my art

On Live Painting Events by Chris Hall

Live Painting . . . with freaking lasers . . . oh, the humanity!  

Live Painting . . . with freaking lasers . . . oh, the humanity!  

I’ve never understood the appeal of Live Painting events, I mean from the artist’s perspective anyways…  There is this performative aspect to it that just doesn’t sit well with me.  My studio practice is personal and I protect it.  If you happen to ever see me working on my art, it is because I invited you in.  Live Painting events?  No thank you.  I am not a performing monkey… I will work at no one’s leisure but my own.

News! News! News! by Chris Hall

2016 is going out with a bang.  I was in a show a Fine Arts Celebration at Westside Cultural Arts Center, a benefit auction with a lot of great artists last week, and I will close out the year in two shows:  Swan Coach House “Little Things Matter” and Kibbee Gallery’s “Holiday Show.”  They are all big group shows, but I am looking at it with a sense of pride (to be included with so many great Atlanta artists) and optimism (more new eyes on my work). 

2017 promises to be even better!  I have a lot of irons in the fire.  Next year is going to be my year for my art career.  Bullet Proof Tiger on the rise!  Stay tuned in.

These three works are included in the “Small Things Matter” at Swan Coach House.

A Great Mystery by Chris Hall

Cy Twombly, Bacchanalia - Fall, (1977)

When I create an artwork, especially when I create an artwork without a safety net, that is working without a plan, working through intuition, it is often only after the work is finished that I can discover any real meaning.  My discovered meaning, then, holds about as much weight as any meaning discovered by my audience.  This, to me, is the difference between creating an art object and a work of art that lives, breathes, and has a life of its own, beyond my intentions.  This, perhaps, is where the possibility of creating something that might be greater than one's self may lay.  How strange it is to look at these works, works that you yourself have created, with a sense of wonder.  It is a mystery.  What is the origin? Where does such work come from?  What does it mean?

Reconsidering Beauty (First Aid Flowers) by Chris Hall

First Aid Flowers IV, 30 x 40, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2016

One year ago I wrote a blog post where I considered boycotting beauty in my art and wondered what would happen if all artists followed suit.  It wasn't the best of times and the post, while smart, was full of venom and the snarls of a wolf backed into a corner.  A few days later I followed up with a post where I concluded that in order for a boycott of beauty to work (to make people think about their complicity, either directly or through apathy, regarding hypocrisy and injustices) that they would have to be 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 . . ."  After some thought I decided that "I just don't think I have it in me to make that kind of art . . . I have too much heart in me."  My worst fault has always been the volatile mix of impatience with anger (though I have have gotten better over the years), and while impatience/anger has the positive of providing a motivation for accomplishing great things, the process can be destructive.  Fortunately this is not my preferred or even my natural state of mind.  I've always preferred grace and beauty and my natural state is much more sanguine (humor, cheer, idealism).  I wrote the boycott beauty posts one year ago, and when I look back and see how far I have come, I see now that these new paintings, this return to beauty, was inevitable.  2016 found me with a good work, the first in quite a long time (teaching at Kennesaw State University and publishing the occasional article for Burnaway), an upcoming exhibition in Poland, enjoying the mild comforts of spring amidst a flowering landscape,  and the company of good friends to whom I am very grateful (the richest of all these new developments). 

The new series is comprised of seven paintings, six of which are finished (the seventh will be completed in Poland).  They are flower paintings.  The last time I painted flowers to this degree was in 2001.  The circumstances were similar (new job, an exhibition, spring beauty, and a new relationship - all following a dark period).  It is as if the stars are aligned in the sky in the same configuration as before, as I have found myself in love with life again (imperfect as it may be, still).  These flowers, as before in 2001, are about healing, resurgence, and in the end, celebration.  

What does one do with flowers?  Of course we keep them around solely for the sake of beauty, but there is more to it than that.  Flowers (like all things beautiful) heal the spirit.  We give flowers to sick people in hospitals for this reason, and at funerals.  We keep flowers about us in our life to help ease life's troubles.  In the end beauty and grace are triumphant, conquering the ugliness in the world, which is why we also keep flowers around for celebratory scenes, such as holidays, weddings, parties, etc.

The healing power of flowers was what got me motivated to start this series.  After a rough night I woke to find a texted photograph of flowers on my phone, from a friend, with only one word attached to it:  happiness.  I knew what I had to do after that.  One month later I finished six new works . . .

I started each canvas by pasting a layer of collaged pain assessment charts that one would get in an emergency room.  I didn't like how the faces (read from left to right) transitioned from happiness to pain, so I reversed them.  These were to be healing flowers.  However after the first canvas was laid out I saw that the final face on the far right returned to pain.  It was at this time that I decided to embrace the new works as a kind of narrative, from one painting to the next.  This is also evident in how the red and yellow bands on the top of each canvas alternate and how the black band on the bottom parts of the canvases seem to meet if the six paintings are read as two triptychs.  Other elements that demonstrate that these are healing flowers are, of course, the repeated first aid symbol and the collaged ink drawings referencing pain and healing.  Finally, each canvas has a series of alchemy symbols as part of the composition.  Jung long ago made the connection between alchemical processes and healing.  Keeping this in mind I used only the symbols of alchemical processes, and not the symbols referencing any physical material, the suggested material being the human spirit.  The process of healing as described by these alchemy symbols furthers my concept of these paintings being a narrative.  Finally, we see that even in the sixth painting, the right side of the painting returns with the painful face (the emergency room pain assessment chart).  For the seventh and final painting I intend to make sure that the far right of the painting ends with happiness and that the cycle of recurring pain (the human condition) will end.  The concept of eternal recurrence symbolized in the form of the ouroboros (the snake swallowing its tail) will be shown as broken apart, grace and beauty triumphant.

I cannot predict the future and I do not know how this all will end, but despite my sometimes dark nature, my natural tendency is toward light.  I am an idealist.  These works have been helpful to me and I hope they may be helpful to others as well, and I suspect they will be.  Even if they do not grasp the levels of meaning within the works, there are always the flowers, and by themselves they have enough magic within them to carry the day and do what they do best:  happiness.

New Work in Poland Exhibition! by Chris Hall

Kennesaw State University had this made, printed, and put up in the hallway.  Nice to feel appreciated!

What a great time this is in my life.  I recently finished six new works over the past month, taking my work in a completely new direction.  I honestly think this is the best work I've done in years.  These new works are going to be exhibited at the District Museum in Torun, Poland, my first museum show, as part of the 8th International Painting Symposium held there.  As part of the exhibition I will be giving a talk on my work (history, key works, and process), leading a painting workshop, and completing a new work on site for their permanent collection!  Needless to say I am really excited about this.  Details on the new work (concept and process) will follow in a future post, but for now I will simply share images below.  

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.


News! News! News! by Chris Hall

All of this, please!

All of this, please!

It seems so strange that I am sharing this bit of news after my last blog post, where I mention being rejected by Atlanta Metropolitan College.  It seems I will be teaching three courses at Kennesaw State University in a couple of weeks.  A Design and Color Theory class, an Art in Society class, and a class on Creativity and Conceptual thought.  I am heavily invested in each of these subjects, so I am really looking forward to this.  After 22 years of struggle, I finally have a breakthrough.  There will still be some difficulty, but I believe the dark years might finally be coming to an end.  

And in other news:  

1.  I having my art shown at the Slotin Folk/Outsider Art Festival August 15 and 16th!   

2,  There is a strong chance I will be exhibiting in Poland next year, too.  

3.  I've also been communicating with a few galleries, no promises yet, but at least the lines of communication are open.  

4.  My next article for should be posted soon as well.  It is an article on Anselm Kiefer's painting, Draco, so look out for that.  

All of these are very recent developments.  I am amazed about how much good fortune has come at once.  Quite frankly, I am in awe, stunned by all of these new developments.  I hope this momentum carries!  

Do You Fight or Do You Dream? by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall, In Winter We Rest From War, oil on panel, 48x24, 2000.

Illegitimi Non Carborundum - Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down.

Per Aspera  Ad Astra - Through Difficulty to the Stars.

When I was a younger artist, some 20 or so years ago, I use to dream more.  By dream I mean both literally and figuratively.  I used to dream of accomplishing great things during the day (I had wild ambitions!), and at night I would dream of visiting unusual places and "catching tigers in red weather."  Sometimes these dreams were terrifying.  These were Shamanic Initiation dreams.  These dreams fueled my art, which is why a lot of my earliest art can sometimes seem a bit dark and otherworldly. 

I don't dream anymore.  Really, I don't.  At night I close my eyes, black out, and then I wake up in the morning.  I'm almost embarrassed to admit it:  an artist who doesn't dream.  It seems I have to fight more these days.  These days I feel as if have been backed into a corner by society, by my difficult life.  I don't have time to dream anymore.  I've become a brute animal, a crocodile caught in a net.  All I do is constantly fight, constantly fighting not to get ahead, but just to stand my ground and not let the world run over me.  And my art reflects all this fighting.  It comes out as being clever, critical, satirical, humorous, black, ugly, perhaps challenging, maybe even sharp and dangerous - but there is less discovery, and it feels less inspired, less transcendent.  Fighting, dreaming - both have a great tradition in art, but I confess, I do miss the dreaming.  

I wonder, am I on the right path?  Have I lost my way?  Can I go back?  Is it too late?  

As long as I am forced to fight, however, and for table scraps, I fear I will have to continue on this path.  Art is a responsibility to me.  I am on a mission.  What kind of art does the world need?   Beauty or a satirical message?  But I am also concerned about my own welfare.  What kind of art is best for the expression of my soul?  The authenticity of my anger or a sweet song of peace?

How I long for peace.

Which Paint Brush Should I Use? by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall, Last Mark, acrylic and retired paint brushes on panel, 48x26, 2006

One of the advantages of working in an art supply store is that I get to know my art materials intimately, even the stuff that I don't ordinarily work with.  I don't normally write about art materials here in this blog, but today I want to share some of my knowledge on paintbrushes.  In the past I really abused my brushes.  I'd jam them into my canvas or panel like a knife into the gut of my adversary, I'd let the paint dry on them or let them soak over night in paint thinner until the bristles would be eaten away.  Now that I take better care of my brushes and respect my materials a bit, I've gotten to know a little more about what kind of brush to use in a particular situation.  

Brush Sizes and Shapes:

Concerning brush sizes:   Shorter handles are best for when you are working close up and if you are working with a table top easel.  Long handle brushes are best for when you are working standing up.  I prefer to paint standing up.  I enjoy the dynamic, physical energy I feel when I work in front of a tall easel.  As far as the size of the brush fibers, that is pretty much common sense.  Larger brushes are best for working with larger canvases and smaller brushes are best with smaller canvases.

There are a lot of brush shapes, but I primarily use only three brush types:  flats, rounds, and filberts.

Flats:  flats are great for covering a large area fast.  The longer the bristles, the more paint  it can hold, which means the stroke can be longer before having to go back to the palette.  The wider the brush, the more ground you can cover, meaning less work.  A large flat is essential.  Flats are great for background work.

Rounds:  rounds are tube shaped brushes which taper to a point.  They are great for line work and the smallest of the rounds are useful for when details need to be picked out.  Since I am a more linear artist, in that I love working with the line, rounds are essential to me.

Filberts:  as I understand it, filberts were invented for Impressionist artists, probably after some guy named Filbert.  Impressionists liked the brush as their technique allowed for loose handling of the paint, and a more improvisational look over a smooth and refined surface.  A good filbert brush is really a flattened round brush, a hybrid between the flat and the round.  Flats have a squared tip while filberts have tapered off edges.  This makes for a more organic looking stroke.  Sometimes I will use a filbert when I want a fatter line than my rounds can produce.  

Natural vs Synthetic Brushes:

Knowing what kind of paintbrush to use, synthetic or natural, is also important to know.  These days I mostly use synthetic brushes, which is fine, as in recent years I've painted in acrylics more than oil paints.  I shudder at the thought of using sable and other fine brushes, not only for their cost, but also for animal cruelty issues.  I don't have too much a problem with hog's bristle brushes (which are best used with oil paints) as they are a byproduct of food consumption.  Sable, however, is a different story.  I realize you have to accept a certain amount of hypocrisy in life just to survive, but you also have to draw a line sometimes, however arbitrarily.  

Synthetic Brushes: 

Made from nylon, polyester, a blend of nylon and polyester, and “sponge.”)

1.  Better to use with water based paints.  Natural bristle brushes absorb water from the paint, which can then swell up and lose their shape.

2.  More durable than natural bristle.  Best to use synthetic on a rough surface.

3.  Easier to clean than natural brushes (brush fibers lack scales).

4.  Some synthetic brushes, notably those made with nylon, can soften, melt and dissolve if used with shellac, lacquer, contact cement, or paint remover.  Polyester brushes would be recommended for use with these materials.

Natural Hair Brushes:  

Made from hog’s hair bristle, badger, ox, sable, kervin/mongoose, squirrel, goat, pony, and “camel” (which is really a combination of goat, pony, ox – the more robust hairs).

1.  Best used for oil painting.

2.  A good quality natural hair brush will provide a smoother finish, desirable for use when varnishing.

3.  Has flagging on the tips (split ends) – resulting in the brush being able to move more paint and providing a smoother finish, meaning less brush strokes.  Note:  Princeton's line of Catalyst Brushes are synthetic and have flagged tips (a first!).

4.  Softer brushes (sable, kervin/mongoose, squirrel) are ideal for thin paint which spreads more easily and for detailed work as the brush will form a sharper tip.

5.  Robust, hard brushes are ideal for pushing around thick paint and for creating brush marks in the paint.

An Awkward Conversation by Chris Hall

"I'd rather a man promote his intelligence than promote materialistic, replaceable items."  -  Unknown.

"I'd rather a man promote his intelligence than promote materialistic, replaceable items."  -  Unknown.

Recently I had a conversation with an artist who I occasionally run into at my day job.  He explained his art practice in such a way that made me feel very uncomfortable.  To him, it seems, art is mostly a product, a commodity to be sold in a business.  But art can, and perhaps should, aspire to so much more - the personal (universal), the spiritual, and the political!  Art is more than just a consumer good, something to be plucked off a wall, put on a t-shirt, painted on a shoe, or incorporated into an interior design scheme, more than a product, whose sole point of existence is to sell itself in a vulgar economic scheme.  Art should provoke, inspire, and transcend!  It should provide solace, question authority, express emotion, demand change!

Money is very important.  I've learned in my 22 years of struggle as a practicing adult artist, that when you don't have money, this can effect how and where you live (I've lost count of how many forced relocations I've had to endure), your relationships (many will not date a person with financial woes), and your health (both physical and mental).  But despite this, there is still one thing that trumps money every time:  artistic integrity.  

Perhaps the artist I was conversing with will enjoy nicer clothing, better food, and the occasional cigar, all the trappings of bourgeois success, but I will be the richer in spirit at the end of the day.

Yes! Yes! Yes! by Chris Hall

Mussolini's headquarters in Rome.  Mussolini never told you "No!"  He was more about "Yes!,", more about kind and gentle persuasion to his point of view!

Mussolini's headquarters in Rome.  Mussolini never told you "No!"  He was more about "Yes!,", more about kind and gentle persuasion to his point of view!

Today was a long day spent behind the computer, applying for art opportunities. Most will say "No," but maybe, just maybe I will get one "Yes!" After having faced what must be thousands of "No! No! No!" in my life, suddenly I find myself inspired by a picture of Mussolini's headquarters in Rome, covered in "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Perhaps this desire for more "Yes!" in my life, the desire for a sense of autonomy and maybe absolute power, has provoked my interest in dictators. There is always this desire more control, more influence on the outcome of my life and my fate.  I'm treading some gray areas here, examining my attraction for being a dictator, while maintaining a sense of criticality. Of course, all of this is encapsulated with a sense of humor. And there is always a lesson to be found.

Lately I've been fascinated by dictators, and for a variety of reasons.  I'm interested in egocentric personalities, how absolute power corrupts absolutely, the tragedy's of their downfall and how they took many other unfortunate people with them, their eccentricities, the strange appeal of the military uniform fetish with all the garish medals, etc.  My investigations have led me to some interesting facts.  For example, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti claimed to have killed JFK with a Voo-Doo curse, and when a political rival supposedly turned himself into a black dog in order to escape execution, Papa Doc had all the black dogs in Haiti killed.  Nicolai Ceausescu of Romania had all film footage of him edited so that he never blinked and appointed his dog a Colonel in the Romanian Army.  Muammar Gaddafi had an Amazonian body guard and designed a car called the Libyan Rocket.  Their histories only get weirder from there.  I am hoping that my project will reflect some of the craziness that seems to come part and parcel with being a dictator.  While obviously satirical in nature, I also want to investigate some of my own sympathies and attraction toward the ideal of having absolute power.  What would I do if I had absolute power?  What would you do?  Ideally, I would want my audience to walk away wondering the same thing.  I want to approach this project a sense of humor, but also with some criticality and a perspective of distance with respect for the people who they oppressed.  I want to entertain with my series, but I also want to pose some difficult questions and see if a lesson might be found somewhere in this.  Clearly nothing is black and white.  In this world there is plenty of gray to consider.  I want the art in this series, and the investigations leading up to them, to navigate some of this extremely gray area.  It is too easy to demonize someone and paint them as a monster.  These were human beings.  By recognizing that these dictators were people just like us, they can serve as a warning and a reminder that if we are not careful, we, too, could end up behaving in much the same way.

My project is entitled Benny and Friends (after Benito Mussolini) and is my investigation into 27 20th century dictators. The project will encompass over 30 works, mostly paintings, but also some drawings and a lino cut printed in a limited edition. I also plan to make a limited edition book, a catalog of the works in the series. The book will also detail my research, telling a brief history of each of the dictators in the project, focusing on their eccentricities and excesses. Finally, I will compose a sound art piece to accompany the potential exhibition.  This sound collage will be made up of original music and samples of such things as speeches made by dictators, the sounds of marching boots, explosions, military marches, etc., all sounds that a dictator might approve of.

Fork in the Road by Chris Hall

The path not taken . . .

The path not taken . . .

At the time I did not think much of it, it was just a gut based decision, following my own instincts.  I had no idea that my decision would align me with an ideology that would be opposed to conceptual art.  Sometime about 20 years ago, while studying art at the University of Georgia, my drawing class was given a list of phobias.  Each one of us was to pick a phobia and illustrate it.  I picked the fear of visual art, or sportaldislexicartaphobia.  To illustrate this phobia, I made a quick, half-ass drawing on a piece of paper, punctured it with a pencil, and tore the drawing out from the inside, leaving the outside edges of the drawing intact.  I had planned on returning to class with my clever “illustration,” my creative take on the assignment.  But something happened and I had a change of heart.  I decided that I loved making art more than I loved being a smart-ass.  I remade my drawing, spending more time with it.  The result was nothing too spectacular, but it would become a fork in the road, a change of direction on to the path that would lead me to where I am today.  

Benny and Friends by Chris Hall

Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini

For years I've held a secret fascination with dictators, perhaps ever since I first read Muammar Gaddafi's book of essays and short stories, Escape to Hell in 1998.  As someone who has always struggled to get by, struggled to be accepted, struggled with notions of autonomy, as someone who has always played the underdog, who has always been a big dreamer, but who has repeatedly had their dreams dashed and put down, learning about these dictators – many of whom have also come from a similar, humble background – has been something of escape for me.  Yet historically, most dictators have had a repulsive ideology and some have been outright criminals and monsters.  I also readily admit that even the very idea of a dictatorship government, even a benevolent one, such as Plato's idea of a Philosopher King, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  But still this fascination persists.  That someone can project their will over their environment with such ease, that the world can bend and have historical consequences based on their own volition, that kind of superhuman and god-like power is incredible to me.  I sometimes wonder what would happen if I had that kind of power, how I would use it for good instead of evil.  But then I realize that the world and the environment with which I would have my sway, is comprised of human beings, human beings who may have contrary and dissenting opinions.  I have no desire to make other people suffer, but for once it might be fun to not be one who is suffering instead.  Adolf Hitler was an artist, not a very good one, but an artist nonetheless.  Napoleon Bonaparte was a writer of fiction, not a very good one, but a writer, still.  Both came from humble origins – Hitler was even homeless in Vienna for a time.  Perhaps if we treated our creative types with more dignity and respect, they wouldn't turn out to be such dicks.  

Lately I've been sketching various dictators in my pocket notebook, in ink and marker, with the idea being that once I get a studio going, I may commit some of them to canvas.  In this way I continue my long tradition of exposing my darker side, taking a risk and telling my secrets, as it were.  I am no apologist for dictators and their deeds, but I do admit that this fascination exists for me.  It is a taboo subject for some, but still a subject worth investigating.  Sir John Dalberg-Acton once said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."  How could that not be a good story, in the tragic vein.  Napoleon, as a liberal revolutionary, was a hero, but slowly became corrupted to the point of becoming a paranoid, blood thirsty tyrant.  And as for comedy, who could not get a good laugh out such eccentricities as Muammar Gaddafi keeping an army of Amazon body guards trained in Kung Fu, or Hitler's habit of whistling the Disney tune, "When You Wish Upon a Star," or the ubiquitousness of all those ridiculous military uniforms covered with vanity medals.  This is rich territory to explore.  I hope people will have an open mind should I present a series of these works in a show, which, if it happens, I would like to call “Benny and Friends,” after Benito Mussolini.  Of them all, I think Mussolini is perhaps the most comical of the bunch, a bumbling over-reacher prone to exaggerated gestures when speaking, and like Vladimir Putin, has a penchant for having his picture taken without a shirt on.

Creating Monsters by Chris Hall

Son of Frankenstein, 1939.

Recently, in conversation with another artist, it was brought to my attention that I use a Postmodernist aesthetic in my artwork, most notably in my use of text in art, which did not really start to happen until the 1960's.  I was, admittedly, taken aback, but I had to agree with the facts.  It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetic.  Postmodernism does not believe in originality; instead it champions pastiche and cultural sampling . . . and Postmodernism has actively mined Modernist art for inspiration.  Using Post-modern pastiche techniques can make for interesting results, but I stand firm in my belief, the Modernist belief, that originality is possible.  In this regard, and in many others, I mostly subscribe to the Modernist philosophy.  But I wonder, am I making a mistake?  

Often, I am too much of a dinosaur, philosophically, to be accepted by Postmodernists, but too Postmodern in my aesthetic to be accepted by certain Re-modernists.  Just like many other aspects of my life, I find myself without a home, left roaming the swamps like a monster on the outskirts of civilization.  In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, we learn that Dr. Victor Frankenstein created his monster by merging the rational Enlightenment science of his day with the ancient, more mystical based science of the alchemists Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and others.  His creation was deemed to be a monster and he was doomed to live a life of lonely exile, unloved by all.  But Dr. Victor Frankenstein's monster (abandoned at birth, he was never given a name) was not born a monster, he was made out to be a monster the society that shunned him.  The monster tried hard to be accepted by others, but after repeated rebuttals, ended up embracing his role as a scourge to mankind.  I wonder, is this to be the fate of my work?  When I attempt to make an artwork combining Modernist philosophy with Postmodern aesthetics, am I producing monsters?  Because I love my work, what I do, does this make me a monster, too?  Am I doomed to be forever an outcast?  While I might revel in the thought of making monstrous artwork that might become a holy terror among the polite circles of the bourgeois and intelligentsia, I do not revel in the lonely existence it has thus far given me.

Some Notes on Shame by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall,  We are Embar(r)assed By You , c 2012

Christopher Hall, We are Embar(r)assed By You, c 2012

Today I am showing some of my drawings in a show at The Arts Exchange in Atlanta.  I do not have the unwavering support of all of my family.  Thinking on this, I wrote a few notes this morning clarifying my stance on my art, which is so much a part of who I am.  I feel a need to justify myself (how sad is that!).  Because the art I am presenting is just a small sample of what I am about,  I also want to have a clear goal in mind with what I am presenting:

The goal of this presentation is not to shock, but to encourage discussion of notions of what deserves to be public and what should be kept in private.  Shame is a destructive force that can lead to self-hate.   At times I think privacy is a sphere of shame that needs to be broken if we are to celebrate who we truly are, and as we celebrate louder, the voices of judgment begin to be silenced.   If offense still persists in the viewer, then perhaps it is important to realize that this attitude actually says a lot more about the viewer than it does the art or even the artist.  The art is just a piece of paper open to interpretation, and the viewer's thoughts and impressions are much more real.  It is also important to realize that these drawings are not a catalog of my wishes and desires.  I'm actually critical of some of the things I depict in my art.  But I also believe in celebrating our flaws instead of pretending they do not exist.  By celebrating our flaws, perhaps one day we can grow beyond them.  

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

Dealing With Fits Of Inspiration by Chris Hall

You can never predict when inspiration will come; sometimes it can be decidedly inconvenient.  Inspiration can come at strange hours. It can happen while in the middle of work at a menial soul crushing job.  Your boss might get upset, even if you record just a short sketch or idea.  It can also wake you up in the middle of the night when you desperately need to sleep.  The urge to create is that strong.  Inspiration can come in flood torrents or it can abandon you completely for months at a time.  Currently I’ve been very busy dealing with more inspiration than I can properly handle.  There just are not enough hours in the day!  Because I do not have an art studio to work in, I have been devoting my time to my second love, writing. 

Here is the conundrum.  I am unemployed and desperately looking for work.  I spend on average about 4 to 8 hours a day looking and applying for jobs.  I also spend an average of 3-4 hours a day researching and writing, much of it for this blog.  My family feels this time would be better spent looking for work.  I whole heartedly understand their perspective, and I am aware of the inconvenience I am placing them in, but my family does not understand the inward drive and the necessity I and other artists feel for writing and creating art.  Inspiration is comes when it comes, and it simply must be dealt with.  I simply have to do it; it is a compulsion.  Sometimes I feel like I will become physically ill and die if I do not deal with it, like a shark will die if it does not continue to swim.  Just last night I woke up in the middle of the night and had to immediately write down some words, phrases, and ideas for future writings.  I knew that if I did not write them down, my mind would not be at peace, and I would not fall back asleep.

Even in this wretched unemployment state I’ve found myself in, I simply must have my time to create art and write!  Right now I am swimming in a sea of inspiration, and I have to do my best to record all my ideas for future use, as it is impossible to get it all done now.  So much gets lost, forgotten, or neglected over time, but it is my duty to work on all the ideas that I can, and while they are still fresh, as you can never count on inspiration always being there for you.  Would you believe that I have about 60 or more ideas sketched out for future blog posts!  And about 3 or 4 are Christmas related, so there is a rush to get them out in a timely fashion before the 25th!  I am working really hard, but I love it and wouldn’t’ have it any other way.  I just wish my family could better understand the position I am in, not as someone who is unemployed, but as someone who is unemployed who is also an artist having to deal with sudden fits of inspiration!  

Sometimes I get worried, for my own situation, of course, but also for the trouble I am putting my family through.  Thankfully, I have my creativity to distract me right now.  Working on and completing a creative task always puts me in a better mood and gives me a sense of satisfaction.  

Happy Birthday . . . Brother! by Chris Hall

I've known for a long time now that I share my birthday with Beethoven.  Today I discovered that I also share a birthday with Wassily Kandinsky, author of "On the Spiritual in Art" (1910) and the world's first true abstract expressionist artist!  I have always appreciated both Beethoven's music and Kandinsky's art.  Based on my reading, I know that my temperament and personality is a match for Beethoven's, and I suspect it may also match Kandinsky's.   Strange.  Idealistically our art is really about the same thing, the desire to find transcendence in a troubled and tumultuous world.  I might not always reflect that in all my art, but that desire underlays all of my thinking and art process.  Happy Birthday Beethoven.  Happy Birthday Kandinsky. 

Critical Paranoia and Artistic Vision by Chris Hall

I came to assist as a spectator at the birth of all my works.  Max Ernst.

You need both a bit of mind and a bit of mindlessness to make a painting. It's a play between control and surrender. Paul deMarrais

Let the painting tell you what it needs. Charles Reid

Painting is stronger than I am. It can make me do whatever it wants. Pablo Picasso

Painting is much like fishing. Sometimes we get hits and sometimes we get a glimpse of the phantom of the deep. Sometimes we sit adrift. But sooner or later, we get a keeper. Paul Allen Taylor

I say one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by an immense, long, deliberate derangement of all the senses.  Arthur Rimbaud

Christopher Hall, The Perfect Muse, from the "Divination Series," 1997

Many a great artist has relinquished control in their art making process in order to become a seer and discover psychic truths.  Art can become a doorway and a bridge to the subjective interior psyche, the collective unconscious, as well as objective reality.  By approaching the art making process without any premeditation for the results, you can discover unknown truths, subject matter (archetypal content), and composition.  The Surrealists used this process to great effect.  But this new way of seeing isn’t really new at all.  Leonardo da Vinci would instruct his students to use a perception technique where they would look into the stains and cracks of a plaster wall, or the patterns found on river rocks, and discover landscapes, battles, clouds, faces, and new attitudes, new meaning out of chaos.  This alternative form of observation is akin to divination, rolling bones, and shamanic vision techniques that go back to the dawn of mankind.  Max Ernst would call it “Regarde Irrite,” Dali, "Critical Paranoia.”

I did not need the Surrealists to introduce me to Critical Paranoia, I was already sensitive to the art of Looking/Seeing and I discovered the technique on my own.  Even as a boy I would use my active imagination to transform shapes on a wall into birds, clouds, and human faces.  My real breakthrough in using Critical Paranoia in art came in 1997 with my “Divination Series.”  For this series, consisting of 16 works, I would tear up photocopied pages from a book on Marc Chagall’s art and randomly glue down the pieces on to a prepared panel.  I would turn my Paranoiac Critical eye to the gaps and creases between the torn pieces of paper and seek out images, subject matter, and composition, which I would then develop with crushed and diluted oil pastels.  

Soon afterward I would turn this new process of perception into direct painting.  I would go into the undergraduate studio at night, when it was quiet and free from distraction, and, with the aid of alcohol (only just enough to loosen the brain) I could escape rational thought, shake off notions of reason, taste, and morals.  I could enter into a meditative, trancelike, hallucinatory state of being.  This was my ecstatic working process, my tools necessary for the disruption of the everyday tyranny of the banal.  I would begin by making fluid, random marks onto a canvas or panel.  After the first brush stroke, the canvas began to assume a life of its own and I became both governor and spectator to my own event.  I would look into these marks and begin to see things from deep within my subconscious, and, if I was lucky, deeper still into the collective unconscious.  In the words of Gordon Onslow-Ford, I was a “pioneer artist (who) becomes a SEER with insight into the vast expanses of the inner worlds and their correspondences to the nature of the universe.”  

In my writing from the time I would compare myself to a deep sea diver into the sea of the unconscious, Theseus finding a way through the dark labyrinth (hoping to not lose the string that would guide me back home), an explorer of subterranean worlds, pulling the manhole cover over my head, or a artist-hunter entering the dark woods in search of truths to bring back to civilization.  It takes fortitude to keep painting like this.  I discovered many monsters lurking in the back channels of my mind.  I burned out sometime around 2000 and began to look for other modes of expression.  Around this time I began painting flowers from direct observation.  But that is another story to write about.  I still work, from time to time, using the Critical Paranoia technique, but I no longer use it exclusively.  

Zen Art: Contemplating the Eternal by Chris Hall

A moment seems to be an extremely small segment of a long span of time.  Yet past is remembered as past in the present moment and future is expected as future in the present moment.  Each moment carries all of time. Thus a moment has an aspect of timelessness.  In this respect “now” is eternal.  Kazuaki Tanahashi, 13th century Zen master.  

A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places. Paul Gardner

Enso is a Japanese word meaning circle and is a word strongly associated with Zen.  The enso symbolizes enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void and is meant to be an expression of the moment.  It is widely believed that the character of the artist is fully exposed in how one paints the enso and that only a mentally and spiritually whole artist can paint a true enso.  Many artists practice making the enso daily as a kind of spiritual diary.  Some artists choose to close the circle, while others choose to leave it open.  Both variations symbolize different things.  A closed enso might symbolize completion, unity, or strength.  An open enso may suggest that it part of and not separate from the universe or maybe that imperfection is an essential and inherent aspect of existence.  Imperfection is an aesthetic I often cultivate in my own art, not just with notions of Zen wabi-sabi, but also as a symbol of human frailties and flaws.  

I think of the enso whenever I see one of Adolph Gottleib’s “Burst” paintings.  While Gottlieb is not referencing the enso directly, they are superficially similar, and, I believe the spirit behind the work is still the same.  Gottlieb’s work is about searching for the timeless moment in the sublime, about the universal void, and about searching for spiritual truths.  

It is also worth noting that both the enso and Gottlieb’s work might be related to the alchemical symbol of the ouroboros, the serpent devouring its own tail.  Among other things, the ouroboros was meant to symbolize the concept of eternal return and the endlessness of time.

An ouroboros by Theodoros Pelecanos 1478.  It is a copy of a lost alchemical tract by Synesius.