Chris Hood

Chris Hood in dialogue with Steven Cox

Steven Cox: Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and when you first started working full-time as an artist?

Chris Hood: I am a bit peripatetic and like to keep on the move but am originally from Atlanta. I immediately moved to New York City after art school in California. I worked at a gallery and painted at nights for years until there became a point where it cost me more to be at my job than in the studio. I’ve worked as an art director, photographer, teacher, art installer and made signs for a stint. I think they were pretty informative to knowing how to make things and developing a strong work ethic.

SC: Can you tell me about your current studio and working routine? Do you have any morning rituals or habits that contribute towards a productive day within the studio?

CH: I feel like setting oneself up to work well is one of the most difficult disciplines for an artist. Without a doubt, time is the most precious resource. You have to protect your concentration and momentum, which for me means no phone/internet, generally no music, no answering emails, and no booze when working. It is not so much the time to do the thing itself but the amount of thought and ease of flow lost to it. A text message can cost you a half hour if it’s still rolling around in your head. So my routine focuses on getting most of the daily tasks done in a sprint so I can be free to work the rest of the day.  I also have been finding a 30 minute nap when I am beat can do wonders in productivity rather than working through my drained momentum.

SC: I am aware that you have recently moved from New York to L.A, what do you feel the city offers you that New York didn’t? Do you see yourself living in L.A, for the foreseeable future?

CH: Los Angeles is great for resources and for having both the physical and mental space to make work. My studio is 3x larger at the same price point. Also art seems more a part of the culture industry at large, which brings together a mix of musicians, designers, Hollywood people, etc. so it does not feel as insular. That being said, I feel like there is more of an interest in entertainment or the decorative aspect of art in Los Angeles, which can be a sort of baggage.  Art fits better into people’s lives here- they live with it - whereas in New York the art decidedly does not fit. ...it is often too big, too heavy, too much. The ambition sits staggeringly above practicality, which I really appreciate.

Ideally I would be an international artist who happens to live in Los Angeles. New York City has a way of being demanding at even the smallest levels that it is nice to put it down for a while and hole up to get work done.

SC: So far, what have been the most rewarding & exciting aspects of living in L.A?

CH: Nature is not far. Tacos are the best in the country. Strangers are cool.

SC: What projects/works are currently in progress in your studio?

CH: I recently finished a solo exhibition so have mainly been getting back in the flow and working through ideas for things on the horizon. I am testing some new material limitations, groupings of work, and sourced different kinds of colored canvases. I just re-stretched 2 large works from last winter in the studio so they are nice to have around. I am also pushing some large drawings.

SC: Is there a particular manner in how you plan your works? Do you begin with preparatory sketches of some form, or do you prefer to work in an improvised manner?

CH: I am not in the game of making masterpieces. I am always sort of searching while the painting is being made allowing it to become something greater than could have been envisioned or planned. However, just the act of touching paint on canvas can have all sorts of dilemmas to figure out in the moment so I set up some structure to begin. I generally have thought about the themes of the work, sketched some imagery/composition, and chosen colors to work with, but still allow discovery to happen naturally. The works are made in a series of steps that have a particular order yet moments of improvisation can happen within each of these steps and still glide along to a surprising finish.

SC: Can you please tell me about your studio set up? Would you say that your current studio is ideal?

CH: My studio is a dream. I live there too. An old storefront with tall ceilings, skylights, ample wall space, easy load in/out, back yard and separate living area. I searched craigslist every day for months. My studios in new york were all dark, cold, and a little dangerous at night. The main difference between NYC and LA is that you pay the same but you get a lot more.  It has been a major step to live and work in the same space though. Sometimes I will wake up and start working at 4am. My life and work are the same.

SC: Your process involves painting on both sides of the canvas, allowing the paint to seep through creating stains visible on the front of the canvas. Through this process, the viewer attempts to unravel the mystery of how such marks are achieved for not only are they fascinating but also a little peculiar upon initial viewing. I would like to know when you first explored this process? Also it would be great to hear some of your own thoughts about your working methods…

CH: I was looking for a way to ‘break’ the painting. To have friction built into the material look of it as well as in the imagery. The best painters have always found a back door in. At one point I made a small group of t-shirt paintings that I stretched with paint-covered hands. The graphics, turned inside out, along with the fluid painterly swaths of color hit a certain place for me that I wanted to keep exploring. I was particularly trying to forge a relationship between thinness in paint and a kind of evaporating or veiling image. I also wanted to develop a personal voice with my work as a stark contrast to the silent, assured contentment I find in much abstract painting. The voice is not necessarily my own voice but I write a lot to build its vocabulary and cull up very personal experiences I can translate in a universal way. So this is something like a method I suppose, building an archive of expressive anomalies. I make lots of lists- its a kind of lateral thinking.

SC: The imagery within your paintings seems to be sourced from illustrations and cartoons, how do you choose which images to use?

CH: I find resonating imagery through research, note taking, and lots of looking. The best way is by straightforward experience. Coming across an image that I had been looking for but did not know quite how it looked. There are themes I know I want to work with and also a lot of translating that is crucial. Of course, a painted flower, a photograph of one, and an illustration of it all look different yet carry subtle relationships and understanding of how images are choreographed. This gets built into the paintings.  I may make a collage out of a found image and a personal photograph, and then draw that myself resulting in a third amalgam. I might then scan the image and redraw it including the breaks and artifacts of cropping, scanning etc. The process of developing the imagery happens somewhat materially like the paint on the canvas.

SC: What are some of the key items or art materials that you always need to have close to hand?

CH: I am pretty standard- brushes, paint, turpentine, but also a computer and printer for color studies etc.

SC: Focusing on the titles of your paintings, I am interested in how you choose such titles: ‘Interior Scream,’ 2017, ‘Slough’ 2017 and ‘Lagoon’ 2017. For you, what is the role of an artworks title? Also, do you wish for your titles to directly relate to the painting, or do you aim for the title to offer an alternative interpretation of the work?

CH: I think the titles shift between a kind of deadpan and poetic description - offering an emotional quality or third term to the imagery and material meanings. Sometimes i am interested in the phonetics in a heavy/light kind of play. ‘Slough’, for example, has a meaning much like it sounds- a marshy muck or dead skin to shed - that complicates themes of escapism and buoyancy in the work with also a self-referential prod at creative angst. Of course If one does not have that read it still sounds good- such a weird word to roll off the tongue. Sometimes a title will come on its own, and I wait for the right painting.

SC: I am also curious about the documentation of an artworks creation. Within my own studio I regularly take images of paintings in progress so I can note specific points in a works creation. How regularly do you document the progression of your paintings? Is it important to you to take note of the layers of each work?

CH: No, absolutely not. I do not like for someone to see unfinished works. I aim to make my paintings accumulations of thought and marks so to see it unfinished is to be taken out of context or misquoted in some way. I don’t really see a piece as being improved or worsened by any one thing I can do either. It is what it is. There is also the factor that they look awful until it all comes together at the end so there is not much to be learned from it until it is done.

SC: I am interested in the notion of preciousness and at what stage a painting becomes discarded in the studio. Do you have a tendency to destroy failed paintings? Or, do you aim to be as precise and efficient as possible to avoid destroying anything?

CH: This is a very good question. It is a tough balance. I have little preciousness held for the painting itself- if it fails then it has to be trashed. But my work is also about realization through wide parameters and I have a preference for difficult painting. So I am not concerned with an end game approach or the product of it so much.  I allow myself to make what I feel is needed and edit later. It is a flow.

SC: What future exhibitions/projects do you have scheduled?

CH: I had an exhibition in Paris a couple of weeks ago so I am unwinding while getting back into the flow. I am in a couple of international group shows in 2018. Slowly putting some things together for an artist’s book as well.

SC: In relation to social media and more specifically Instagram, what are your thoughts on this as a platform to engage with new audiences? Do you love/hate relationship with Instagram or other online social media platforms?

CH: I really appreciate being able to open up what I do on online and find that there is an overarching positivity and enthusiasm. I am blown away if anyone takes the time to write a message or contact me through these channels. The world is not too big.

I generally am not participating much online or on Instagram when I am making work though. I find there is a proliferation of people interested in the image of contemporary art and collector-grams that can form a kind of currency that is distracting for an artist’s headspace. You have got to get up your own tree but Instagram shows you the world of other people’s creation that literally excludes you. There can be a sense of otherness that diminishes one’s responsibility and confidence in their own vision. “ This one got more likes, maybe it is better?” I absolutely do not want this when I am painting.

SC: What do you feel are the pros and cons of Instagram, and do you consider Instagram important for artists working today?

CH: Its immediate importance for artists may lie in sales or exposure, but certainly it is most interesting as conceptual and voyeuristic material. It has changed how we see art now. ...de-veiled, on the collector’s wall, in progress, critiqued in real time, and outside of the gallery machine. There is so much more we can read from a cellphone photo than a press shot because we understand it as a language we use daily. These are ways the art world can be demystified which is great.

But everyone can now fancy him or herself a connoisseur that is paradoxical to the brevity of the Instagram feed.  Or at least makes a strange relationship to it. For many artists I admire, I hold in my mind pieces that are often unique amongst their output but are keys to opening other works and ideas. This should be important to remember for artists while working I think. What looks good today does not necessarily look good tomorrow. The understanding of how meaning is added to a work over time is lost to evaporating flashes and fashion.

But maybe connoisseurship is dead so who cares.  As long as you make it look good in pictures. Nothing too unkempt. Who knows how we will think of our art tomorrow? At the very least though we can agree that it informs how we are using images. An artist should have some sort of a relationship to it. This is good subject matter for people who trade in pictures.

SC: Any last points or thoughts you would like to share?

CH: Be bold.

Images courtesy of Chris Hood, Ceysson & Benetiere, Lyles & King