If there was a road-map to becoming a successful new contemporary artist then English painter Chris Guest seems to have all the correct coordinates for his career thus far. Starting with traditional drawing and painting technique, Chris has perfectly expressed the new aesthetic with a return to the figurative including his own 21st century twist. This has captured the public mood at a time when a there is a popular uprising against the strictures of arts academia, the internet enabling the democratisation of appreciation of style.
Chris has also embraced the internet for his own practice, from sale of in-demand prints through to organising the oil painting workshops he holds around the UK – and is now planning for the US. An embrace of social media and cross-linking with other fields, such as his appearance at Tattoo conventions, all drive a greater visibility of his work to a larger audience. This is ideal for Chris, with his work gaining ever greater exposure and acclaim, and for us it ensures we never miss the release of his next work, a serendipitous outcome for all!
Portraiture can be an uncompromising field for an artist, everything is there in that single character and with that comes a singular need to capture your viewer with that character. What was your journey to specialize in this, did you try other forms or were you always focused on the human expression?
Yes I did try many different forms of painting. I tried landscapes and cityscapes to begin with – even messed around with abstract for a bit! (Mainly because I thought this was what you were supposed to do as a painter). Luckily, for everyone out there – the majority of these works ended up in the bin!! I found that whatever subject matter I tried, I’d always get drawn back to painting people and the human form, mainly because that was the most fun to paint. I believe making art should always be something you really want to do, and you should always feel inspired about what you want to paint. As soon as this stops happening, it starts to feel like a chore, rather than your passion.
If anything your more recent work has been even more focused, the background reduced to broad block strokes, the figures fading into the background with the same technique. How do you decide what needs detail and what is unimportant?
I generally like to keep a face as the focal point, and yes, as you said a background reduced to abstract strokes. I find painting this way, keeps it looking interesting, rather than painting everything in minute detail. A lot of people when seeing my paintings in the flesh, are surprised how brushy they are in real life – I just try and use a few techniques to ‘imply’ detail, and the viewers eyes do the rest.
Ink – I love it, you love it, we all love ink! When was the last time you painted someone without tattoos? …and talking of your subjects – what do you use for references, live models, photographs, found images etc?
I paint different models from life, at London Fine Arts, where the emphasis is painting using classical painting and drawing techniques practiced for hundreds of years. Those models are often not tattooed. I paint from a mixture of live models, but use my own reference photos when I have an idea or concept that would require longer than someone could realistically sit for.
Inevitable question about inspirations and influences … let’s try to change it up a bit though. Who was the first artist who’s style you tried to imitate when you were young, who is the biggest non visual artist inspiration on your work and your career, and who’s work is really rocking your boat at the moment?
Good question – The first name that instantly sprung to mind was Todd McFarlane (Comic book illustrator who drew Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, Spawn, etc) When I was in my early teens, I wanted to be a comic book artist, and I used to spend countless hours and days copying his characters from the pages of the comics. Saying about this has made me reminisce about how much fun it used to be, copying all the gorgeous illustrations – I might go and do some again soon, just because it was so much fun – Haha! Non-visual artist, I would have to say I find the story of Nikki Sixx very inspiring – somebody who had a vision of where he wanted his band to be right from day 1. I love a rags to riches tale, and anyone who started out with no money, left their hometown and believed in themselves and that they could get to the top, is something that resonates strongly with me. Rocking my world at the moment, I really like the alla prima paintings of Michael Hussar, I could stare at his paintings all day!
Further inevitable question for the art nerds in our readership (and we have many!), can you share your process with us, from conception to completed work, and how this has evolved over your career?
So..it starts from an idea, which can come from anywhere – I keep a list on my phone of potential ideas – I always write ideas down straight away, as I can be out and about, then totally forget, and that’s quite annoying! Most of them are a load of rubbish, but it’s always worth writing something down, because you never know! I then look to hire a model for a reference shoot that I think will best suit this idea. When I have the reference photos back, I spend quite a bit of time going through them, and picking the ones I think will best work as a painting. Once I’m at the stage of putting paint on a panel, I build up layers of paint, letting each one dry for several months sometimes. Due to the slow drying time of oil, I always have a good 5-10 paintings on the go at any one time. Sometimes paintings sit there for months in my studio, as I only like to work on pieces I feel inspired to paint.
You have embraced the Internet as a medium to expand your reach, connect to your audience and sell your work, while many artists still seem reluctant to do so. Was this a conscious direction on your part or just a natural progression for you, and what would you say to artists who view this move with trepidation?
I think it was a natural progression – when my paintings got to a certain level, I was getting asked a lot if I could make prints of some of the most popular ones, so it went from there really! I do enjoy making prints – I like collecting prints from other artists myself, so I know the excitement it can create in others, making a limited edition print run – I feel very lucky to have many loyal collectors, who collect my art, so I always try and look after everyone as best I can, and pride myself on providing good prints, at a collectible price. I would say to artists who view this move with trepidation, start off making a small run of maybe 10 prints, tell everyone on social media that you have some available and see what the response is. That way you’re not investing loads of money, if the take up isn’t too good. Also, the people who were there at the beginning and put faith in you from the start, will appreciate owning one of your very first prints from a small edition, when you’re a full blown mega star artist, up there with Andy Warhol, and selling paintings for millions!!!!
Did your art studies at Bournemouth University and Brunel College inspire, or were you left jaded with the strictures placed by academia of the “fine art” establishment? (Actually, on review that question is loaded with my own views of the fine art establishment … feel free to shape it however you like!)
I enjoyed my time studying art at Brunel college, but my university experience, wasn’t the best – I felt I learnt more about pubs and nightclubs, rather than how to paint (some of this my own doing, some of it down to tutors and poor course structure) That’s one of the things I love about painting at London Fine Arts – You actually learn techniques that make you a better painter (Shock, horror!!) which was something sadly lacking from my university experience.
Pool floats! Fairy floss-coloured hair! So much fun in your work, but once you move past that the expressions are often fierce or pensive. Is this a conscious juxtaposition, and what would you like your audience to take away when seeing your work?
I’m always interested to hear how my work is perceived, and I have heard a few times that it comes across as fun, which I think is great! I like to paint subjects I think will be interesting to paint, and let the viewer decide what they think of it. I normally look for expressions that appeal to me to paint, so there’s no conscious juxtaposition there.
Now to the future, what are you working on at the moment, and what shows do you have coming up?
Coming up this year, I have regular painting workshops in London, plus I’m doing one in New York in May, at Sacred Gallery, so really looking forward to that! I also have lots of crazy ideas for new paintings; so keep a look out for that! Also, I have a solo show the end of the year in London at Underdog Gallery, plus doing various conventions, so quite a busy and exciting year!
Check out Chris at work below.