Chris Dorosz pushes paint in unexpected directions with remarkable results. He has a few distinct techniques, including filling canvases with grids of industrial staples that hold pools of color, and dripping globs of paint onto clear rods or monofilament strands to create fragmented, 3-D objects and figures. His process is equally regimented and relaxed, much like his enviable lifestyle in South Beach: making art, teaching, hitting the gym, and walking the dog. We paid him a visit to grill him about his studio secrets, and discovered a mutual love for a certain female singer. Let's just say you might see the three of us at Trannyshack's Kate Bush Tribute Night.
EKG: Tell us where you're from and how you came to be an artist.
Chris Dorosz: I'm Canadian, and I'm a military brat so I'm from everywhere. I went to undergrad in Montreal and got my graduate degree at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. We had art books at home growing up, and I have a few relatives that are artists. My uncle used to work for Disney, and my cousins are well-known artists. I've always done art, although I did a little stint as an interior designer and hated it. I didn't want to work in an office. I've been an artist ever since. I teach color theory part-time at the Academy of Art. In fact, I just wrote a text book.
How did you come up with the idea of working with suspended paint blobs to make representational 3-D images?
CD: All my works feed off of one another, so it started with the earliest work with the staples. I was interested in making paintings where the paint kept its integrity and there was no brushwork. I poured the paint and it created physicality in this staple corral. It just became a pool of paint that was contained.
I decided to make them more physical and was visualizing what would happen if a painting actually exploded into a three dimensional space. The smaller work is made of paint drops from a brush, and the larger work is a paint splotch made with my hand, so I'm building it up like icing a cake. And then of course there's the engineering of it. I have my secrets, but it's basically just fishing line and paint with a weight at the end.
Do you have any nightmare installation stories?
CD: The first version of The Painted Room was in Waterloo, Ontario at the Canadian Clay and Glass Museum. I met their criteria because there was silica in my paint. I use a gel medium to extend it. The piece looked great in the studio and I packed it all up and shipped it. But the crates were five days late. So I had three days to install what should have taken at least eight days. The ceilings were pitched and 30-feet high, so imagine hanging something that needs to be horizontal to the floor. The real problem came when I started unpacking. I rolled up each monofilament and used a little twist of tape at the end. But the weight at the bottom wasn't weighty enough so there were kinks in the monofilament. I had an assistant but we had to enlist someone else to help and she kept using scissors to cut the tape, so some of the fibers were severed. I didn't sleep for 48 hours. And I was supposed to give an artist talk, but I literally couldn't string a sentence together. The museum people were lovely and I appreciated them being interested in my work. And I certainly needed to do that installation to perfect it. But I'm sure they will never show me again.
The Painted Room at the San Jose ICA
How do you describe your work?
CD: I consider what I do painting. I like the historic implications of painting as a document. It's a trace of somebody who was living and actually stood there in front of the object at arm's length working on it. It's a metaphor for the human presence. It's just like pushing mud around. I have this vision that when all the electricity goes out and we're potentially starting over again, we'll always have mud to push around on a cave wall.
Some of your subjects include furniture. What is it about domestic objects that resonates with you?
CD: Everything I do is a portrait in a way. I like the idea of the surrogate sense of comfort and how we're losing that sense of physicality. Everything is virtual. I like this physical act of moving mud around, and questioning how I relate to my surroundings. It's the furniture I live with and the home I grew up in. I'm interested in antiques as visual records of human usage.
You're very in tune with fragmentation and pixelation. Why do you think that is?
CD: I was interested in pixelation simply because, when I moved here in 2000, I was dating a tech writer and things were totally new to me. Now it's less about pixelation than fragmentation, and I think fragmentation is what we're all experiencing in today's world. The pace of technology is outrunning how we can comprehend it so we look towards places of comfort to find solace.
Does the process require digital tools?
CD: Yes and no. My interest lies in the handmade. There's no plotting out on the computer. I actually sculpt it first out of Styrofoam, and the only computer work required would be if I sculpted you as a figure. I'd take a photo from four sides and put that into the computer to line up the elevations, then print it and carve it out of Styrofoam. My father was in the military but also a cabinet maker. He does antique reproductions of furniture, so I learned carving at an early age.
When I started doing it, I thought I could be super accurate with these types of models. I realized there's a point where you have to give up the ghost. You can only plan so much, and then it's about eyeballing it, and trial and error. It's amazing what the eye fills in, and that's the idea of these pieces: when people see them, they move closer to get more information. But they actually get less information because they're seeing the spaces in between.
Tell us about the staple piece you're working on now.
CD: I've been aestheticizing computer screens and other screens we have in the world; the colors and patterns. The sketch is a picture of a confessional screen from a church. It's at an angle because I wanted to indicate depth in the imagery. I think there's a certain spiritual aspect about the work and, with this piece, I wanted to be a little more overt about it. It's not a commentary either way. It's just the idea of confessing to a screen.
If your art had a soundtrack, what would it be?
CD: When I'm in the studio, I listen to a variety of things. I listen to a lot of classical music. I love Baroque English restoration music like Henry Purcell. And lately I've been listening to a lot of '80s music again. Things that I might not have listened to in the '80s, like the Smiths and Depeche Mode. And I love Laurie Anderson. I just can't get enough of her. And Kate Bush. I'm a huge Kate Bush fan.
Chris Dorosz's recently released textbook, Designing With Color: Concepts and Applications, is available through Fairchild Books.