Interview with Chris Gwaltney


Neoteric Art: Talk about your painting philosophy.

Chris Gwaltney: The painting is a problem to be solved. It’s a puzzle, an equation that’s looking for a solution. I’m drawn to art that allows me to see elements of that argument. The ruins of original thoughts still visible in lines or shapes in the finished painting engage me. Corrections, erasures, scratchouts, over-paint and redraws are evidence of an active mind at work. The painting becomes a testament to time well spent. The emotional juice comes as much from the marks on the canvas as it does from the subject matter. The viewer is aware of the artist standing in front of the canvas.

11.jpgNA: Discuss your work/thought process when starting new work and mention your influences.

CG: I work in “series”, “series’s”?? Ok then, themes. I start with many marks and smears and drips, usually black or gray. A figure or 5 will suggest itself/ themselves and I will begin giving it/them some personality and attitude. Although the paintings are personal to me I want an ambiguity, a lack of specificity to each figure. Looking for a more iconic image through gesture and silhouette than eyelashes and facial expression. I then start writing phrases and passages from poems that excite me at the time. And then? …. I just keep setting up color relationships that are either benign or aggressive until I like it. Usually I will redraw and scratch out if I feel things are getting too precious or final. Leaving evidence of my arguments on the canvas are important and the artists I admire the most do that as well, such as Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell and Cy Twombly as well as the sculpture of Nathan Olivera, Stephen de Staebler and Manuel Neri.

NA: In your profile you talk about poetry. How does it figure in your work?

2.jpgCG: I stand outside looking in with awe at poets and their work. To call me a neophyte would be giving me too much credit. Unschooled at best. I’m curious about poetry’s parameters. Poetry, to me, is distilled, unadulterated word structure. Everything that is required is in the poem and everything else is left out. No extraneous words. Any word that doesn’t directly contribute is excised. I read Walt Whitman, W.S. Merwin and Billy Collins for their contemporary clarity on subjects in which I get all muddied up. In my work I start with large runs of black, then colors, then many figures and I will write fragments of passages from poems that are relevant to me at the time. Then I begin to eliminate the elements that don’t aid the overall painting, excising those colors and figures and words that fail to contribute. I’m better at editing and eliminating than preplanning every stroke.

NA: You were recently on a panel discussion sponsored by Orange County Fine Arts. Give us a little background on the discussion and the overall experience.

CG: The topic was “The Transition from Amateur to Professional Artist”. It started with everyone trying to come to a consensus on the definition of Professional. Pretty funny actually. I borrowed (stole outright) a definition from an artist friend of mine, Brenda Bredvik that went like “have you ever done a painting and thought to yourself, OMG can I ever do this well again? A professional knows he/she can”. I suggested that the joy found in art is in the act of painting not in the selling or the showing or any of the other stuff. Just you and a canvas and your skills trusting your own sensibilities. I don’t think the discussion resolved much and the people who were going to transition would do so without my advice anyway.


NA: How would you describe the current Southern California art scene?

CG: By “art scene” I think of contemporary art. Southern Cal has an active plein aire art scene that I don’t pay too much attention to. From what art shows I visit, I see wonderful things and I see crap. LA/OC is spread out with a few tight knit spots between long drives on freeways. A new magazine, ART LTD, captures a clear view of the emerging SoCal contemporary art scene. I read the usual art magazines and check out Art Fag City occasionally. The world just doesn’t seem to be broken into regional “scenes” the way it has been described in the past. A figurative painter in Chicago can be shown in Seattle and a Bay area sculptor sells well in LA and NY.

NA: What are a few of your long term goals concerning your art career?

CG: Long-term goals would be to stay healthy long enough to continue showing at quality galleries. There is no mandatory retirement age in art so I hope to keep doing exactly what I do right now.