Philip and Chris talk with Colin Chillag about realism, hyperrealism, and post-hyperrealism.
Intro: The Secret Gallery Podcast.
At The Secret Gallery. The Secret Podcast. Live From The Secret Gallery. [not live]. Secret Podcast.
Chris Minnick: Hi, and welcome to The Secret Podcast from The Secret Gallery. I’m Chris Minnick, and I’m here today, as always, with Philip Barasch. Today, we’re going to be talking with Colin Chillag. We’re really excited about this.
Before we get into that, I want to mention that The Secret Podcast is brought to you by Sweet Relief Cannabis here in Astoria, Oregon on Commercial Street. And you go to sweetrelief420.com to sign up for the newsletter, get special offers and all of that.
So without further ado, take it away Philip…
Philip Barasch: All right, so Colin, welcome, I’m looking very forward to this conversation, and as I said earlier, I spent the morning looking at an enormous amount of your work were listening to Miles Davis, and those two things go together really well. So what I would like to do is just kind of launch into the pieces that are actually in The Secret Gallery now, and what I’m seeing in these pieces in particular, having spent the last few hours looking at a lot of your work online, is that… I was responding to your work in terms of a definite kind of collision between process and product, and that the pieces that are in The Secret Gallery, the anonymous portraits in particular, to me, there’s much more of a harmonious relationship between those two, and I wanna know if you would speak to that. If that is true, there just seems to be more harmony and more equality and how your process and your product are actually articulated in themselves… Is that true?
Colin Chillag: Yeah, I’m trying to think how to approach that question. I think you’re probably thinking a little bit of the current work in relation to my older work, which had often had an unfinished quality to it, whereas the more recent ones are more traditionally completed with figure and landscape and that kind of thing. I’m not sure.
Exactly when that transition took place, I had a variety of reasons for why I worked the way I did in the past. And I guess I just sort of grew out of that, with some of the current work…
I don’t know, I guess an increasing… I don’t know, almost a conservative sense I have about me just in terms of the history of painting and how my work relates to a lot of more traditional traditional painting, so I guess I… One way of approaching that is to just say, I’m really focused on making good paintings in a traditional sense with composition and figure in a landscape, a… It all feels quite connected to the past, and I like being there instead of, I guess, a more reactionary sort of approach…
I don’t know if that’s just something that’s happened with with age, but it feels very much like that to me, I’m increasingly… I don’t know, a way kinda connected to the history of painting in… As sort of conservative as it might sound in the traditional sense…
Philip Barasch: Okay, I’m glad that you brought up the history of painting, because I’ll tell you right now that the thing in terms of looking at these recent paintings that I really respond to, and you right out of the gate, you’re already talking about it, is that the… It’s not so much that I saw these as more finished works in terms of the stuff that I’ve seen previous, the ideas are still pretty much equally divided in my eye between product and process, and so I’ll be specific in terms of the paintings here, like when I’m looking at The Anonymous Portrait Number Three, to me, there is a very de-constructive quality in terms of the Hudson Valley painters, that there’s an homage… to Beirstadt, and to Thomas Moran.
The fact that you would have… and it’s very much along those lines of the history of landscape painting that you’ve deconstructed in a way that you’re now reconfiguring it as less of an element because the figure now is becoming dominant, but there’s still very much and homage to that school of painting, and in fact, in all of the landscape paintings that I looked at this morning is there seems to be a very prevalent piece of your understanding and your embracing of American landscape painting, and particularly the work of Thomas Moran and Cole and Beirstadt. Tell me about that because I know that most people are looking at your paintings in terms of foreground and figures, but the backgrounds are equally important and they really have a lot to do with how you view American art.
Colin Chillag: Yeah, I, I, I’m still trying to figure this out. It definitely feels right to me, first of all, there’s a deep respect for those painters and the landscape, American landscape painting genre in particular, and also of a regional nature. I live in Phoenix, so there’s a history of regional Southwestern landscape painting that I’ve always really liked, so… There are a number of things, as I said, I’m still trying to figure out about it, I guess first of all, I… Like I just said, there’s a deep sincerity about my… I guess is a love for that type of work, there’s nothing ironic about it. It might be possible to interpret it that way, but to me it’s… It is de-constructed to a certain extent, but… But it’s very sincere at the same time, and I did quite a bit of landscape painting when I was… mostly when I was younger and that’s something I wanna get back into. There’s this other aspect, and I keep saying this, but I’m still trying to figure it out and like how the pieces all fit together, but I don’t know, there’s a kind of ideological prevalence of a sort of disdain for American history, and this is… And for… And certainly within the art world, I think there’s a… A deep cynicism about that whole history, and a lot of these landscapes conjure up things having to do with the bad old past or manifest destiny or these types of things, and as I get older, I tend to think this… These sorts of viewpoints are… Are very limited.
And I don’t know exactly how that fits into the work, but… And I don’t know if this is exactly where you wanna go with this conversation, but I actually, increasingly, again, as I get older, have a real appreciation for the fact that the privilege of just being born in this place in this time, it’s like winning the historic lottery as far as I’m concerned and that’s our history as checkered and problematic as it may be. So again, I like that connection to the history of the country. They tend to be American landscapes and to the history of painting in this culture, I don’t like the idea of throwing all these things out and… So I like to…
I guess I like the idea of sort of appropriating and… But in a respectful manner. And I guess revisiting in a certain sense, that history…
Philip Barasch: What’s really interesting because it’s not just that you’re revisiting it, but some of the things I was thinking about, particularly with the Hudson River School, is that it was about discovery, exploration, settlement, they’re highly idealized, a reflection of God.
They’re pastoral, they’re harmonious, all that stuff. And so you’ve got all that stuff all in, all that material is built into the fact that you’re paying tribute to American landscape painting, and now you have these figures that are placed in front of the paintings, and I’m not gonna go so far as to say, there’s political commentary there.
I don’t think there is. I think it’s more along the lines of kind of social commentary, I wanna take this to the next step and say that earlier when I alluded to the fact that I felt that you had harmony between your ideas and your product, your process, and how you viewed American painting is that you’re often called a hyperrealist or you are… Or an influence by hyperrealism, more realistically, I… And so there you have a school of thought that has definite aesthetic principles, the assimilation of Photography, Social Status is worthy for any portraiture, recognition of humanity, there’s all that stuff built in there, and you now have those ideas placed in front of your tribute to American landscape painting. So really where I’m going with this is, is the paintings that are in the secret gallery now to me, really embody in very equal amounts, those ideas, what I felt you were wrestling with them in earlier work, is it is, is that… Do you feel that way?
Colin Chillag: Well, I think you put your finger on one of the things I’m trying to figure out with these new paintings, and that is the figure and landscape relationship, who are these people and why are they juxtaposed against this particular type of landscape that has its tradition in the foundation of this country.
So that’s where the exploration lies, and I’m trying to navigate my way through that without, I guess, doing the obvious things in, in in relation to who these people are, I like a certain amount of ambiguity and just to sort of avoid the obvious narratives when it comes to issues of race and gender and so forth in relation to the history of the country, so it’s a tricky… It’s a tricky territory. For the time being, I seem kind of content to just paint these portraits, and this is part of this is the other thing, there’s a lot of this is just like a personal thing as well, like I keep painting portraits of women and they are the figures of… In these landscapes. So there are variety of reasons for that, some of are just kind of personal psychological things that I’m trying to figure out, and there’s this other very complex issue of what we kind of brushed on with the history of the country, so it’s all very much a work in progress, but like I say, I don’t know, it feels like it could easily go into a very cliche sort of direction and commentary on these… again, the history of the country, and I guess I’m just trying to keep it somewhat ambiguous in… For the time being, anyway, and I don’t know if that answers your question exactly…
Philip Barasch: And it seems to me that these, the recent portraits in particular, first of all, they’re all anonymous, so you’ve already removed the fact that we would care about who these people are in terms of any kind of social significance, and so now they’re ordinary people. And in this case, they’re ordinary women, but one of the things that’s happened here is that you are taking an enormous amount of time and energy to kind of emphasize their very ordinary-ness.
And so one of the things I really appreciate is that it doesn’t matter who they are, these are just very ordinary, very pedestrian… just people. And like I say, in this case, it’s girls. And so, once again, I can’t help but feel that. And looking at your previous work where one of the things that was very important to you was the idea that ordinary people really are worthy of portraiture, that humanity is for all of us, it’s not just for those that are of privilege or class, and that you’ve taken that idea, and you’ve now presented it in once again, against the context of American landscape, but they’re still just very ordinary people in that landscape and now they’re finished. In your earlier work where you have the layers of process open to be exposed and where we can actually see, not just how you paint physically, not just your relationship with paint and the surface, but also your relationship with memory, and the memory of history and the memory of art and the implication of the memory of your personalities that you’re painting. All of that now is, in these recent pieces, all comes together in a very distilled way, and so it’s really interesting to see that. Now, you may say that it’d be easy to fall into some kind of cliche, and I guess it would be, but I think you’re far too clever to let that happen because the line from what I’ve looked at from work that I’ve been looking at all morning to where it is now, is a very direct line in my eye in terms of your development as an artist, so… What do you think about that?
Colin Chillag: That’s an interesting take. It’s actually a nice context in which to think about it, that just grounding things more in, I suppose, a historic context, but also in terms of my own personal development and increasing knowledge and awareness of history and our place within it, maybe that accounts for the more fully realized way that I’m constructing these paintings, I mean…
I like that idea. And perhaps it makes some sense. Yeah, I’m not sure exactly.
I don’t know, I’m not sure what to… What to add to that.
You know, these are very much, it’s kind of a series in progress, and I don’t know, I guess I like a certain amount of mystery involved, it’s nice to analyze what you do and… but I guess I work with in a, I guess, more by feel…
I don’t know, kind of being neither here nor there, kind of a feel about things, and once they become solidified, conceptually… I don’t know, I guess I’m used to uncertainty and just the whole mystery of why I’m doing these things and that that may be revealed at some point, but you just ruined it for me, man, because [laughter]
Chris Minnick: How do you pick the subjects for your portraits? Where do you find these people?
Colin Chillag: Just endless, endless Google searches for just photographs. I just go through thousands and thousands of…
I’m particularly attracted to color photography from the 70s and little… From the 80s. In that time range, I don’t know. Well, certainly because that’s when I was a child, so there’s a kind of, I suppose, nostalgic connection to that, but I also, as objectively as I can look at it, I think it was a really beautiful period for photography… the quality of… And technology, of course, changes so quickly, but that seems to have been — in the 60s as well — but that seems to have been a really… As far as I’m concerned, a really interesting period in photography, so I’m attracted to that often of an amateurish quality to the photographs I choose, so I… That appeals to me probably, again, for nostalgic reasons as… So I kinda, I don’t know, I just find those images easy to expand upon and work upon and sort of apply my imagination to, I suppose, perhaps some triggering something in my memory… A kind of child-like approach to them probably comes to bear on that. So yeah, so it’s that period of photography is usually what I look for, but then of course, other things. Increasingly, I’m using these landscapes from the history of American painting. But yeah, just endless searches for images and saving one here and there, and then…
Philip Barasch: And you were just saying this because it’s another thing that seems to be really important to your work. In your searches, when you find an image, regardless of what it is, it triggers off at some level, memory, because the way you approach your pieces in terms of how you then take that photograph and turn it into a painting, there’s a lot of just memory in the way you paint, there’s a lot of… The idea of memory. The implication of memory. How accurate, how disloyal, how ridiculous is memory? So I think when you’re saying that you’re sifting through and looking for pieces, there are pieces that then would have to call to you… it would have to speak to you because in all the stuff that I was looking at this morning, memory is embedded underneath all of it, your ideas of memory or… It seemed to be really, really important.
Colin Chillag: Yeah, it’s… It’s very much an intuitive process when I go through just thousands of images and one in 1000 will trigger something that just… it’ll capture my interest. And it could be any number of things. Roland Barth wrote a book that I liked, Camera Lucida. And he was just talking about the role that photography plays in our lives. He had a term called the punctum, which…
Philip Barasch: Yes, I’m glad you brought that up.
Colin Chillag: yeah, kind of a mysterious notion whereby something in a photograph, and it could be any number of things, often very subtle, just trigger something in you, it just focuses your interest and it’s worth analyzing, I suppose, later, what that thing is or why it is. It could be, whatever, a buckle on a shoe or something like that, or often a subtle expression on a face or something like that, and so those things occur, I’m sure, subconsciously, and I just go with those.
Philip Barasch: Well, and you did a series of paintings that were actually called that, and they were numbered and it… It’s funny you brought that up because if you hadn’t brought it up, I was going to… It’s really interesting that you have… It’s a small… Distinct point, I was thinking of pointalism too, I was thinking of George Surat and wondering if that came into play because these particular paintings, technically, they’re different than the other ones I looked at. Something was triggered, maybe there was some deeply embedded subconscious memory that was triggered when you did the Punctums, because I spent a lot of time looking at those images and seeing how you came back on top of the images as if you were a little kid, as if you had a crayon or a Sharpie marker or something, there’s something that got released when you did those series of paintings, and so… And it might be an overreach me to think in terms of pointalism because I know that your pieces technically are really very sophisticated and does that come into play, or is that just something that I’m just thinking about because of the nature of the term, is that… Were you thinking of Surat. Were you thinking about how you were actually applying paint to the painting, or was it more about the memory that was triggered when you found the image for the painting?
Colin Chillag: Well now that’s interesting you bring up pointalism, I hadn’t really made that connection, to be honest with you, but I can see how you might… The technique is kind of evolving into something sort of similar… a slightly blurry quality. I wonder sometimes whether it’s because my eyes are not as good as they used to be, like I’m starting to think I need glasses or something. It used to be really tight kind of realism that I was doing, and now it’s more diffused and a bit blurry at times. But you also mentioned the kind of emotional quality or reaction, and that’s very much a part of of the appeal of the images. Again, it tends to be kind of subconscious and I’m not exactly sure, as we so often are not, why we’re reacting to a certain thing, and undoubtedly, they have connections to our early childhood or way the hell back… In our evolutionary history, I mean, there’s no telling, but there is that emotional response, and that was also something Barth recognized in that term, and an idea of the punctum, which is… And it’s an interesting term, I mean, as a… As you guys as writers could probably appreciate this, the term, it’s original in his usage as applied to photography, but the original term had to do with… there were a few definitions, one is just like a medical instrument, the point is like a piercing or pointed medical instrument, a punctum.
But the other one is, it’s actually in a part of the anatomy of the eye, in fact, it’s the opening of the tearduct…
So it has a kind of relation to emotions and tears as well as a point that sort of triggers that emotional or pierces the heart in a way you might say and triggers that emotional response.
So I just thought it was kind of a fascinating term, but all of that kind of applies just naturally to the process, I think, when choosing these photographs, at least for me, and hopefully for the viewer as well.
Philip Barash: Yeah, well, I’ll just point this out again, in terms of how I responded to the punctums as a body of work, because I saw them all distinctly… And let me ask you this first, did they all come up together, was it a single body of work that rose up together, was it a chronological sequencing on those… ’cause they are numbered… you know 1,2,3,4,5. Did you number them at the end of finishing them or did you number them as they went?
Colin Chillag: Yeah, I think basically, it was an afterthought.
I kinda grouped them later. My process is not so linear, I do… It’s more like falling down the stairs, I suppose, a… Just making sense of the mess at at the bottom. Yeah, but largely working intuitively and then… Well, that is an interesting idea. What comes first? It seems I work intuitively, and then the ideas arise and they create the kind of context as I go along, and then later, I guess in the evolution of a period of work or a body of work, I start to work more intentionally with a concept in mind, and that might be sort of towards the end of the process, for some reason that starts… It feels like that starts to trigger the diminishment of my interest in the work or in that body of work. And I feel like with these new paintings, I’m very much in that… It’s why it’s a little bit difficult to talk about ’cause I’m still figuring it out, but it’s good to hear your input and your interpretation.
Philip Barasch: Like I said, the new paintings, they look and feel very differently than all the other stuff I’ve been looking at, and that… Once again, it just feels like your ideas about product and about process, about memory, about all the things that I’ve seen in looking at your work have all come together now in a much more harmonious way and I don’t wanna say that the earlier work is not harmonious, but you’re very much kind of letting it hang out there, like let’s talk about the landscapes… Well, they’re more like cityscapes or urban scapes that you did in the Arizona area where the image occupies essentially the center of the canvas, and as you get to the outer edges of the image, it kind of dissolves and it becomes much more about not only process, but you can see the bones and you can see the strata, you can see the archeology, the literal archeology of how you paint, but then the figurative archeology of what it is you’re painting, and so you live it in a place in the world that has vast expanses. You live in a place where there’s amazing landscapes, and these landscapes are now becoming occupied by things like gas stations and 7-11s or Circle Ks or whatever they are, so… in the pieces that I was looking at, the landscape is very much present, but now it has been basically tainted or ruined by these man-made objects that as you paint them, you expose… You expose them for what they are in terms of being eyesores and kind of garbage, and then move out to the outer edges where you just expose who you are in terms of the artist making these images. So I would like you to talk a little bit about that.
Colin Chillag: I’m not sure about… It depends on… I think… I don’t know that the sort of the temporal timeframe one has, if it’s… If it’s a relatively short human scale time frame things, it certainly looks like we’re fouling our nest, and that’s a… an obvious concern environmentally. But over that larger timescale, one good natural catastrophe can do global damage and certainly regional damage, and so I’m not sure… I don’t feel like I’m any kind of an activist-type artist in the environmental sense, but these are certainly… This is certainly the… obviously, the world we live in, and so more or less, I just feel like that’s what I depict, and there’s certainly a lot of ugliness to what humans do within the landscape, but we’re trying to figure it out, I suppose, as a species, it’s only fairly recently that we’ve had these abilities to just destroy the world. It turns out we’re pretty good at it.
Philip Barasch: Just to follow up, in terms of talking about those paintings, is that you still made the decision to have whatever it is, a gas station in the center of the painting and then reveal your painting structure at the outer edges, which would imply to me that you started from the center and work out.
Is that what you did or did you work on the perimeter and then move in?
Colin Chillag: I think it’s more from the center out, like you suggest… Part of that, one of the reasons for that was… I guess I was thinking about just perception, the way our eyes and minds work and how you can focus on one area, but there’s just a billion bits of information in our periphery that we might only… that we aren’t consciously aware of. It’s like your consciousness just focuses on one area at a time, but you kind of subconsciously take in the environment and… And so it just seemed like that way of painting had had a relationship to that basic… what aspect of consciousness and perception. So I kind of thought of the creation of those paintings as just a little bit of a… just roving observation. It’s here, in detail, focus in depth and detail on this area, in this area, in this area, in this area, but then it sort of dissolves into just a general atmosphere.
So it just felt like it had a kind of some sort of truthful resonance just in relation to the human perception in that way, and they tend to be rather mundane subject matter, everyday types of experiences, and that ability to find… that absolute, I don’t know, just beauty and fascination in the everyday experience, for me, realism… like that’s at the heart of realism for me is the idea that every day reality is beautiful enough and interesting enough and meaningful enough, if you pay attention to it, and so I think I was after… I was meditating a lot at that time, and so that… it connected to that quite a bit… those paintings as well.
Philip Barasch: Yeah, well, another thing that I wanna point out in terms of the evolution that I see in terms of what I would call current art history that… In reading about you hyper-realism comes up quite a bit, and thing about the hyper-realism is that the painters of hyper-realism… I’ll just say know Denis Peterson and Beckle, Richard Estes in particular for me, they embalmed the image and that left me cold.
What I see you doing is using hyperrealism as a springboard to say that I can make the mundane and the ordinary beautiful, but at the same time, it’s really about me standing here at this easel making a painting that I think that hyper… You’re like post-hyper realism in the terms that you’ve learned what needed to be learned from that movement and you’ve applied it in a way that makes sense for you, and you’ve moved it forward, and so the way it was articulated, particularly in the gas station / Circle K-paintings, all of that series for me, I was like, Oh my God, he’s taken hyper-realism and he’s moved it to the next level and disconnected it from its really very kind of what I found to be very cold and calculating, like I said, those paintings in particular, leave me cold because they feel embalmed… Your pieces are not embalmed, if for no other reason, they reveal the structure of how they’re made, so… Was that part of your intent?
Colin Chillag: Yeah, absolutely. I think I had, I don’t know, some kind of a problem in that. Just realism is… There’s a contradiction at the heart of it, and I think this is true of all art to one extent or another, and that is you’re creating something… You’re creating an illusion.
It’s to some extent deceptive, but you’re trying to reveal something that you believe to be the true while doing so. So there’s this inherent contradiction in that, and I don’t know why that bothered me, exactly, but I decided to take it a step further and just reveal, like you’re pointing out, as much of the process as possible.
And that was what at that time interested me deeply, again, it was connected very much to this meditation practice, which was kind of intense at the time, and so that all seemed to fit together well for me and I was… I don’t know, I was happy at the time for having…
I felt content with those paintings for a time for having…
I don’t know, made a bridge between the thing I was depicting and the process by which it was depicted, it all felt honest and just completely open and without anything like deception of any sort, anyway, I took kind of some kind of satisfaction in that at the time, but… It felt like a kind of exercise. Let’s see how almost like… how pure, how pure and honest can we be… can I be, as an artist? I just wanna… let it all out there…
Philip Barasch: Well, and it’s funny too, because the… The things that I was thinking about in that particular series also is that there seems to be… the question is, “Can pictorial representation actually be objective truth?” I think it feels to me like that was being struggled with, and then the next thing that I thought about in looking at the images, just how I responded to what you were doing is it felt like you were de-constructing high resolution in your search for kind of objective truth, it just seems like that stuff was embedded in there, it’s like… And it’s, it’s why I responded so strongly to those pieces, so… Is that stuff in there?
Colin Chillag: Yeah, I think… it’s nice to hear that… your interpretation that you picked up on that… Yeah, I think so. In my intention anyway, I think so.
Philip Barasch: So here’s one of the ironies, I just have to point this out to ’cause it’s really… It’s just so ironic to spend time looking at digital images on the internet of paintings which have scale and mass, and you’re painting, some of them, are pretty sizable. You work fairly large.
And so it’s really interesting to see everything scaled down to where it’s all uniform, and it’s one of the great privileges of being able to see your originals like at The Secret Gallery, to stand in front of them and understand that scale matters. So talk a little bit about scale and how you determine your choices…
Colin Chillag: Yeah, that’s… I find scale to be this just an incredibly complex thing that it remains kind of a mystery to me, sometimes you just nail the scale perfectly, and of course, it’s much more complicated than blowing it up or reducing it in size. It comes down to the scale of the brush strokes in the relation to the size of the work and the size of the painting in relation to the size of the room, and all these different relationships within and without and beyond the painting itself. So it’s a hit and miss sort of process with scale. I do like to work a bit larger when I can… I like, in the past, anyway, more so than now, I liked a scale of the figures to be… when I was doing portraits to be just slightly like maybe 15% larger than life, or something like that, that gave them a kind of uncanny presence, I felt, in terms of the scale of the figures… in some of the past work. These ones tend to be a little bit under life size, and so I’m kind of working in that range a bit, but again, pretty close to life size, but just maybe a little larger or a little smaller, that seems to be kind of an interesting range for me to work in, but it can vary quite a bit. And sometimes I’ll just feel like I have a good painting plotted out that I wanna do and I just miss on the scale, so when I create the painting, it doesn’t have the kind of presence or impact that I was hoping, and then other times, I sort of feel like I get lucky and the scale is perfect somehow, so it’s a… It’s a little bit of a, again, a kind of a hit and miss process, but it’s very important.
Philip Barasch: Yeah, well, and it’s interesting too, because one of the things about scale, and when I was looking at your paintings… Western family, which was at The Secret Gallery, which was a magnificent painting and it’s a large painting, and I was thinking, well, does a large painting then mean that there’s bigger ideas than you might find in smaller works, the thing about looking at your works is that all the ideas are uniform, so I didn’t see that a large-scale work like Western Family dictated its size by saying, these are big ideas.
I just saw that in terms of how you approach things from a formal standpoint as a painter, you just needed a larger canvas in order to convey those messages, those messages aren’t any greater than smaller pieces.
And I guess that’s really what I was so curious about scale because I’m not gonna say you’re all over the board, but your ideas are uniform and they’re strong enough that they can be substantiated at any… in any size.
Colin Chillag: Well, that Western Family painting was kind of funny ’cause the scale of the figures was… It varied quite a bit. That was one of the fun things about that painting for me, and kinda psychological impact, you had about three, maybe four different scales of the figures in the family…
Philip Barasch: And the family is very cartoonish, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but there’s a cartoonish aspect to them that makes it… It’s a funny painting. It’s just funny.
Colin Chillag: Yeah, well, yeah, that scale… That scale works on the proportions of the figure as well, that’s another thing I’ve been exploring recently. The figures are slightly caricaturesque and maybe more than slightly in some cases, and just the proportions and the kind of distortions going on with the figures has been really interesting to me.
Yeah, I think like in some renaissance or mannerist painting, there’s a lot of elongated figures with small hands and relatively small heads, and this gave, I think, imbibed a kind of elegance and I don’t know, etherial or maybe even holy quality to the figures and then the opposite of that would be like cartoonish work, where the heads and hands tend to be way oversized and it’s a…
I don’t know, a of more…
I wanna say hedonistic and earthly kind of a feel to the figures, and my work, my work increasingly tends towards the latter, I think… very earthly… mortal-type figures. Yeah.
Philip Barasch: Okay, so… so Dale Irby. Was he a hedonist?
Colin Chillag: I kept his proportions pretty accurate.
I didn’t know a whole lot, I just knew the basics about Dale, and I don’t think I had a whole lot to add to those portraits, I just really loved that sort of documentation that that guy created of himself.
Chris Minnick: I think I can add a little bit here to this story.
Philip Barasch: For our listeners… We should let them know about the Dale Irby series. So go ahead, Chris.
Chris Minnick: Yeah, Dale Irby called me up a few weeks ago, and I had quite a good conversation with Dale Irby. He said, “I see this guy Collin Chillag painted a bunch of paintings of me, and so you guys even sold a few of them, and he said… You know, he got some of the details wrong, this 1973, I wasn’t allowed to have a mustache but I see you painted me there with a mustache.
So this is kind of funny ’cause we’d been talking about how Dale Irby, in some of the paintings, you kind of gave him buck teeth and then in other ones, there’s kind of that weird moles and things and… He didn’t mention any of that. He mentioned the mustache…
Philip Barasch: And how many paintings are in the series and they go from what year to what year?
Colin Chillag: I didn’t hold fast to the years, I just did, I think in the photos, there was, I believe, like 40 years of these photographs, and I only ended up doing about.
Chris Minnick: 28?
Colin Chillag: Yeah, there might have been a few more that I didn’t send… Or that didn’t make the cut… might have been around 30 or 32 or so, and they were just sort of a random sampling of photos I found on the internet, but I think they basically went from the beginning of his career to the end… Yeah.
Chris Minnick: like 73 to 2012. How do you decide when to sort of exaggerate features or… Yeah, you… You have certain certain things that you’ll do to people just… You kinda make them a little bit abnormal and it gives very disturbing quality to some of your portraits, just the…
Colin Chillag: Well, I think that’s actually one of the reasons I like doing anonymous portraits, the Dale Irby paintings make me a little uncomfortable just because… people would recognize him and then I worry about people… Well, ’cause I don’t know the man in that case, and I wasn’t making any comment on him, I mean, in a sense they’re not even…
I don’t know that that’s a little… A little bit of a strange example, but I like taking these anonymous figures from these old photographs, and then I feel a little more comfortable manipulating them in a variety of ways without hurting anyone’s feelings or anyone thinking it’s about them.
I’ve had a few bad experiences with people recognizing themselves in the work I do. I think one time… I used to paint my friends… I’d take a lot of photographs and then do pictures of people and… And most people are fine with it. But every once a while… This one woman was really upset that I painted her, it was from a pool party, and it’s like… I just didn’t think twice about it, she was just a normal person at this pool party, but she was really upset that I painted her… She was in her bathing suit and I wasn’t… Anyway, she was unhappy with that, and then there were a few other experiences where people recognize themselves and they either wanted to be reimbursed…
Philip Barasch: they want the royalties.
Colin Chillag: Yeah… that’s happened.
And I… they take it personally for obvious reasons, you know… And for me, I don’t know, I guess I feel a little bit either like a detached observer, just as objective as possible, or else taking whatever creative liberties I want as an artist and not thinking twice about it, but then you gotta relate it back to… Well, this is a person, a real person, and what is to say about them or how would they interpret it, so anyway, I generally… Like to avoid all of that.
Chris Minnick: Yeah.
Phililp Barasch: Is portraiture something you’re continue to do? The work you are now doing… Is it portraiture? You gonna mine this for a while?
Colin Chillag: I really like working in that genre… For me, I think it just simply comes down to the fact that we are endlessly fascinated with other people and with their faces and bodies, and it is the focal point of our attention… people’s faces and their eyes, and so it feels like it’s just the most… I don’t know… maybe in some ways, difficult thing to do to… to just not avoid the face, the features, and just go right to that sort of source of connection and communication that the human face provides, so… It’s endlessly fascinating to me. Yeah.
Philip Barasch: Yeah, so going back to the hyper-realist movement, because I feel you came out of that… Correct?
I mean, that was one of the tenants, is that the recognition of humanity and the fact that social status should not keep anyone from having portraiture work done of any kind, and it seems to me if you’re drawing from those roots, which are embedded pretty deeply at least in the work that I’ve been looking at all morning that that, all you’re doing is acknowledging that and re-inventing it in another way, and you seem to have reached a level of really technical comfort, and once again, just talking about the anonymous portrait pieces at The Secret Galley, you’re just… You’re so comfortable with what you’re doing.
Yeah, I guess there’s a level of comfort there. From my perspective, it’s incredibly challenging… isn’t that why we do anything or why anything’s worthwhile, it’s just you have to work at the extent of your abilities, and it always feels like that to me, especially… Well, the whole painting, the… It feels hard to me, No, to your point…
I do feel a certain degree of comfort in where I’m at with these portraits right now, one of the hardest things is being… for me, uncertain about what you wanna do, those are some of the most torturous periods in my history as an artist is just being… not knowing what to do, not knowing which direction to go in, being confused all the time, and you work through it, obviously, but I’m just sort of enjoying, at least for the time being, this body of work that I’m engaged in, and I’m happy to… happy to keep going with it.
I like the simplicity of it, but it also has an endless number of possibilities and combinations of figure and landscape, and an endless number of possible meanings. So it feels like a good place to be in right now.
Philip Barasch: To my eye, they’re less work, and I don’t mean that your other paintings were difficult, they’re demanding for sure, but the demands that are placed in this new body work to me are much more palatable.
Like I said, there’s a definite measurable harmony that I experience visually with these pieces, and I’m just talking how I respond visually.
Colin Chillag: Yeah, yeah, I agree, I feel the same way. And it’s a really nice place to be at artistically for me at this place in time, because… most of my history as a painter was more of combining, very often, very disparate ways of working, it was a very much more pluralistic way of painting and… and sort of figuring it out as I went along. And so the paintings felt like they never ended, there was no… They would just go on and on and on and often get worse and worse, and it was they’d reach a point where they were… I don’t know, fatigue would set in and then uncertainty would set in and that tends to be a pretty bad combination, if they’re trying to figure out how to finish something. And so that was a pretty frequent sort of experience for me. These, on the other hand, they feel very much like there’s a set way to start and there’s a set end goal, and then I just execute the process, which might sound boring, like there’s less surprises and excitement in the process, and I suppose that’s true to some extent, but I’ve been painting for 30 years and so… Anyway, the point is, I like the product more now.
Philip Barasch: But once again, what I was saying earlier is that yet the product is more refined now, there’s a higher level of distillation, but the ideas in terms of the process are still part of the DNA. So in looking at your earlier work, it was very important for you to reveal process, it was very important to see the skeleton that then became the thing, that here it’s all kind of embodied as a single unit, and so to my eye, that’s very pleasing because I can now see the the fruition, the fullness of your ideas without having to… And I don’t wanna say work hard, I don’t mean that, but these are less work in the most desirable way…
Colin Chillag: Well, I like to think that all of that history as a painter somehow, even though these are different and very much the way you describe them… I like to think that that is all in there, somehow, like there’s a complexity to these that I’ve managed to, hopefully, synthesize. You know, it’s like if you have some insight, some understanding of something, you wanna say it in the most simple and straightforward way, so that people… Because you want people to understand it.
I don’t know how much that is true, but I don’t feel like I’m playing too much, like I’m not trying to… They are what they are. I’m not purposely trying to obfuscate anything or be overly mysterious or or they feel like…
I don’t know, that the end product of a long… of a long process, perhaps…
Phililp Barasch: Ya, I agree with that, yes, yes, that it’s the culmination of everything that came before, and it just feels like now you can be relaxed about the exploration of your ideas, because you’re comfortable with how you do what you do, why you do what you do, and how it turns out. So that’s how it feels to me, that these are the embodiment of everything that came before it, and there’s… To me, they’re just… They’re charming, they’re very charming pieces, and they’re substantive, so it’s the right combination to this viewer’s eyes.
Colin Chillag: Oh, thank you. That’s really nice to hear.
I have had that feeling like… And it was surprising to me because I’m actually… This is fleeting, but that I’m at ease with the work I’m producing right now, and that, in the past, that would be the last thing I would have said about my work… that I’m… But even while I’m saying that it’s like there are an endless number of things that I can look at and think I need to improve upon that, and I need to… this should be better, and that’s an endless process, so I don’t wanna exaggerate my level of contented-ness…
Chris Minnick: It’s not all bliss.
Philip Barasch: Who is it that said, “There is no inner piece, there is only nervousness and death,” I can’t remember.
Colin Chillag: Yeah, that’s perfect.
Philip Barasch: Well, um. I guess maybe we should wrap this up. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.
This is just a great… And I just, I love your work and I will follow you for as long as we’re both alive, I said that before, but it’s true.
Yeah particularly now the place you’ve reached your work is it’s just you’re a really gifted painter.
Colin Chillag: Thanks Philip. Are you living out there in Oregon?
Philip Barasch: I am yes not far from Chris what do you think about that?
Colin Chillag: I’m planning on doing a long roadtrip… do some landscape painting and some camping. I really would like to do a swing through the Pacific Northwest so hopefully I’ll have a chance to meet up with you guys later this summer.
Chris Minnick: We’re looking forward to that.