Christopher Mir "Nest" 2006
The vastly talented Christopher Mir gave his spectacular painting a pause to help quench my curiosity:
Phantasmaphile: I noticed that you double majored in anthropology and painting as an undergrad. As an anthropology major myself (with a minor in art history), I'm curious as to how this background may have informed your work. Can you talk about that a bit?
Christopher Mir: I think that my paintings are part of an anthropological/psychological inquiry into cultural forces, my personal history, and the impulsive qualities inherent in the creative process (including being inspired or moved). There's an implied level of detachment with an anthropological approach that I really respond to. I see it as having a quality of witnessing.
Ph: You have such an unusual style - it reminds me almost of collage in that you seem to play around with varying scale and color palettes within one work. How did you come to develop such a unique technique?
CM: The work really does emerge directly from a kind of collage or accumulative image making. I collect hundreds of photos from random sources - magazines, old books, coffee table books on national parks, calendars, the internet - anywhere really - and I put disparate images together in such a way that creates what I see as a powerful abstraction and a metaphysical drama. Often the entire composition is worked out in Photoshop. I find that I feel freer when I'm painting when there's a very tight parameter – a fully realized design. It's an age old paradox that has real significance for me.
Ph: Where do your ideas come from?
CM: Beginner's mind.
Ph: I noticed that a few of the titles of your works come from album titles: for example, Built to Spill's "Keep it Like a Secret" and Cat Power's "You Are Free." Does music have a large influence on your painting?
CM: Huge. I write and record music (if you want to hear go to: hangonstchristopher.com), and I am a very influenced musically and in terms of painting by the bands you mentioned. I think linking songs and paintings through titles adds a layer of meaning that can lead the viewer into a state of dynamic disequilibrium.
Ph: I'd love to hear about your process. Can you walk me through the creation of a painting, from idea to completion?
CM: I touched on the first aspect of my process earlier - an obsessive gathering of images. But when it comes to individual paintings I almost always start with the landscape. I want to find a place that acts like a stage set - and when I begin to "see" figures, animals, machines, buildings in these spaces I know that it's worth investigating. At that point I will pour through the piles of images I have to find the right players. These choices can be the result of narrative strategies, but more often are included based on abstract or formal elements that will interact with each other in a compelling way. When it comes to actually making the painting I try to adhere to the principle of Sei Do (living movement) - a law of Japanese painting - that encourages the artist to embody whatever element is at hand. So for example if you are painting a tree - try to manifest the strength, flexibility or grandeur of a tree.
Ph: I am intrigued by the idea of "Sei Do" - I have never heard of this before. How did you come to learn about this? It sounds fascinating.
CM: I came across the book On the Laws of Japanese Painting by H.P. Bowie in a used book store years ago. He was a British national who spent years in Japan studying and documenting Japanese art making. His goal in the book was to bring this wisdom to the West, which he surely did. It's a treasure.
Ph: How long does it generally take to complete each piece?
CM: A large painting around 5x8 will take around two or three months depending on the complexity of the forms. Smaller works are usually two or three weeks. There's a lot of variation. When I'm using acrylic it's a little faster, because I don't have to contend with drying time, etc.
Ph: You paint such gorgeous landscapes. They are so intricate, yet there is also a flatness to them which reminds me of diorama, or the background to a Museum of Natural History display. Is this intended?
CM: It is absolutely intended. I see the work as something like natural history dioramas of dreams I've never had.
Ph: What inspires you?
CM: My wife Karen Dow - the greatest living painter (honestly), my children: Evan (4) and Ruby (1 1/2), nature, art, music, poetry, friends, mythology, mysticism, religion (especially Buddhism, but also Native American and Jewish/Christian ideologies), powerful images, walking, breathing, being in my body, the vacuum genesis theory, Revelations, Ovid's Metamorphosis, and the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing.
Ph: How did you come to work with the Rare Gallery?
CM: The great mad genius (curator) David Hunt worked me into a group show at Rare called “Labor Day” that served as a kind of introduction to the gallery. Also I believe my guardian angel Simon Watson did some kind of magical incantations.
Ph: What is your favorite a) taste b) sound c) sight d) scent e) tactile sensation?
CM: a) ripe mango b) wind in trees c) sunlight on water d) baby skin e) love
Ph: Which current artists' work do you particularly like?
CM: I love Karen Dow, Neo Rauch, Sigmar Polke is a god among men, Terry Winters, Louise Bourgeois, Laura Owens, Peter Doig, Bill Jensen, and John Moore.
Ph: Which work of yours would you like me to share with Phantasmaphile
CM: “Nest” [see above]
Ph: Do you have any upcoming news or shows you'd like to mention?
CM: My next solo show at Rare opens in November.
Ph: Are you superstitious?
CM: I knock on wood quite a bit.