Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Responsive Drawings: Chris Nau's Relief Works

Image Info. from top to bottom: Inhabitat XVI, 2008, 96" x 192", graphite and cuts on drywall; Inhabitat XVI (Detail); Inhabitat XVI (Detail); Inhabitat XVI (Detail); Inhabitat XVI Installation Shot

About the Artist
Born 1973, Elgin, Illinois

Chris Nau will be creating drawings at the Drawing Center and Hunter College in 2009. See more on his work at http://www.chrisnau.com

Cutters is at Hunter College
January 29-March 14 2009
Opening reception: Thursday January 29, 5:30-7:30pm

Apparently Invisible is at The Drawing Center
February 20-March 28, 2009
Opening Reception: Thursday, February 19, 6-8pm

SketchPages talks to Chris Nau about the challenges and discoveries made when drawing (and cutting) on a wall.

Can you describe the origins and your approach to creating relief drawings on a wall?
My Inhabitat wall-cut drawings are drawn directly onto and cut into a gallery’s wall. At the close of the show the piece is torn down. Each piece is built on site over the course of 4-7 days. I have been working on this series since 2001, beginning with the first piece that was built as a part of my graduate thesis exhibition at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Working with ideas of paradox and self-destruction, the pieces are graphite drawings with jigsaw-incised lines that ripple and crumble within the wall.

How much of the work is improvised?
In earlier Inhabitat pieces I would make the work entirely on site beginning with a pencil drawing that was reworked directly on the wall. In more recent versions, like Inhabitat XVI I began with some projections of line drawings that were pulled directly from forms in my paintings. Since my paintings are begun with sculptures that I build and then paint from observation, there is a nice full-circle from 3D to 2D and then back to 3D again in these Inhabitat wall-cut drawings.

Can you be more specific about your interest in merging opposites between 2D and 3D?
In this statement I was referring to the well-known opposition between truth and fiction in painting, or reality and illusion. It’s an issue with most 2D work, from photography to printmaking. I was a painting restorer for a time, and physical damage to paintings causes the overall illusion of space and depth to collapse. A painting of a landscape that has a whole punched through it is read more like an object than a window into a fictional space. I was intrigued by this conflict, and this became a major feature of my work. The Inhabitat series sprang from a question of this 2D/3D contradiction, but from this standpoint of damage and destruction, which immediately sets up an intriguing opposition to what is constructed or built. In a way these drawings are like parasites that paradoxically destroy the host that feeds them. My drawings need the wall for support, but the cutting destroys it as it expands, ultimately weakening it to the point that the drawing can never be moved and must be destroyed after the close of the exhibition. In addition, the cut lines and the tilted and shifting pieces of the drawing are sculptural, and they contradict the illusion of the flat, drawn lines.

How are you led from one mark to the other, and how were you led to relief work?
The drawings evolve according to the space on the wall they occupy. My decisions are formal and intuitive. I also work to make an specific, yet ambiguous form that could be either animal or machine and have its “head” at either or both ends. The relief evolved out of the process of removing and replacing the pieces. I was intrigued by the role of light and shadow in the pieces, and some Inhabitat drawings have more emphasis on this and less emphasis on the drawn lines. This is a departure from the original 2D/3D conflict, but I like how this conveys a more tangible sense of emergence.

References to animals, machines and religious icons?
The animals and machines always influence the forms of my drawings (and paintings). Abstraction allows me to make forms that are not burdened by narrow references, but looking at animal forms and mechanical forms as jumping off points for abstraction helps me avoid too much gesture or decorative vagueness that can weaken the punch of abstract imagery. I need to make forms that look like they can participate in something, affect something, move, attack, float, fly, drive or swim. It’s also important in terms of content because, while I have little interest in overtly referencing concepts or issues by direct representation, it is still very important for those things to be part of the work. So while you see something unknown and maybe even unfamiliar, the work is packed with contemporary references to conflict, contradiction and paradox. The analogy about parasite and host was not just off the cuff. Our need for energy is destroying ecosystems. Animals are being raised, processed and killed by machines. Robots function for humans. Cities are taking over the forest. All of this conflict informs my abstractions, and I seek unfamiliar, improbable mergers of the conflicting elements just as we need to some ingenuity to solve our environmental conflicts. As for the icons- that is more an issue of presentation and adoration. Portraits, symbols, narratives and relics are presented in such a way that even the most banal or unknown objects can be embellished to the point that anyone can comprehend the presence of certain significance. This notion is useful to me since my work is about making unknown forms significant. Damage and time are also a factor imbuing icons and relics with a sense of importance.

Do you consider lighting a material as you draw?
Yes, lighting is very important, especially when the pieces of drywall begin to tilt and pop. When I am drawing with pencil I begin thinking about it, but the final decisions come after the lights are set, during the process of physically constructing the piece in the wall.

Plans for Hunter College and Drawing Center?
Installing these Inhabitat pieces is very challenging, not only because of the work and mess involved, but they are very time consuming and usually I am given a very narrow block of time to accomplish the piece. Experimenting with completely new ideas during this short time slot would be extremely stressful, so I plan to continue with the vein of work that I have been producing so far with these wall-cut drawings. However, I am ready for some new directions with this type of work. I need to bring the Inhabitat series to a close since I recently learned of an artist who already used this title for her work in the 70’s. The piece at Hunter will be a continuation of the Inhabitat series. The Drawing Center piece will also follow this, but there is an architectural interruption (a column) that bisects the wall I am to work on. Dealing with this interruption will be challenging, but the interaction of an element that is not the wall may be just the challenge I need to branch out into some new work. We will see.

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