Recent Scribblings on Art by Chris Hall

Notebooks with sketches and writings with studio detritus...

Although I haven’t posted in this blog very much lately, it hasn’t been for a lack of want.  I am always thinking and writing on art.  Here are some fractured thoughts from my notebook and various Facebook postings…

1.  On attending Flux night in Atlanta:  So, I enjoyed going to Flux night yesterday.  I enjoyed the Fast Food Mascot Fight, the Disarm sound work made of old weapons, the Spelman College Choir, and the large drawing of Civil Rights Activists.  I was a bit disappointed by Yoko Ono's work.  Too frequently she relies on the good intentions of others to complete her work. I love and respect her idealism, but sometimes it comes across as hopelessly naive.  I saw this in the way many people were butchering the spirit of her work by smearing the ink and drawing inappropriate things on it.  I respect her never failing optimistic take on life - but it is a place I cannot go to and settle in for any length of time.  But Yoko Ono is a sacred cow in the art world - and I doubt anyone would criticize her art in print.  And maybe I'm fine with that.  Although I cannot make an art that is so blindly optimistic, I am glad someone is.  We definitely need more of that.

2.  I think I make more interesting work than great work, and by great I mean sublime and profound.  I want to make more great work.  More often I make an art for the now, though sometimes I want to make an art for a forever.

3.  Last night I wanted to be wild.  I knew I wanted to be wild.  No one would join me so I went out alone.  It paid off.  I had a drunken epiphany as to why my current painting isn’t working.  I can’t wait to work in a bit.  Didn’t Hemingway once say, “Compose drunk, but edit sober?”

4.  In response to the stabbing at the recent Art Basel Miami:  Hello art world, please think about this sentence pulled from the attached article: Some patrons thought the stabbing was a performance art presentation. Others believed the police tape cordoning off an area of the convention center was part of an art installation. ------ this statement speaks to - 1. the current over conflation of art and life in contemporary art - and 2. a kind of jaded attitude where nothing is genuine or sincere and everything is suspect or a performance or a facade of some kind.... time to wake up my friends, and learn some sincerity, some trust, some wonder, some belief . . . some empathy.

5.  I am king of the night!  Now, if I can only master the day.  Good night everyone!

6.  So, this is 40:  a good a time as any to take stock of one’s life, I guess.   For those of you who know me well, you must know that my life so far has been . . . challenging.   But despite these challenges, I have zero regrets.   I’ve always done what compels my heart, I’ve always done what needed to be done, and I’ve always tried to do the right thing.  Perhaps it is because of these things that my life has been so full of challenges.  I can honestly say without any exaggeration that I would not be here without you, my fantastic friends and family, who have given me support during the many, many, and many less than ideal times in my life. . . But the lesson here is not how many bad times there have been, but how many times you all have come to help me out!  And remembering these times, these are sweet, rich memories!  I will never forget this, and I am eternally grateful to you all!  Thank you! 

Ahab (1998), oil on wood panel, 24x48.

7.  I recently sold an old favorite of mine to a good friend and collector.  The work?  Ahab (1998).  Obviously it is referencing Moby Dick, one of my favorite books.  Looking at this painting I remember a line from a poem popular with 19th century American whalers... "Death to the living, long life to the killers." How metal is that!  This painting used to hang in my parent's house where it would scare the neighbor's kids.   I picked it up tonight and am giving this old friend a good bye.  It will be in good company with two other Moby Dick themed paintings.

8.  I use a lot humor in my work and it pleases me to make people laugh, but I also want to make art to move people spiritually with beauty, and also to challenge people to think.  Art is such a strange thing.  There are still other reasons why I make art, and some more altruistic than others.  Selfishly, I use art as a catharsis to help with assimilating pain, but also to confront my shadow side, the potential madman, killer, chauvinist, dictator in me.  I often manifest my darker self in my art so that it doesn’t manifest itself as much in my life.  I know that I can never be perfect.  It is silly to try.  But if I confront the darker aspects of myself and acknowledge it in my art, I can at least attempt to be whole.

9.  I’ve been working a lot on some older works lately, the earliest dating back to 1999.  I honestly thought this might be harder than it is.  I thought that I wouldn’t be able to do this out of sense of respect or sacredness to a moment long past.  I am finding destruction can be just as integral to the process of making art as creation.  I feel as though I am taking some great risks here.

10.  Work on the dictator series continues, but I am already planning ahead for a future body of work, strangely enough on Art and Art Making.  I am pretty excited about this.  Of course there are other sketches for works that don’t quite fit into this plan – I hope I can find time to actualize a few of them.  And then there is the backlog of over 100 topics I’d like to write about for this blog, reworking my book, etc… Time is a bastard-bitch.


A Boycott of Beauty Part Two by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall,  I Feel Pretty , 2007

Christopher Hall, I Feel Pretty, 2007

Illegitimi non carborundum (Don't let the bastards grind you down).

Per aspera ad astra (Through hardship, to the stars).

When I wrote the blog “A Boycott of Beauty” a few days ago, I was wondering what would happen to the world if all artists decided to make only Bad and Ugly Art.  I had thought that if artists were to fill the world with works such as Mana Lisa (a recent acquisition to Boston's Museum of Bad Art, by anonymous), the world would capitulate, beg for mercy, and treat artists with more respect.  But even works such as Mana Lisa provoke pleasure, as they are humorous.  For a "Boycott of Beauty" to really work, artists would have to make truly awful, nasty works of art.  The art would have to be brutish, cruel, cold, violent, and depraved.  They would have to be hateful, spiteful works.  They would have no redeeming value whatsoever . . . and I just don't think I have it in me to make that kind of art . . . I have too much heart in me.  

It is true that I do make a kind of Bad Art, particularly in my drawing practice.  But I temper the Badness with humor.  I have to do this for myself, first and foremost.  Humor is how I make sense of the world.  Humor helps me digest life's injustices and ugliness.  Humor helps with the pain.  And, if my art is meant to be critical, to educate and enlighten, humor helps the world digest its medicine, too.

Preamble To My Exhibition At The Arts Exchange by Chris Hall

My second grade class was held in a trailer, and on the first day of class I did not understand that we were allowed to leave and go to the main building, should we have to go to the bathroom.  Consequently, I shit my pants.  An artist takes risks, they seek to inspire, change, and transform.  They seek deeper truths (about both themselves and the world) and then they seek to share these truths (which may not always be pleasant) with others in the world at large.  Self censorship is never part of the equation.  The notion of creating artwork, of tailoring a show to an audience's tastes, beholden to them as in a client-patron relationship, is sickening to me.  That kind of compromise of vision is the domain of the professional interior decorator, and I am not a performing monkey.  So tonight I will maintain my integrity and the nobility of both my mission and craft by presenting to you the contents of my work, pure and undiluted.  Tonight I choose to confront the audience with the absurdities I've observed and imagined possible in this world, the world we now live in.  To do this properly, it might be necessary to ruffle a few feathers and to make a few people uncomfortable, to confront them and their small hypocrisies, namely by assaulting their “good  tastes,” by exposing them to an artwork with a more scatological or sexual bent then they may be accustomed to.  But the work is meant to be playful, meant to be humorous, and is meant to draw people in, not to repel.  I want to invite people into this strange world that I see, the world which we share together.  So, please, if you find yourself offended, I ask that you reconsider, to not be so uptight, and to "keep calm . . . during anal leakage."  Remember, God created the grotesqueness of the platypus, and the lustfulness of the goat with as much love as he created the classical beauty and gracefulness of the swan.  So, with all things being equal, I invite you to come inside and to join me in my laughter.  Let us celebrate together!  

Christopher Hall

Medieval Fun Times by Chris Hall

I've always loved Medieval illuminated manuscripts.  The artists during that time produced work that was so imaginative, scatological, strange, grotesque, and vulgar.  Below are some of my favorite images that I have been able to track down.  Click the image to enlarge.

Here we have a bathing dragon lady, a blindfolded, multi-armed girl, a boneless man dancing to music, and cats doing people things.  

Here we have a Centaur and Harpy, a dead King walking, a dog licking his balls, and hybrid dog-man with a human leg in his mouth.

Next we have bizarre fish-goat-man-lady creature, a Zitiron, or Sea-Knight, God planting a tree bearing people heads, and a man ripping his heart out (Happy Valentine's Day!)

Here we have some headless swordsmen, a hermaphrodite swimming in a fountain (most likely an alchemy illustration), a human being sawed in half, and a Knight freaking out over a UFO.  

Now we have two illustrations of killer rabbits (there are lots of those for some reason), a King catching a dragon in bed with his wife, and a man with a club sneaking up on another couple in bed.

Here we have a Medieval Bigfoot, some men vomiting up frogs, and a couple of illustrations of Mermaids.

Here we have a woman picking fruit from a Penis Tree, a woman riding on a giant Penis Monster, an illustration of strange people from foreign lands (giant one foot guy, a dog-man, a two-headed child, a cyclops, and a face in the chest guy), and a man eating a baby.

Medieval artists seem fixated on asses and shitting for some reason.  Here we have a monkey shitting on a plate, a man defending himself from a shitting bull, a man shitting next to a pig, and a monkey with an arrow in his ass.  

King Missile's "Sensitive Artist" and Learning to Laugh at Yourself by Chris Hall

It is incredibly important to be able to laugh at yourself when the occasion calls for it.  I’ve always been a fan of self-deprecating humor.  When you are able to laugh at yourself, you express a level of maturity and humility that is that is the cornerstone of our humanity.  When you are able to laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself, and if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.

Today I was reminded of the old King Missile song “Sensitive Artist.”  For better or worse, those lyrics are describing me on certain occasions!  

Sensitive Artist by John S Hall

I am a sensitive artist...

I am a sensitive artist.
Nobody understands me because I am so deep.
In my work I make allusions to books that nobody else has read,
Music that nobody else has heard,
And art that nobody else has seen.
I can't help it
Because I am so much more intelligent
And well-rounded
Than everyone who surrounds me.

I stopped watching tv when I was six months old
Because it was so boring and stupid
And started reading books
And going to recitals
And art galleries.
I don't go to recitals anymore
Because my hearing is too sensitive
And I don't go to art galleries anymore
Because there are people there
And I can't deal with people
Because they don't understand me.

I stay home
Reading books that are beneath me,
And working on my work,
Which no one understands

I am sensitive...
I am a sensitive artist..

Yes, I love books and music by people you’ve never heard of.  Ever hear of “Les Chants de Maldoror” by Comte de Lautréamont or the Avant-garde experimental band Dead Voices on Air?  It alright if don’t, just making a point.  The thing is that I try not to be pretentious about it.  I try to remain humble and I try to remain human despite not always feeling comfortable amid the crowds at art galleries (I’ve always been an art world outsider because of this, and it has effected my networking skills).  Yes, I suspect a good many of these people will never understand me, but that is OK.  It doesn’t mean that I should stop trying to connect with people.  

Perhaps the lyrics for the King Missile song are a bit mocking in its description of a “sensitive artist,” but if you own up to it, and maybe even celebrate it a little, at least then you can change the more negative aspects of it (arrogance and pretension) and reach an understanding with those other people who are not “sensitive artists.”  If you are like me and fall into the, God forbid, “sensitive artist” category, it is important to remember all of those other humans who inhabit this planet, if for the simple fact that they considerably outnumber us and could kill us all in an instant if they wanted to, but also as a way to promote peace and understanding.

A Dark Humor by Chris Hall

Sometime during my undergraduate days, one of my professors criticized someone in my class for making “funny” paintings (he was always good at rattling cages and making people cry).  He said that the first word in painting is PAIN, and that he would not have any of that fantasy clown shit in his class. I laughed inwardly, because I happened to agree with him; this was in my younger, more angstier days. Now, however, I have reevaluated my position somewhat.  I think there just might be a place for comedy in art.

The world, in such a condition as it is, is in need of all the humor it can get.  In fact a sense of humor is all that keeps many people, including myself, sane.  I tend to cling to any joy, laughter, or beauty I can find.  Humor to me is my way of assimilating and recuperating from pain, of which there is plenty.  I understand that a lot of comedy comes from pain.  Not many people know this.  It was no surprise to me, for example, that such an outwardly happy and comedic an individual as Robin Williams recently committed suicide, God rest his soul.

In my art, my humor tends to be dark.  It is my way of inverting the pain into something more palatable (to me anyways).  The results are usually grotesque, abject, and ridiculous.  Some people find it surprising that I don’t paint flowers anymore, instead opting for gross out, violent, and sex heavy humor.  So be it.  I don’t think I can ever adequately explain it to them if they are that far removed.  Some things for some people are beyond understanding.  For the time being, I am content knowing that I found my own way transmuting humor from pain.  

Christopher Hall,  Born To Paint , 2002

Christopher Hall, Born To Paint, 2002

A Celebration of the Abject and Grotesque by Chris Hall

Today let us celebrate the abject and the grotesque!   

This is the life of the carnivalesque body.

Why do I make art on the absurd, the dirty, and the impure?  Perhaps it is the last refuge of those who refuse to assimilate.  Hell, no one really paid me the money I wanted when I painted flowers anyways, so why the fuck not make art about all the things which you consider ugly and depraved?  Perhaps, this body of work is my revenge on society.  But this is only my catharsis speaking, my own personal take on things.  So you want to learn about a theory that considers the art of ugliness?  Let us look at the ideas of Francois Rabelais and Mikhail Bakhtin!

Here, all that is rejected by and disturbs the rational, social reason has its time in the sun, and it is here, in this abject space, that conventional identity and cultural concepts are challenged freely and without consequence.  It is liberation through humor and chaos.  The merger and commingling of the sacred and profane, heaven and hell, masculine and feminine, and other such ideas of mutually exclusivity, allows for the free exchange of opposing ideas.  In such places cultural, and, perhaps, political change can occur, as all hierarchal positions are destroyed.  Purity is the enemy of change, the enemy of life, of progress.  

So we must cross boundaries and take risks.  We must transgress against what is thought to be holy.  We must celebrate life, with all its messiness.  Death is stasis, where there is no movement, and we must have movement in order to progress.  We must turn the world upside down, if only for one night.

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned” Karl Marx

The Mirror, The Hammer, and the Art of Revolution by Chris Hall

Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.  

Bertolt Brecht 

I can think of a few works of art (and societal constructs) I'd like to reshape with a hammer.

Holding a mirror to society in art, even in Avant-Garde art, doesn’t always work if one wants to effect any kind of societal change.  Mirrors only reflect the surface of things, and too often the problem is hidden, disguised, or bone deep. 

But sledge hammer tactics are equally problematic.  If you show your cards too early, there is the risk that the enemy will be able to compensate, dodge and parry accordingly.  If one’s mission is to win the hearts and minds of the people, using shock tactics might turn more people away than convert.

"If you want to tell the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you."  This quote is attributed to both Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.  I like the idea that one can disguise the medicinal dose with a touch of sugar . . .  though I have to admit I am not always fond of saccharine sweetness.

Maybe it is time to fight dirty, use the language of the enemy to infiltrate the system, disrupt and destroy from within.  In this regard, I like Guy Debord’s ideas concerning detournement (the political prank, culture jamming).  Guy Debord and others of the art movement Situationist International used detournement to nearly overthrow the French government of Charles de Gaulle in May 1968, the closest that art has even come to effecting such a change