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November 30, 2006

Interview with Painter Chris Dorland

It's one year since we first saw the impressive work of young painter Chris Dorland down at ~Scope Miami'05.  He truly made a big splash with his hyper-acid color utopian paintings among collectors during Art Basel. Chris_dorland_untitled_green_1 Within months his paintings immediately become impossible difficult to come by.  Now, Chris has a new show opening in LA next week, but he was kind enough to give some of his NY City Art fans a sneak preview. (Photo #1, Chris Dorland, Untitled (Green), 2006, Oil on linen 32"x48") In fact, I hear the LA show is already 100% sold out well before these painting are ever getting put up on those wrong west coast gallery walls!! 

We had a chance to chat with Chris, so here's part 1 of a brief MAO Interview :

MAO Q1: Why did you decide to become an Artist? When the painter Paul Delaroche saw the first daguerreotype in 1839, he famously exclaimed, "From today, painting is dead!"  So, with such a huge expansion of art into new media, why choose "traditional" brush, oil, and canvas?

C. DORLAND A1: Ironically as a kid I always thought I'd be a lawyer. My whole family did. Not that there was much pressure, but I was really into rhetoric and it just made sense. My parents were both bohemians and I didn’t want to be anything like them. By age 8, I was an aspiring yuppy. In my early teens I got into graffiti. That was my first real passion. That and skateboarding, but I was much better at graffiti. Until that time I had never been particularly artistic. But I’d always liked to solve problems.

At any rate, I found graffiti really poetic and I loved roaming the city by myself at night. That’s where I developed an intimate relationship to the urban environment. The first couple of years I did it mostly in isolation. When I finally began to meet other writers I was disappointed. Their intentions were ultimately unsophisticated. The street poet veneer wore thin quickly and the magic died for me. Plus I was tired of getting arrested. All my friends were into one subculture or another. The club scene was a pretty big deal. I felt like the whole youth thing had run its course. So I decided to become an artist.

As for painting being dead, I instinctively knew that was bullshit. My Mom had a copy of Art After Modernism lying around the house. The first art essay I ever read was “Last Exit: Painting” by Tom Lawson. I was 18 years old. The only thing I took away from it was, I should be a neo-expressionist painter. I had completely misunderstood the thesis.

MAO Q2 : Photorealists artists like Chuck Close and Richard Estes focus the real subject of their paintings on the way in which they've interpreted photographs. Many MAO readers are Art photographers, photography dealers, and photo collectors. Can you explain how and why you use photography in creating your paintings? How does the use of photography, and the classic "photographic eye"  affect your work?

C. DORLAND A2: I'm really a closet photorealist. It’s my favorite kind of painting but hard to pull off successfully. To make a painting by copying a photograph is a completely literal act. It’s a totally Johnsian impulse. That’s where Richter comes from. So does Andy. I’m a very straightforward and literal person so it appeals to my sensibility.

Chris_dorland_what_dies_for_me_to_live With my work I aim to get many of the preliminary decisions like composition and color figured out on the computer. I think painting is like robbing a bank. The faster I can get the job done, the greater the success. I don’t like to waste time unnecessarily. (Photo #2, Chris Dorland, What dies for me to live, 2006
oil on linen,56"x72

I do most of the plotting and figuring out beforehand on the computer. My process is getting more and more layered. There are many steps that involve scanning, printing and drawing. I usually make five to ten versions of each painting on the computer. Once I’m done, I select the print I like best. Only then do I get around to the actual painting. From then on the only thing I care about is the energy of the object I’m working on. For me painting is an act of translation and reconstruction.

Ultimately I’m interested in modernity. In the ways modern technologies affect the way we see the world. Making paintings that are generated from photographic sources is a modern way of considering the world.

MAO Q3 : Ever since photography, painters had to react to it. The Modernist movements in 20th-century painting has frequently been thought of as a reaction to the increasing possibilities of photography. Today, Gerhard Richter works from snapshots, while Marilyn Minter takes her own stylized color photographs, but both have frequently used images from their life experience.  Where do you get your initial photographic source material and why did you choose these utopian landscapes?

C. DORLAND A3: In a way this picks up on my last answer. I knew from the very beginning that my work was going to deal with photography and film. My generation, those of us who were kids in the eighties, all tend to be concerned, in some way or another, with the blurring of reality and virtuality. I’ve been conscious of this blur since I was very young.

I grew up on movies like Robocop, Running Man and Total Recall.  They were packaged like sci-fi action flicks but those movies all had somewhat profound political reflections on the future. They were my first contact with cyber punk. Electronic music was a continuation of that. So was J.G Ballard. His books gave me the conviction to visualize what I was thinking.

The first fair painting I made was in 2001 and I just sort of fell on the source. It was based on a photo of the “Firestone Pavilion” from New York’s 1939 worlds fair. I thought it was amusing because at the time Firestone was being sued. The company had knowingly sold faulty tires after calculating the lawsuits would be cheaper than a recall.

The juxtaposition of the lawsuit, which was unfolding in real time, alongside the nostalgic old picture of the pavilion made fireworks go off. I saw the gap between the utopian promise that capitalism had so successfully sold to North America after World War II and the destructive drive for profit that capitalism now represents. (photo #3, Chris Dorland, Untitled (burning dome), 2006
ink/enamel/photcollage on paper,40"x50

Chris_dorland_untitled_burning_done Also at the time I was going to SUNY Purchase. The Purchase campus was meant be the great SUNY art school. Philip Johnson designed it. The model was first exhibited at MOMA in the seventies. Architecturally that campus was a total train wreck. The irony didn’t go unnoticed.

MAO Q4: The last few years, a great deal of attention has been given to the Leipzig School painters. Have these artists had any influenced on your work? If not these artists, are there any who've been a big influence?

C. DORLAND A4: This sounds a bit ridiculous because of the age gap and success differential, but I always thought of Neo Rauch as a peer. I first saw his work in 2002 and by that time my ideas were already in place. My only thought was that we were both working with similar subject matter.

A few years later the whole Leipzig thing happened I realized there was whole lot of them. Like clowns coming out of a VW. At that point I knew that it was a completely academic impulse that came from a European tradition of painting and drawing. I’ve never thought of any of them since. Conceptually I feel much closer to artists like Kelly Walker, Wade Guyton or Sean Paul.

My artistic roots are Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol. That’s it. Malcolm Morley and David Deutsch were also important to me. I met Malcolm a number of times under unusual circumstances. He was quite mean to me in fact. But his cruelty was inspiring. It made me work harder.

...More from Chris Dorland, Part 2 Tomorrow..


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Hey MAO..
These Chris Dorland paintings look amazing. I've not seen his work before, but I hope to see more of them. Thanks for pointing his work out.

So where is the new show taking place, what city, what gallery?

Nice interview MAO...he's a gem, that Mr. Dorland.

Thanks Christine and Ed!!

Chris has his new show opening at Marc Selwyn Fine Art in LA.

Yes..there are actually a few good galleries outside of NYC...but you'll never hear me say that again!!

I think the show opens on Dec 2nd...but it's not yet on the gallery website..



Lot of useful information are there. Its really keeps me updated. Thanks to Author.

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