Christopher Russell is our selected guest in February for Art and Design Inspiration. We are inspired by his story, talent and evolved style. Consistency and personal challenge has moved him forward and he is very grounded in his outlook on creating art.
1. Christopher, your work is amazing and you are a young artist with several awards and recognition. How did you achieve this and get the recognition?
Achieving recognition isn’t something I worked towards and then finally received like a sudden change. I try to maintain a consistent practice where I try to push my work forward. I always try to challenge myself and keep producing art whether I have a show or not. With time, this has lead to different opportunities and recognition but it is more of a gradual progression than anything else.
I am very fortunate to have support from my family and I was lucky to go to a good school where I made friends who became a supportive group that always push and inspire me. When I show work I know friends are going to see it and that provided a good pressure, I try to make it something new for people to see.
Opportunities have come up to show my work mainly because of other people who are really passionate about art.
The first spaces I showed my art were run by people who put in a lot of work and didn’t make any profit. I owe a lot of the recognition I have received to them because they gave me a place to show; people wouldn’t have seen my work if it wasn’t shown. When I am presented with an opportunity to show my work, I just try and give it my all and make sure I am satisfied with the work. When I am lucky it leads to another opportunity to show my work. Some times it does not but I just keep on trying to move forward so that at least I keep interested in my paintings.
One last very practical bit of advice is that taking decent photos of my art and keeping them on a website portfolio has been extremely beneficial, it has widened my audience, and it is an easy way to get someone to take a look at what I have done. I don’t think you need much from a website, a simple tumblr page is better than nothing.
2. When did you know that you wanted to be a professional artist?
When I was in high school I thought about what I wanted to study and do after school. Art was the only thing I could decide on.
3. How long have you been painting and drawing?
I still have drawings from when I was four years old. For me there was never a gap, most young kids did arts and crafts, as I got older I just kept doing it.
4. Which historical artist has the most impact on you and why?
That is really hard for me to answer because it always changes, I will get really excited about artists who I used to not like at all. I guess I will touch on a few. I would probably give a different answer in a few months.
The Hudson River School has resonated with me because it really embraced and elaborated on the romanticized view of the American Frontier. Of those painters, Thomas Moran has stood out for me, I grew up with a large print of his in my house.
I keep coming back to Eduard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. They embraced decoration and expressive color; their work really makes me excited about painting.
There are also painters who seem to impact me through their impact on other painters. Paul Cezanne is one example of that; I think the paintings of Jasper Johns kind of lead me to look at him more. A more recent example is David Hockney; I think he has a really enduring practice.
5. Where do you get your inspiration?
Getting outside, walking through forests, getting in to any Mountains, camping and riding my bike is very inspirational to me. Programs, articles, photos and exhibits about Science and Nature.
Lots of handmade objects can be really inspirational, other paintings, sculptures, even textiles, furniture and clothing. Objects that are handmade but still relate to the natural world inspire me. I am drawn to color, subtle humor and materials like wood and stone. My painting is a bit self indulgent, it is an exploration of things I like.
6. Advice for those (in High school) thinking of majoring in art?
I am really happy I majored in art. I think High School is a great place to try a bunch of different types of art processes and start to develop some skills but mainly just start to see what you like doing. My current paintings don’t look anything like what I did in High School so I wouldn’t worry about developing a unique style yet.
I think one thing to think about when looking at schools is where do you want to live. Cities usually have more art and artists to see and that is really important to studying art. In addition, it took me a while to realize it but all my other interests that didn’t obviously relate to painting such as camping and listening to music became essential to my art practice. So you want to be in a place that allows you to do the things you love.
Other than location, the teachers are a really important part of school, you have to seek out people who inspire you and try and work with them.
School really helped me become part of a creative community; the people I went to school with became a really supportive network after school.
A final note is hopefully not too discouraging; an art degree doesn’t really lead to a traditional career. I have showed my art in multiple cities in the US and Europe, it has been very rewarding but I am far from being able to support myself financially from art. I am not a starving artist but it is because I have a day job and I probably always will. Majoring in art is really about personal growth, not learning how to get fame and fortune.
7. Do you think that the Internet and all the competition is something that an artist should be concerned about? How do you stand apart?
I don’t really think it should be thought of as competition, I am not competing with any of the artists I know; we all try to support each other.
There are however lots of competitions, juried shows, schools and artists residencies. Art competitions are very subjective so you have to be able to accept rejection without feeling like it means you were not good enough. I have been rejected by more competitions than I have been accepted by.
You should be making art that challenges and satisfies yourself and not worry about impressing others. The best you can do to stand apart is have a really good work ethic and try to push yourself. The Internet is a useful tool to discover other art and also to show your work but it can’t replace seeing art in person. It is important to focus on the local art scene, go to museums and put together small art shows with friends.
8. Where would you like to be in 10 years with your artwork?
I would like to be in my studio five full days a week painting and I hope to stay challenged and excited by my art.
Website: Christopher Russell