Artist Statement for Christopher St. John
I have been active as a professional artist since 2002. I primarily work in oils and mixed media drawings, and most of my work tends to be figurative in one way or another. I have exhibited nationally and internationally, and I have work in the permanent collections of two American museums.
This body of work represents a cross section of my obsessions as an artist the past five years or so...It also represents a return to a place that I feel like I fled in order to have a better life. Some tremendous things happened to me when I left Memphis for the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in the South, but never really considered it a place that I belonged to...Although I have had a lifetime of travel and being a traveler does something to your outlook on place. While I was living in Portland, I was contacted by an art dealer in France who was really taken with my vision, and I have been exhibiting with his gallery the past five years. It is a wonderful thing to have your vision taken seriously as an artist and to have a relationship develop because of it. The rabbits, the animals, the portraits, these are all paintings that were meant to accompany the 1500 or so large drawings I have sent to France the past four years. My dealer died unexpectedly last fall, and although his widow continues to operate the gallery and represent my work, it was a terrible blow...
My process seems to be little more than responding to and navigating a constant compulsion to create, and to create with the knowledge that I do not know...I used to say this to myself constantly because I recognized the need to get the hell out of the way...My process is intuitive, but not stupid, and I trust the voices and the winds that speak to me from other places. I also enjoy the tension between abstraction and representation, and buzzing or burning that edge as closely as I can get...There is so much pictorial possibility in this line of work...I think I have wanted my work to present a life almost as if it were seen in a vision, as a succession of visionary states, or images seen in a trance...Kind of like markers on the edge of things...I have always seen the world slanted...I’d like to think these images offer a glimpse into a softer unknown, one that is closer to us than strange would be, a gentle alienation. There is something about the way these paintings wrestle with the idea of the eternal, clumsily it can seem, an art that is completely at the service of a vision of reality. It should be noted that I am deeply interested in representing reality in my work, but the kind of reality, the depth of it, is what is up for grabs. I want to leave the door wide open. The language of modernism is useful in this regard, where I can take representation and abstraction and smash them together as tightly as they can go. In some of the work the abstraction bleeds over, and in some of the pieces the representation provides the window frame.
There is violence in my work. There is also queerness and strange, and forms looking directly at the viewer, sometimes challenging, sometimes puzzled at their existence, sometimes simply existing in a kind of tunneling fullness. I often want this work to cast a queer light, like a strange light shining in a dull and often painful place.