You might recognize the Galesburg native Christopher Reno’s work from our gallery, particularly the biggest piece of his we have on the wall facing the window of our gallery space. Many have marveled at the piece’s scale-- the largeness of the canvas compared to the minute dots layered preciously over its surface. His pieces are truly astounding, such a meditative air and obsessiveness exist simultaneously within the careful dots he constructs, senses of calm and mania imparted at once to the viewer. I was fortunate enough to ask him some questions about his work, and a lovely conversation unfolded, which I hope you enjoy!
My first inquiry was regarding the perceptions surrounding his work-- the way these pieces make him feel, his motivation for constructing such surfaces, and what he hopes others feel from his work. He responded by establishing a connection between his work and the work of Agnes Martin, a prominent abstract American artist, active from the 1940s through the early 2000s. The two share a meditative and inward quality to their work, both focused on pattern, abstraction, and repetition. Chris said “I love the transcendent serenity that she achieves through obsessive manipulation of the grid. I share some of that obsessiveness but I’m also willing to let the grid fail and sag…In fact I’m most drawn to this tension - will the piece fail? Is it just a bad painting? Can it transcend its homely appearance and process?” Chris hopes that people are relieved when they look at his work, but “can also just as easily imagine that they would make people annoyed and perplexed.”
Chris’s interest in transcendence and time is integral to his work. The process itself relies heavily on a long amount of time, and the relationship between the work and the viewers is in conversation with that lengthy process. I can get lost in the pieces for minutes, hours. Often, measuring the time spent discovering the work becomes insignificant once I’ve fully given the pieces my attention! I asked about the time aspect of his work, and he said “They take a while to make, but because they are like a hobby it doesn’t really matter. I can do them whenever I want...It’s a very similar thing to my Mom’s hobby of knitting/quilting/crocheting...She made the work for the simplest of reasons, because it gave her pleasure and it helped her occupy her time with something creative and pleasant. There wasn’t a deadline, there was a process. What could be better and more poetic? It’s actually a great relief to find a process that is simple yet rewarding...I’m continuously surprised by what comes out of it.”
His connection to Agnes Martin through pattern and repetition is shown through his use of materials--the textures and colors he uses--but departs through his appreciation for letting the grid go and moving through the “flub-ups” by incorporating them into the piece. He thinks a lot about pattern, texture, and color throughout his process. “I love painterly painting from the New York school - de Kooning, Guston, Pollock. My oil paintings are chunky and gooey on purpose...I want them to have a texture like woven cloth. I like the idea of a painting being like a textile, or that I’m weaving with the paint. And with the watercolors, I like bleed, drip and handmade wrinkly paper. I like the flub-ups and blobs and I like to weave them in.”
As for his color palettes, he said “I choose [them] at the outset and modulate them very carefully throughout the process, but I don’t have any endgame. I just follow a careful process and see where they go...eventually the strategies and processes exhaust themselves and it’s time to move on to a new piece...If I’m not happy with where the painting is at that point, I’ll partially destroy it by painting over areas, or sanding and scraping the work down, to look for new possibilities.”
Lastly, I asked him about the importance of words in his work, namely in his titles, as they often address something so specific, such as the titles “It All Comes Apart” and “Lemon Scented Radiance”. How do the titles and pieces themselves relate? Chris replied “The titles come spontaneously. Sometimes they are a clue to the origins of the work and sometimes they are simply associative because they came to mind while working. I like when they have a poetic, opaque quality to them...sometimes the work is inspired from a source - a song, a picture, or another artist.”
Chris has most recently been working on nature photographs printed using a plotter and sharpies. He said these pieces relate to Agnes Martin in their adherence to the grid and the buildup of material, though they are “the objects I make that are most loyal to the source imagery.” The pieces are made from 30-40 layers of various spot colors, and they take a long time, a very patient process indeed! “Each color takes from 4-8 hours to draw. That's why there are only 5 of these new ones because they each took weeks to create.” You can check out this most recent body of work as well as the paintings on his website by clicking here.
Thank you for reading, and thank you to Chris for this wonderful conversation!