3 Questions Digital Series

Chris Crossen

An interview from Art in Embassies 3 Questions Digital Series with Chris Crossen, who speaks about his creative process and artwork at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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Full Transcript

I would say that all of work is primarily rooted in the landscape.

I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains and I’m outside almost every day. You know, I spend time out in the mountains and wilderness and do a lot of back country activities and I’ve done that from a young age. It’s just part of my life. My relationship with the landscape, with different environments plays a pivotal role in my sanity really and I don’t know, I have an innate need to spend time in places that are much larger than us, much larger than me. They teach a lot of life lessons and they take a long time to get to know and they’re just very very special to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world and the United States and spend a lot of time in pretty wild places, so pretty remote. You know, they take you out of the picture in many ways and you realize that we’re really really tiny compared to our own history and the earth’s history and that’s always been a fixture for me and I think that my artwork tries to covey the special nature of these places but also look at them in a unique way that maybe someone else hasn’t seen them before. Say I’ll paint a particular range of the Sierra Nevada blue or purple or some color that someone might not associate with a mountain range, and then my work tends to be overlapping and what I’m trying to convey is different ways of seeing the landscape that you know, we could take a landscape photograph and that depicts the reality of the place in front of us, but artwork allows you to change the scene so you can trick your mind and see it in a different way and think about it differently, and that’s what I’m trying to do, is tell people about these places, why they’re important and why we should look at them differently.

I never formally studied art, I mean, I’ve taken a bunch of different art classes, kind of after the fact, but I grew up with family members who are artists, and my brother is an exceptional artist, he studied art in college, etc. He and I do a lot of these back country wilderness trips together and he would always bring a small watercolor kit with him to paint with wherever we went, because it’s very transportable, it’s easy to carry around and stuff in a backpack or whatever. And um, so whenever we’d go on these trips we would just paint. Have down time, whatever we were doing, and we’d paint you know, little postcard size paintings of the landscapes we were in, and so that’s what really got me started painting was just kind of doing these landscape sketches plein air and it kind of, you know, I didn’t choose it, it was there, and available and something I liked to do, and I started doing more and more of it. So now I always carry a watercolor kit with me, wherever I go, and paint insitu, and it’s really a luxury for me, you know. To be able to spend time away from the craziness of life, and you know, it’s kind of a form of meditation where the outside world disappears and you don’t think, and you just create and you lose yourself for fifteen minutes, three hours, a week whatever it is, and to be able to do that is an amazing experience and I do consider it a vital luxury.

I try to draw with the line that is created in the evaporation process. So I’ll have these hard edges that definite say a specific Ridgeline of a mountain range. I don’t draw that with a different pen or anything, that’s part of the process. I use my brush and create an edge, and due to the statistical properties of how the pigment distributes in the water as it’s evaporating it creates that edge, right. And it’s called the Pouson distribution, which is a random, normal distribution ok, and so it gets into pretty statistical, you know, pretty advanced statistical methods, and I find that pretty fascinating. Nobody ever asks me about that but that’s what makes it work, it’s what makes my process what it is, and this, you know, someone’s named it, we are humans and we investigated it, and a guy from France named Pouson named it, right? But those sorts of natural processes where they take over as part of your work and are an integral part of your work fascinates me, because I don’t have control over everything, even though it’s hard for me to accept, I try to embrace it and use it, and you know, it helps with a lot of different problems, when you let nature take over.