Giant Killer! : Artist Spotlight : Christopher Burch @ The Luggage Store Residency Program. Interview and Photos by John Felix Arnold III
I have know Christopher Burch since 2006. We met at the Hardknox Cafe in San Francisco on 3rd St. in the first week of our respective first year of graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. I was drinking a Red Stripe and drawing in my sketch book, wondering to myself how could anyone have a clue about making soul food in California, and he walked in and saw me perplexed. He ordered the same, we gave each other a look as to say, “Do you feel like a stranger in a strange land in San Francisco too?”(both of us being native to the east coast), and began a dialogue as friends and artists that has endured ever since. Chris is one of the most intelligent, well spoken, animated, energetic, and detail oriented people I have ever met. His art speaks for itself and he is fearless in his ability to engage himself with concepts and issues that many hide from in their work and even lives. As a person and an artist he is constantly searching for knowledge and answers, simply to begin asking further questions. He is a student of Goya and I believe does Goya’s ghost proud. He practices his drawing and painting technique obsessively and thoroughly, he is one of the few people I have known in this lifetime whom is mastering his craft and always has firm intentions behind his execution. Chris is currently doing a residency at with The Luggage Store Gallery at the Tenderloin National Forest and I had the opportunity to come by and ask some questions. Check it.
JFA III: Where are you from, and how did you find yourself in the Bay Area to begin with?
Christopher Burch: I am from St. Louis MO and I came to San Francisco because I received a full scholarship to the MFA program at the San Francisco Art Institute.
JFA: How did you become involved with the Luggage Store and what sort of things have you done with them thus far?
CB: I will give the short version of the story for the sake of space. I was walking along Market Street a few weeks after I just arrived in San Francisco, fall 2006, and I saw this amazing two story tall figure created by Os Gemeos. So I decided to investigate a little more and walked into the Luggage Store and was greeted by Darryl and Laurie, who looked at me and asked if I wanted to intern there. It happened just like that before they even knew my name I was an intern. Now that I look back on my first encounter, it’s truly indicative of both Laurie and Darryl’s personality and genuine openness. Oh and they took me to the roof to get a closer look at the Os Gemeos piece (that’s what really sold me). Sine then I have worked with a lot of amazing artists, scraped away twenty years of paint to reveal parts of a Margret Killigan mural, and dug a 7 ft hole for a Red Wood sapling in the Tenderloin National Forest.
JFA: What has been your musical inspiration as of late, and knowing that you are a pretty incredible wordsmith do you plan to record anything in the future?
CB: Ohhh that’s a tuff question in terms of my music taste …I will list a few artists I am painting with
1. Curtis Mayfield (big emphasis on “Stare and Stare,” that song is beautiful)
2. Action Bronson (dude is hilarious..He sounds like Ghostface, but his poetry is his own, and he is an actual chef who hosts a Internet cooking show!! pure comedy and a monster with the wordplay)
3. Black Spade ( a good friend of mine from St. Louis who is an amazing producer and MC.. really a great artist)
4. Blu (nuff said ..smh)
5. Veloso Caetano (a heavy cat out of Brazil)
6. Sun Ra (besides the fact that space is definitely the place ..we share the same birthday)
7. Charles Mingus (Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is one of the best albums ever made)
As far as me..I will stick to spontaneous outburst of rhythmic speech patterns for right now..but you never know
JFA: What is your core purpose and inspiration for making this residency happen?
CB: I wanted to really challenge myself and work with a piece of literature by Amiri Baraka entitled “Something in the Way of Things.” It is amazingly subtle and powerful at the same time addressing un-reconciled racial tensions and existential crises within America. My work deals with a lot of the observations expressed by Baraka in this particular poem and I felt that it was only right to create an installation that is inspired by his words.
JFA: What sort of goals and timeline work wise are you looking at with the residency?
CB: My goal is to create a full-scale installation/environment within two months. January 2012 till the end of February 2012
JFA: Give us a general idea of your daily schedule while doing this residency?
CB: 12:00 pm till about 1:00 am I am working in and with the space
JFA: What is your favorite food when you are exhausted and sleep deprived from working on your art?
CB: Almonds (I have been eating about a half pound a day)
JFA: Coffee or tea, and why?
CB: Coffee..ummm I have a slight attention disorder and coffee helps with my focus
JFA: I have always noticed direct influences of early 20th century cartoon and comical work laced into your visual voice. Please explain why you are so drawn to this and how you manifest these roots into your own reinvention of it in the present day of your process.
CB: I am interested in the disintegrations of cultural relativity and the invocation of cultural images that comprise the visual inheritance of the American Mythology. I have come to see the presentation of this narrative as an abstraction of the complex and nuanced human realities that have and continue to exist in America. Cartoons are abstractions created from, at times twisted, human observations of the natural world and because of that they directly reflect the desires of popular culture, much like the American Mythology itself. So I use the Cartoonish, history laden references, as vehicles or tropes to enter, play, stretch, manipulate and tell, at times tragic, fragmented variations of history. Ultimately confronting what drives the ethos of my work, the contradictions between meaningfulness, emptiness, resistance, and laughter.
I admire Francisco Goya, Phillip Guston, and Richard Pryor because they all were masterful at exploiting horrific human realities through the comedic lens. (side note but very important one)
JFA: What does your art-making arsenal consist of? And also how do you decide on what materials to work with?
CB: Good question..I am a purist in the sense that I love the tools of the trade..a good brush is worth more than gold and a great liner is priceless.
I use a lot of found materials in my work. I am really interested in the process of completely removing the lived history of an object, a silver-serving tray for instance, by painting it entirely matt black. Something happens when the tray is painted over..a sort of void is created, the tray ceases to exist but the associations of what a silver tray signifies remains ..I love that
I have also been getting more and more into fabrics, wallpapers and various patterns from different eras in time and seeing how I can create a more engaging language, both aesthetically and conceptually.
JFA: What is on the horizon for Christopher Burch this year and beyond?
CB: You (John Felix Arnold) and I are having a show at Little Field in Brooklyn this March. I will be having a solo show at Satellite 66 in SF this July and I am getting some other shows locked down nothing concrete yet so I wont speak on them until it is a sure thing. But a lot of hard work and Charles Mingus are in my future with out a doubt.
Check Christopher Burch out online at http://giantkillerz.tumblr.
Tags: BaY Area Arts, Cartoon Surrealism, Charles Mingus, Christopher Burch, Contemporary Art, Goya, painting, Residency Program, San Francisco, The Luggage Store, The Tenderloin National Forest, Urban Contemporary Art