Chrissy Angliker is a Swiss-American painter working in Brooklyn. Her studio is filled with serial works depicting recurring muses: tulips, figures in water, and crowded beach scenes. Additionally inspired by the physical properties of paint, Chrissy encourages the paint to take on its own vocabulary and inform the painting as much as she does. The final paintings record this dialogue and illustrates their 50/50 collaboration.
Picnic: I like to start each interview by asking what are you working on now? Can you describe what we’re surrounded by?
Chrissy: Right now the new work is tulips. I wanted to get us some fresh tulips, a week ago I had all these tulips everywhere. It didn’t happen last year, but pretty much every year when the seasons change, that affects my painting. Sometimes I’ll get really inspired by spring and flowers, and then I’ll paint tulips. I did that two years ago, and last year I just painted water subjects. I am happy to be back with the tulips.
The title for this is Tulips on Grunge – is the title influenced by your playlist, what are you listening to in the studio?
Yeah, actually it’s this playlist, this Nirvana playlist. It destructs the position of this light and springy feeling when you come out of the deep dark winter. Ok, so we didn’t have the worst winter, but spring is so overwhelming and bubbly and psychedelic, I’m toning it down with a little bit of angst to balance it. When I did Tulips on Grunge I [above], I was not just bubbling with the joy of spring, it was a serious contemplation of all those feelings, and you can see that in the tones of the colors. It’s not as psychedelic, it’s pretty intense. The marks are pretty intense, to me at least.
They’re essentially still-lives, but they have so much movement in them, even maybe more action than those representing people. The brushstrokes are deeper and longer, and it feels like you’re putting your whole arm into it. Are you painting with your whole body?
It’s the whole arm and it’s the whole- all of the emotions. I feel when you’re painting something like flowers that are so beautiful on their own, it’s almost like… what’s the point of even painting them? It’s like painting sunsets. They are so beautiful in real life, am I really going to try to translate this? I wanted to really feel it, it becomes so intense and so overwhelming. I paint these really fast, that emotion goes right into the painting. When I paint them, I’m in a very emotional state. You’re also just juggling so much paint, everything is big and bold and moving and you’re trying to balance all these colors to not have it be a completely psychedelic shit show, but you want it to be too. Just really grappling with all the colors of the rainbow, which is different from painting water subjects. They also have their psychedelic moments, but overall you’re in blue, there is always one moment to calm your eyes even if it’s painted thick. Then these beach ones [below], they are just light and busy and drippy. They are lighthearted, they’re more to calm down from heavy painting, also physically heavy ones with a lot of paint. Emotionally they are lighter and physically they are lighter.
Do you work on one at a time or multiple paintings at once?
One at a time, I like to plan them out ahead of time. I had all the tulips, waited until they opened up just right, then took a ton of photographs of them. Then I’ll edit and find the perfect one, then get the canvas, get the paint, and make the sketch. So I do all that ahead of time and plan for my one painting day, everything will be ready, so I’ll just go in and paint until it’s done.
For one day?
Most of the time, but then, if I do those one day paintings, then I can’t paint for a week. It’s exhausting, you get ready, you get really pumped, you get really emotional, then you let it all out. Then you’re all empty, and you crawl home. The next day I come and just sit with the painting and watch it, and watch it, will rehang stuff, and watch it, watch the floor, and just let it all pass. Then it starts to build back up, and I’ll want to respond to it with something else. Right now I’m totally in love with tulips, but suddenly there will be a moment when I’ve had my fill. Then it will be something light and not as heavy. I just have to spend time with it to feel what is next, and to let go of that. That’s pretty much the cycle I go through.
Feels very ritualistic.
When I paint, things happens so fast, I’m just responding to the paint, I throw it on there then I move it, then some of it drips and some of it is doing whatever, so I’m constantly responding, it is almost like reflex. Then it’s just trying to balance the chaos, because I want the paint to have its own nature, to do its own thing in its own vocabulary. After you’re so exhausted I leave, and then come back later when it’s already dry and I can’t mess with it anymore. Then I can really see it as a viewer. Because once I paint one of these I can’t see it anymore. There is a window, after 5 hours of painting straight, my good judgement shuts down and I have to finish it and walk away. The tough thing is when there are days you’re all set up and it’s just not the right painting day, you keep painting and painting, and the whole thing just collapses. It just doesn’t work out. Then you have to live with that for a week, and then come back.
Yeah they are very sculptural, the only real way to get that feel is to work with it so wet- you can only really work on it one day. You are literally sculpting the paint, if you came back to it, it would be like adding something onto a clay piece that was already glazed and fired.
Yeah, these right now will happen in a day, but there are others, that portrait there, that’s been worked on and layered for a year and half [above- left]. It’s all these different paintings where the texture will build up and build up, and finally once I came to this style of having more paint, the painting managed to be finished and it relied on having all this crazy texture. Others I like when the canvas is really smooth, and I’m working with texture from the get go. When some of these crazy ones don’t work out I’ll work over them, and then they’ll become this layered painting where it’s this whole different story and they’ll look completely different. But, so far I really like when they happen really fast. They feel the freshest.
There is a whole process that goes into it, only one day is painting, but there is all the prep work, that takes weeks to get to that point.
People will ask, “well do you paint everyday?” and I say no, but that’s just how this process over the years taught me what is my best window when good paintings happen- in intervals. The way I paint is so emotional. I have to sit and feel my emotions and respond to that, which is hard coming from studying design where you just get shit done. So that’s been a hard transition actually, just really letting it be.
For the tulips you’re working from your own photographs, is that the same for the beach scenes and the water paintings?
Yeah, for that I went to Long Island and made my friend Dan and his boyfriend swim around in Dan’s parents’ pool [above right – top] That’s my cousin that I had swimming in Florida, then I photoshopped her in twice [above, right, leaning on floor], those over there are my parents [below]. Whenever I can, I paint from my own photographs, but sometimes when I have a whole new inspiration or I want a ton of people from a big distance, then I’ll go online and do these endless searches and photoshop one little swimming blob until the composition is just right. For these I’ll crowd them when they’re not crowded enough [pictured -two below]. I want the starting composition to be totally controlled, then once I dive in, things will go in different directions anyway, the entry point is only one way of having control. I’ll print it, I’ll always start out holding a piece of paper, but then it disappears.
What’s the attraction to water?
I grew up near a lake, and to me water was always the most fascinating thing, realizing that there is another world in our world. Every year we used to go to Maine, we have family friends up there. To me that is the most serene, most loved place. I loved the way people would turn into animals when they’re at the beach. They’re all in their underwear or not at all- the way you sit and lay, and sprawl out. It’s how people really should be, their natural selves. I feel that people change when they are in water, when they are near water, their thoughts change, I think there is more depth in the conversations that happen when you’re looking at water, shit gets so deep so fast. It’s just this pure fascination, the effect that water has on people, and that people themselves are bodies of water. So much of us are made of water, so where is that fine line that separates us when we’re swimming, are we water. All that stuff becomes really exciting for me, it doesn’t get old.
We talked about what draws you to the natural subjects -flowers and water, but what draws you to the human figure? You used to paint a lot of portraits.
Portraits, will be self-portraits or portraits of my close friends, I would paint my friend Olivia a lot, one of my best friends in Switzerland. You have your certain muses, people that mesmerize you, how dearly you hold them, the outer and the inner. There will be certain people that become a living breathing muse and you just want to reflect back what you see. Olivia is a good subject, I’ve painted her a bunch of times. Sometimes I’ll paint her and it’s gnarly as hell, but I think it is so beautiful. I’ll send it to her and she’ll roll her eyes. When I paint my portrait that’s when shit gets really gnarly. That’s when, it’s only me, I have the rights, it is when lots of experimentation will happen, lots of abstraction. When I do my own self-portrait I get to check in with myself, see where I’m at. With an image, like with the tulip print out, you enter somewhere then you go in and find out what’s really happening. I find that with self-portraits, you start digging, then you just see where you are.
Do you still work in the drip style?
Yeah these are current. I was doing the swimmer ones, and I needed something light so I did these, now the tulips. These are all from this year, 2016.
With the heavily abstracted works, do you ever have people misinterpreting your paintings?
I don’t see it as a misinterpretation, what I’m really into is widening the gap between the paint and the illusion that paint can create. Every time I paint, the gap varies. I think the wider the gap gets, the more there is room for the viewer, the more exciting it gets. You need to see whatever you see in it, that’s what this gap is for. Some will be really curious about what I specifically see. Sometimes after a long conversation I’ll tell them, but sometimes I won’t – because once you tell them they can’t unsee it. That gap is there so they can project anything on them. I think my paintings are opinionated by the articulation I use with the painting vocabulary, but at the same time I don’t want people to feel like they have to think the way I think and feel the way I feel. That’s where that gap comes in and i’m very conscious of keeping it open.
In your process it seems the artwork for you is the performative action of making the painting than the painting itself.
For me process is everything, it’s where I’m releasing something I feel extremely strongly about, to the point where I get so emotional. I just carry so much emotion that I have to let it out, and when I do I feel better. It’s a healthy thing for me. When I was doing design, and I suddenly wanted to paint again I thought I wasn’t okay if I didn’t have the outlet. It’s really this cycle of being inspired, I can’t just be inspired, that would make me explode, I need to release it, painting is a necessity at this point. The paintings are sort of the crumbs on the way, once this is done, it informs me, and I respond to that energy with what is next. I’m not fully attached to the end result. I love them, I love all of them. I truly stand behind them or they wouldn’t be finished, but once I’m done they’re not mine anymore.
It’s great your art has allowed you to travel – you were in Switzerland last year for an exhibition and a residency?
Yeah, the Switzerland connection, that’s where I’m from, but that’s been the most wonderful thing that could’ve happened. In Switzerland it was frowned upon to pursue art or anything like that because it’s not real or proper. I left when I was 16 to go to an art high school outside of Boston, and then I stayed to go to Pratt Institute. I got talked into studying design to do something proper. I always felt that there was no place for me in Switzerland, that I was kicked out. A 16 year old will think those grandiose things. When I started painting again, I had the opportunity to do a group show in Winterthur in my home city where I grew up. I applied to that and got accepted. I went in thinking I was going to show my work and they were going to hate it, then I would have closure, but they liked it. I thought they were messing with me. In the fall of 2011 suddenly this whole new relationship opened through art, where art first sent me away, now I am back in with Switzerland. I have regular solo-shows there and most of my clients are there, it’s awesome. It was the most healing thing I could’ve gone through, finding my roots again, embracing my duality. Last year was my 16th year in the states, with 16 years in Switzlerand. From last December till June I have a solo show of my water themed paintings up at the Swiss Consulate here in New York. It was so symbolic, the two worlds really coming together. I always felt I had to keep them so separate. I’m going back to Switzerland in July for a live painting event in Lucerne and to finalize work on my first art book that will be printed and published over there end of this year. I so grateful, I never thought this was going to happen.
It’s like reuniting with an old family member.
Yeah, your roots. I didn’t leave because I hated it, not at all. Now having both feels wrong, painting and Switzerland, I’m spoiled. It makes me so grateful.
What is the book project you are working on?
It’s going to be a book about my work, called PAINT/ING/S, showing the whole process, the atmosphere, the rituals that I have, instead of just a book of finished paintings on white. When I have studio visits people will come in that maybe already have a painting, and it will all make sense to them, where it’s coming from. So sharing the process, the photographer came in to document certain stages of how paintings get created, and then it goes into some finished works, then back into some process, and also some photographs from when I was in Switzerland last year doing a residency. It’s from both sides, Switzerland and here, and the sensibility of what goes on around my relationship to paint, which is the most important thing for me.
Your floor feels very much like a painting, or at least an illustration of the performative acts of painting. You mentioned you’ll finish a piece, you’ll stand back from it, look at it, and look at the floor. What are you getting out of it when you look at the floor?
So much, oh my god so much, this will be a long answer. Well the short answer is, that to me the paintings are my conscious work. I’ve trained myself to work freely, the nature of the paint is my most important thing, to really work with the natural vocabulary of the paint, interacting with it, like we’re having a dialogue. Then learning to let the paint move freely, so while I’m doing one stroke, I can be working on the conscious work, and the same stroke will go somewhere else and make a subconscious mark on the floor. That canvas there on the wall, that’s from 2012 [above- center], when I wasn’t allowed to mess up the floor yet, the top part is what was on the wall, and the bottom part was on the floor. It is a collection of all the marks of a whole entire year. After 2012 triggered a style shift of moving away from the drips into a new vocabulary. Now they are coming back but in a different capacity. It’s literally acknowledging the painting in front of me is my conscious work and everything that’s happening around it is subconscious marks- letting them build up over time. I’ll do walking meditations and study the vocabulary. In those marks that happen outside my peripheral vision, that’s the things I don’t know, and I really believe that you learn from that which you do not know, because otherwise how would you be learning if you know that already. This is where I’m learning it all from. This dialogue I have with paint, if I study, and train my eye, when something spontaneous happens on the canvas, instead of being shocked and making it go away, I learn how to work with it and respond to it. The floor completely helps the paintings, they belong here. I feel like it’s building up this sacred safe ground, I’ll look down and it’s beautiful, and I know it’s one of my biggest muses, but at the same time I’m able to walk all over it. It’s my oldest, biggest, most serious piece of work. There is so much meaning and meditation and thought, spirituality in doing this – in getting all this inspiration from here and walking over it, and it constantly changing when you kind of want to hold on to it. So that’s the short answer.
That’s the short answer?! We’ll have to save the long answer for it’s own interview. Do you have any upcoming shows or projects your want to mention?
I’m in a group show I’m really excited about being a part of at Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica. the show is called “Paint is a Thing,” and opens in July. And the PAINT/ING/S book with Neidhart + Schön AG will come out at the end of the year.
You can view more of Chrissy’s work and videos of her process on her website http://www.chrissy.ch/.