Sunday, June 15, 2008

Art Space Talk: Christian Schumann

The majority of Christian Schumann's paintings are like a visual car-crash of images within images-- laced with a dash of social commentary and childhood wonder. Christian allows his intuition to guide his paintings. He has stated that vagueness and random selection is actually obvious intent. Over the years his intent has shifted from the abject/grotesque to the desire to include everything in giant amalgams of impossible visual sculptures to self-parody to the natural world to the internal world. In a sense, his works are just as complex as the reality we face in our daily lives-- lives that can be deceptively simple on the surface.

Christian has been involved in dozens of group exhibitions throughout the world-- including exhibitions at The Chelsea Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, MoCa, Mary Boone Gallery, and Dunn and Brown Contemporary. He has also had solo exhibitions at the Gagosian Gallery and White Cube. His work has been featured in several publications-- including, Art in America, Juxtapoz, White Cube (first edition), Time Out London, Frieze, and ARTnews. Christian studied at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Plastic Youth, 2007, Acrylic on canvas, 52" x 74"

Brian Sherwin: Christian, you studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. What can you tell us about your academic background? Did you have any influential instructors? Do you have any advice for students who are considering SFAI?

Christian Schumann: I graduated from SFAI in 1992 with a BFA. The program at that time (and most likely to this day) stressed a diversification of fields of study, which resulted in my actually spending a lot of time in the PV (performance/video) department - which they now call New Genres. I took several classes with Tony Labat and Doug Hall there and was exposed to tons of material that I would not have otherwise.

Most of my painting classes revolved mostly around studio time, with no single teacher really acting as mentor. Perhaps I was too stubborn for that sort of thing as I had my own ideas about how to do things then. Drew Beattie taught a collaborative painting class which I'd say is one of the better painting experiences I had at SFAI.

The other students attending there at the time were a highlight. I guess if I had advice for any potential students of any art school that would be to make a lot of friends - interact and try to spend time with the most creative, constructive people you can find as these friendships could really matter later on. Once you're out of school the ability to experiment with your work will probably be usurped by the necessity to earn rent, so use your time wisely and the school's resources as much as possible. Also: have fun, be weird and avoid junkies.
Inside, 2001, acrylic on canvas, 86"x90"

BS: You have been involved in exhibits in Spain, Germany, Italy, England, and the United States-- including group exhibits at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Chelsea Art Museum, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary art, MoCA... the list goes on. How have these exhibiting experiences influenced you?

CS: Not sure that exhibiting in any specific place has been an influence that had any affect on my work although having had several shows I have also had the resulting opportunity to be reviewed in print a number of times. I'd say reviews have influenced me more than the actual exhibits as they have finally inured me to criticism from the outside world. It took years to not care what others think about what I make and that change in outlook has probably influenced me to date more than any particular show.

BS: One could say that you have been successful in bridging the gap between the mainstream and underground scene. Your paintings have been embraced by both. For example, your work has been featured in Juxtapoz, the popular magazine that features underground art, but you have also been featured in Art in America-- which commonly supports work that is considered mainstream. What are your thoughts concerning this opinion?

CS: Well, I only got to be in Juxtapoz because I was lucky enough to make some collaborative drawings with Gary Panter that they reproduced; I probably wouldn't have been included were it not for Gary. That being said, I think I tend to fall into a gray area between the two worlds, especially with my earlier paintings which have a more direct visual relationship with what I guess people call lowbrow nowadays.
I don't know, categorization is difficult as I tend to be open-minded regarding style and change my own methods of painting often. I've absolutely always been drawn to comics and that is an influence, as a result there is a part of the world that will always look down upon my work as "cartoony doodling" and therefore incapable of being serious work. Not much I can do about that.

Homestead, 2005, acrylic on panel, 40"x50"

BS: Christian, your paintings have been described as, "gaudily-colored, cartoon-expressionist images with an undercurrent of social commentary and personal suffering". Others have described your work as "fantastically painted nonsense". Give us some insight into your paintings... can you tell our readers about the thoughts behind your paintings and the intentions you have in creating them?

CS: Gee, it really depends on the painting. Despite most of the work's general similarities they are improvisational and since I don't plan anything the starting point of each painting creates a situation where I somehow have to re-learn how to solve a painting every time I begin. Adding to this, up until recently I would try not to repeat myself or make a series of work that had similar attributes - this was a habit of constant change which really in the long run makes things difficult because I would purposefully exclude successful ideas to the point where I would abandon things I should have kept experimenting with. Fortunately there's always the future and I have time to re-examine some old tricks.

To focus on my intentions - just as the compositions are made so is the meaning. I trust in the weight of subconscious thought which is all-pervasive. Vagueness and random selection is actually obvious intent. Over the years that intent has shifted from the abject/grotesque to the desire to include everything in giant amalgams of impossible visual sculptures to self-parody to the natural world to the internal world. So far I only wish I'd painted it all better.
Empty Bottles and Full Ashtrays, 2002, gouache on paper, 26"x40"

BS: Can you tell us more about your process? For example, do you work intuitively or do you create sketches and preliminary drawings before working on a painting? Do you need a certain environment in order to work-- specific music playing for example? Or do you just have at it, so to speak?

CS: I never make sketches. Everything is developed in an intuitive manner. The approach I developed growing up is derived from a mush of ideas from expressionism and the Beats. In painting, one act creates the idea of the next - it is a conversation of sorts which slowly turns into a frustrating puzzle with my own limited nature. Increasingly, the only requirement I need for working is just to have time to do it in the first place as the whole process requires so much of it.

BS: What about influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements? Have any specific world events inspired you?

CS: Absolutely everything has been an influence - hesitant to name specifics as I'll leave people out unless I write a half-page of names - I'm sure just looking at my work reveals it all. The trick for me is to move past direct influences and into my own world where I don't know what I'm doing or going after, where the influence is unknown.

No specific world event has inspired me but as I am fairly cynical in regards to humanity there is a veiled political aspect to what I do. Maybe my outlook is internalized in the paintings somehow - a vague reflection of my reaction to world events. Hope that doesn't sound too silly. I did once write that art can change a viewer's outlook and behavior which a critic noted was a childish notion but for me I still believe art can subtlety transmit new avenues of thought and change individual beliefs.

BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into your current work?

CS: Right now, a series of drawings, watercolor on paper. Improvised landscapes that could be described as a sort of speculative fiction. Over time these fictional internal worlds I have been painting have become denser and denser so now they are quite detailed and have recently reminded me of my childhood when I would pull apart kneaded erasers until they formed strange ripped-apart yet fluffy sculptural shapes. I would play with this stuff until there were all kinds of tiny surface events going on and then I would just look at it like a contemplation stone. I think that sensation is what I'm going to try to get at with this work.

Astral, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 40"x50"

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

CS: A few years ago I became totally uninterested in images. Maybe it was seeing one too many paintings like my own with stuff like cartoon eyes and text and the rest. It all became too knowable and in a way, senseless. At that point I began to make paintings using no images but with the same amount of brush strokes. They are paintings of painting, mark by mark.
Slowly, after realizing this shift from an ugly external culture to an abstract, natural form I have gained a new appreciation for human imagination and the idiosyncratic individual, it's relationship to nature and the possibility that our imagination is all we have to fix the horrors that remain ahead of us.
For me, I guess I shall remain childish and see painting and art as the symbol of what we are capable of - and the more unknowably weird our art is then so much the better and whether it's cartoony or abstract or figurative or minimal, it remains human.

You can learn more about Christian Schumann by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Art is neither a conversation nor a puzzle a game. There is no dialogue between viewer and artist, nor internal debate of the artist presented to a voyeur.

Art is exploration of humanity, the world we live in, and our purpose in life. It is about god, nature, mans place within it, and meaning. Not games. Art has been split into three pieces so the mediocre can achieve its new watered down meaning, or lack thereof. So art schools can take the money of tens of thosuands of kids every year, a machine, where few actually even know what art is, or respond to it. everyone can now be an artist, because the very meaning has been modified to fit the purpose of the academy. Profit, and career.

True art activates all three parts of man, mind, body and passion, to stir the soul. All are involved, and the layering of meaning and interaction of parts creates a life force, that reflects the world we live in.

Now, it has been separated into easy to understand and achieve parts, that no longer have any meaning or relevance to one another.

The mind is all games, from Duchamp on, for the pseudo intellectual pursuit of play andself amused mental titillation. Hirst and his ilk are this to amuse the rich. Jesters, in their court of absolute control.

Body is the wall paper, the smearings of sensual color, detached patterns, decoration of much abstract and stylized paintings. Meant to fill up wall space and provide room decor.

Passion is expressionistic, scratches of supposed meaning, desire and decadence. Twombly and Basquiat type stuff, not using the entire surface to include all, but focused on the individuals desires. Not humanities needs and purpose.

Apart these things are no more life than a spleen on an autopsy table. Put as many layers of meanig and thecnical ability in the purpose of creating life, reflecting it in a mirror so we may view it afresh, and stirred in the soul by it, that is art.

Art Collegia Delenda Est