Opening this Saturday at The Shooting Gallery in SF is Meticulous Engagements a two person show with Christy Langer and Kris Kuksi. I asked Christy a bunch of questions recently, which she answered with great detail. I just love the visions that she lays out in this interview. Read on to learn more about Christy's process, the inspiration behind her latest group of work and to get a great idea of how hard she works.
Can you tell us about the medium that you are work in?
Generally I work in sculpture, each piece is executed in a particular fashion depending on the idea I’m hoping to convey. It can range from something quite tiny and delicate that could fit in the palm of your hand, to large-scale installation. It all depends on the concept of each work. I worked for a long time building props for films and advertising, and stop-motion animation. A lot of my process comes from those experiences. I loved that line of work. I learned so much and how to manipulate such a variety of materials.
Your pieces are incredibly labor intensive, can you tell us about your process?
Each work is a three dimensional illustration of remembered experience. Some works are based on first person experiences, some come from a third party point of reference. Each work begins with a memory or image I would like to illustrate originating from one of these sources. And so, I begin sculpting either from memory or a point of interest.
Initially, I build an armature out of aluminum wire if needed, and sculpt the works with non-drying oil based clay. I rough out the general shape and size of each piece, and make changes to the armature if needed. At this point, if there are teeth, claws, bird’s feet, beaks, or any other parts on the sculpture that require extra detailing, I will tool them out of a hard material (usually epoxy putty or plastic). I make silicone molds from these and cast hard urethane plastic copies, which can then be inserted back into the clay sculpture for the duration of the sculpting process. These parts are removed when the final sculpt is molded, and then reattached after the work is cast.
When the sculpture is ready to mold, I paint layers of silicone on it to copy the detail. The silicone is flexible, so a plaster jacket is cast over it to help hold its shape. Each mold varies from 2 pieces and up, depending on the complication of the sculpture shape. The final work is then cast in resin, reinforced with fiberglass. Each mold piece is cast separately, and then joined as a last step. After the work is removed from the mold, I re-attach any teeth or appendages previously removed from the initial sculpt. I finish the works by painting them in oil paint.
Your work is so beautiful; the palate is soft and pale and gives off an almost an ethereal feel yet this is often a disparate contrast of what is actually on display in your work. Your subjects seem to be in states of shock, in the grips of death or wounded in some way. Tell us about this juxtaposition.
The relationship between subject matter verses presentation is often conflicted. It’s funny, it’s more of a happy accident- to be honest. I can’t say the frequent juxtaposition that happens is completely intentional, though I am always pleased with tension that exists when the sculptures can be both delicate and fierce.
The ghostly palate largely is conceived from the effort to illustrate that the animals exist as avatars or apparitions of their original state, as each piece is an illustration of a moment in an event or story. And so, often the pose, wound, etcetera is a signifier for the viewer. These signifiers enable re-access to the original context despite manipulation of the subject.
Because of this method, as you mentioned before, the outcome is often a strange combination of a muted ethereal aesthetic married with an intense posture or pose.
Can you tell us about your inspirations behind your latest body of work?
This body of work is inspired by my continued interest in the embellishment that can occur during the marriage of gradual ingestion and manipulation of reference. I’m currently engaged thematically with my relationship with the natural world. Each work, although deviated, are reconstructions of previously existing models.
My new body of work is largely the selection of subjects and removing them from context, allowing them to exist as individual studies.
Some of your work originates from memories. Would you mind sharing with us a memory that continually plays out in your work?
The idea of animals as game is a theme I tend to visit often. I realize the imagery I frequently work with can be vicious- this generally is born from the fact that images or events that make me uncomfortable tend to stick around in my mind more vividly than others. Lick is a good example of this tendency. When I was in elementary school, we moved to a small town in Northern Canada; hunting was a huge past time there. As we had moved there from a city on the west coast, (Victoria, British Columbia, a community not very enthusiastic about the sport of killing animals) I was previously unfamiliar with the tradition. I remember walking home from school one day in the fall, and sticking up from the back of a pick up truck I could see a beautiful set of antlers. In my child’s mind, I was so excited at the prospect of encountering a sleeping deer up close; I was completely unprepared for what actually lay in the back of the truck.
At that time, the image was so disturbing for me, that I began a serious effort to shift my perception and memory of what I saw that day. I slowly was able to remember something different, something more palatable when I thought back about the truck and it’s contents. To this day, I have a difficult time deciphering between what I really saw and what I later wished I had seen, both images simultaneously overlapping one another; Lick is the outcome of this disparity.
One of the pieces in Meticulous Engagements is three wolves in a semi circle (above), looking somewhat like hell hounds. It's such an incredible piece, can you tell us about it?
Here we travel back to the northern Canadian town. This piece was conceived as a representation of an experience I had a few times up there. We had a small cabin on a lake, the only access to it was by a rough logging road that was inaccessible by car in the winter because of the snow. My mom loved taking my sister and I out there, but during the winter months we would have to snowshoe in a couple of miles from the highway. The cabin was quite isolated, and in the surrounding forests there were packs of wolves that used the area as their hunting grounds.The feeling while walking out there was both extraordinarily eerie, and extraordinarily beautiful. We could always spot the wolf tracks around in the snow and hear them howling in the distance, piercing the quiet of the forest. Snow has a funny way of both muffling and amplifying sound; we could never tell where the noises were coming from. I never saw them on those trips, but you could feel them around you all the time. I remember my heart racing until we reached the cabin, all the while my mind playing tricks on me - every shadow or snap of a twig became an imminent threat. Suspended Animation is a combination of what really was there, and what I imagined was out there.
Can you share with us some of your creative inspirations?
I’m fascinated by the prolific desire people have to record and document their surrounding environments. I draw a lot of my inspiration from artists who pre-date the 18th century, having to document without the aid of photography. My own practice I consider to be a documentation of sorts, and I find I am constantly revisiting the old masters and admiring the skill and craftsmanship that is evident in their work. Lately I’ve been particularly drawn to and inspired by Frans Synders’ work, a Flemish painter who specialized in still life and game. Reprise, an installation I just completed in 2009, was an entire sculptural installation based on his painting Cook at a Kitchen Table With Dead Game.
What is the art scene like in Toronto?
Vibrant, eclectic, and very supportive. I’ve always found it great that despite Toronto being a fairly large city (about 5.5 million people). The city still has an inexplicable neighborhood feel to it. The neighborhood atmosphere is extraordinarily evident in the art scene, resulting in a strong sense of community. There is an immense amount of diverse talent channeled into the galleries and events that happen here. Collectively the scene crosses boundaries of medium and aesthetics. I think widely we share a feeling of appreciation and support for the community as a whole. Some of my favorite artists live here, Jenn E Norton, Mat Brown, Shary Boyle, Evan Penny, Heather Goodchild, (to name a few of many!), it’s a great feeling to be in close contact with so many people I admire.
What is one piece of advice you would give to younger version of yourself?
tricky one… I would be paranoid the advice might have a butterfly
effect, maybe change my current situation. Things aren’t always peaches,
but on the whole I’m pretty content these days.
What's up for you in the rest of 2010?
I’d like to push the limits a bit this year in my work, see what I can come up with; I’m looking forward to making a few larger, more challenging pieces. I’m also learning to play the accordion.