Chris Vasell is a Los Angeles based artist with a solo exhibition at Team Gallery in New York City right now. Vasell's work is largely recognizable by washy and lush portraits replete with dreamy details. In his current exhibition, the work is more abstract and irreverent but with a subtly serious nature and an earnest approach to material. His mix of abstraction, ad-hoc materials and surrealist references underlie the aesthetic whimsy of the works. This is Vasell's first exhibition with Team. Vasell has exhibited widely and was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial.
"The Misty and Christy Show" Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas, 2010. All Images courtesy of Team Gallery and the artist.
Timothy Hull: Your show is titled "The Estate of Chris Vasell," which begs the question: did part of you die in the production of this exhibit?
Chris Vasell: The short answer: No. Maybe? Or, let the fiction of life and death go. Just remain in the center, watching. And then forget that you are there. Oh, brother!
The long answer: The seed for said title was planted a few years ago when a glaring bifurcation or trifurcation became evident in my "practice." Painting sort of dovetailed into a certain type of work which, in a way, 'made itself' in a very relaxed, yet titillating, manner in which each element seemingly could only have ended up in its final resting place. Sort of
Japanese Rock Gardening cum Serial Killer Spending Time With The Body. The work in the present show at Team is of this ilk. Another concentrated focus became an ongoing accumulation of drawings that I have never shown and am presently in the process of organizing/editing. Getting to the point, though: both of the above mentioned activities/projects were, and still remain, slower moving productions, and at the time there was
not enough completion nor cohesion to warrant exhibition. So, sans exhibition plans for said work, I would jokingly tell myself that "these are for the estate." Moving forward, however, I became quite invested in each kind of work, took ample time to let them develop and cohere, and voila! the collage-paintings presently hang at 83 Grand Street in a show called "The Estate of Chris Vasell." So, the title for the show was there all along, and perhaps it is a solitary person's low-key version of the Kippenbergerian "Is Not Embarrassing."
"Sailor Someone (Homage to the Coil)" Mixed Media with Cardboard, 2010
Hull: I feel like cardboard reached its material saturation in the art world
around 2003 but you're still using it in a very earnest and creative way. What does cardboard mean to you in 2010?
Vasell: In regard to early 2000s and cardboard, the two things I think of offhand are Thomas Hirschhorn's installations and Hirsch Perlman's photos. Other than those,
you will have to refresh my memory. Regardless, I suppose that I didn't get the saturation notice. Also, I am a tad surprised that cardboard is the material you are asking about. There are 14 works in the show, and cardboard is used in 3.
Anyhow, cardboard's color, heft, surface, and feel are its main appeal for me in 2010. By feel, I mean its fragility, temporality, and inanimate humility. In the work, the the latter qualities shift into more of a signified state as the cardboard pieces are mounted onto canvas stretched over beautifully-crafted wooden panels. This simultaneous countering and elevation occurs with an eye toward presentation. In production, the notion that each element seemingly could only have ended up in its final resting place also pertains to the surfaces onto which things rest.
"7-11" Mixed Media and Cardboard, 2010
Hull: Can you explain a few differences between showing in NYC and showing in LA?
Vasell: There is a magazine publisher above Team in NYC, and sky above Blum & Poe in LA. NYC insulates with its constant presence. LA is a diffuse mirage. In other words, light, space and accessibility.
Hull: What artist from the recent past do you find has been terribly underrated and you'd like to give them a shout-out?
Vasell: The short answer: I have recently been under the weather and on Netflix instant quite a bit. My underrated nominees are Nicolas Cage and Stellan Skarsgård.
The long answer: I suppose I am aware of who's hot in terms of dough, buzz, hate, etc., but lack of exposure and light purses do not necessarily equate 'actual' under-appreciation. That being said, I propose a toast to artists that are more present in the work than its viewer.
Or more simply put: Martín Ramírez
"City Snap" Mixed Media 2010