Centerfold Artist’s multimedia format continues, and we are pleased to introduce the one and only Mr. October: Bradley Chriss. We picked Bradley out special for the spooky holiday season. We hope his drawings unnerve you. And we think it’s important to note that Bradley’s work includes meat poems, in which he recites poetry with raw meat in his mouth. His recent shows include sausage hairball at Transformer Gallery in DC and SUPERNOVA in Rosslyn, VA. He currently teaches at Montgomery College in Tacoma Park, Maryland. If you want to know more, listen, read, and visit his website.
CENTERFOLD ARTIST: Bradley, thanks for having us over to your studio, and thanks for sitting down with us to discuss your Centerfold Artist datasheet. Now that our recorder is on I think we are ready to start.
BRADLEY CHRISS: I feel like I’m naked.
CA: Don’t worry. We’ll be gentle. So you were born and raised in Toledo, OH. We don’t really know much about Toledo other than maybe having driven through it at one point. What’s it like?
BC: Well, it’s a blue-collar place. Industry oriented. Manufacturing oriented. Toledo has manufactured everything from General Mills cereals, like Lucky Charms, to things like Jeeps. At the peak of its population size, it was somewhere around 400,000. Now it’s at 280,000. Toledo is part of the Rust Belt, so it has been hit especially hard by the recession. Growing up there was pretty weird. I had two experiences, geographically speaking. I lived in the inner city when I was small, and then I slummed it out in suburbs. The education I received was pretty stellar, but Toledo is a blue-collar place, and that has had a lasting effect on me.
CA: What’s your favorite thing about Toledo? You have to pick just one.
BC: Really one thing?
BC: Fuck you, man. Can I say just three things? I need three, not for my own self-interest, but to explain the city.
BC: Toledo Museum of Art, Tony Packo’s hotdogs and pickled peppers, and Scarlet Strip Club.
CA: We are glad a strip club made it into the top three.
BC: It’s a pretty good strip club.
CA: So you mentioned Edward Snowden a couple of times on your datasheet. Once on your drawing on the envelope and once as somebody you would like to meet. Why such a love affair with him? Hasn’t he threatened national security?
BC: Snowden is the fucking man, and the reason he is the fucking man is because he was a pretty normal dude who is not power-hungry. There are two major players in the general concept of my mind: power-hungry folk and money-hungry folk, and in Washington you now have those people commingling. And on top of it you have secrecy that has come about from this commingling. So I generalize Snowden. He becomes super generic for me because I look at him like a hero. He did what heroes traditionally do, which is take the entire structure of their foreseeable future and flush the entire fucking thing. And not to make money or to rip anyone off. He was like, “Hey dude this seems to be contrary to our social contract that we all signed.”
CA: So you consider him a legitimate, heroic whistleblower?
BC: Absolutely. He is not a criminal, and everyone who says he is is a hypocrite. Snowden represents traditional American values. I understand his archetype and my relationship to it, which is represented in the envelope that I made for you. It’s not some essay. It’s just like FUCK! And that’s how I feel about Snowden. He represents where I come from and my background, because he is the person that will zero-sum everything in order to make sure that every other commonplace person is informed and is protected by information.
CA: Your art turn-off is “boring stuff,” particularly modernism and postmodernism. You’re really not at all interested in that vast a range of art?
BC: My boredom is a response to Kantian and Hegelian thinking. So the idea of purifying anything to a state of purified fucking magical shit, whether it’s an object or in your mind, is fucking stupid, and it should be abandoned as an idea for making art. You should just accept the totality of everything, which is why absurdists are more insightful artists than a lot of modernists and postmodernists.
CA: After studying your performances, paintings, and drawings, we came to notice that you like to make the viewer uncomfortable. Is that because you don’t want to coddle them? Because you want to fuck them up with some truth?
BC: That is actually the core of it. Probably. Or some arrogant shit like that.
CA: If making the viewer uncomfortable is what you strive to do, once they are uncomfortable, what are they exposed to?
BC: I think of them as exposed to a ritual or something. Reality is covered in signs because we have brains. Everything looks like something (kind of) that represents something (kind of).
CA: Tastes like chicken.
BA: Exactly. I see reality as exceptionally open-ended, and I think discomfort is an avenue toward open-endedness. There is something about conflicted feelings that leads to open-endedness. You have to do something that is contradictory enough to a social order that it’s not just a spectacle. People are so used to laughing now, you actually have to be violent to be effective. At least for my pieces, they have to be violent.
CA: Do you worry that people can’t get into your work because of the violence?
BA: No, because you can’t get away from violence. It’s chronic. It’s all the time. And it’s with everybody. Violence is important, and I want to unnerve people and startle them.
CA: Do you consider yourself a Dada artist?
BC: No. Dada has been dead since the ’20s, and they all acknowledged that. What I consider myself is an absurdist, and I want to get back in touch with my anti-art roots. When I entered grad school, I considered myself an anti-artist, but I didn’t get any traction in school, so I abandoned it just to get along, because there were zero people interested in what I was talking about.
CA: Really? You abandoned the anti-artist thing in grad school?
BC: Yeah, well, not totally abandoned it, but shelved it for school. I work collaboratively, which is at the heart of anti-art: working in and around people constantly.
CA: Wait, what is an anti-artist?
BC: An anti-artist is somebody who works in opposite modes of standard accepted art practices. So like in an opposite mode of a traditional gallery system or a system of patronage or a system of traditional symbols and signs. I feel like what I do is more contrary than opposite, but I don’t feel like there is a correct way to translate it, and maybe that is my own fucking problem.
CA: Do you feel like your paintings are about pain?
BC: No, no. My painting are about everything. Not just about one thing but about the most things I can put in. And if not the most things then the most visceral things. Or sometimes it’s about the most confusing thing combined with this other thing. I remember after undergrad I made a strong commitment to achieving a mutual sense of life and death in every painting as a requirement. And I think that that has become an unspoken ethos I have, just like how I don’t use surface as a ploy. I avoid texture because it is a modernist gambit. I don’t have a feeling about it, and I don’t think it’s a strategy that works for me, my work, or the ideology of my work. So I literally don’t have to think about surface. I just put color down, and color becomes form, and form becomes composition and meaning. But the meaning is supposed to be hollow or open-ended. Everything is open-ended because I don’t understand what is happening. So that’s the point: I don’t know what the fuck is going on.
CA: Do you try to make your work subconscious?
BC: I do try to make it subconscious. But I probably don’t use my subconscious mind. I use a style that looks like I use my subconscious mind because I move so fast. But maybe I don’t move fast enough to use my subconscious. Or maybe I do. I’m not a hundred percent certain. I would say that I try to use my subconscious, but I don’t have the goals of the surrealist in mind, where we want to look for the Freudian subconscious. I am not interested in that.
CA: You’re more interested in feeling?
BC: I am more interested in, like, “huh” and the totality of that. Which is the experience of everything. The sum total of your joys and traumas. The goal of empathy is be able to telegraph others’ experiences back into yourself to try and understand that other people are connected to your life experiences and that they’re real. Trying to understand that people are real is really, really difficult because of how we use people as imagery. I think we take people and turn them into images, and we take images and try making them into people, and I think we get really confused.
CA: You wrote hedgehog as your spirit animal, we were wondering if you meant hedgehog in the real sense or like Sonic the Hedgehog?
BC: Hedgehog in the real sense.
CA: How did you know you were a hedgehog, and have you seen one in real life?
BC: My friend was once like, “you are a hedgehog.” And, yes, I have seen one. They are real cuddly and sweet until you irritate them. Then they curl up into a ball and they put spikes out, which is what I do. So, when I get sour with the world, I go into my home. And the reason I am never out is because I am sour all the time. Which is because I am really pissed, and I am not fun to be around. We have so much stuff to be mad at that I don’t know what to be mad at. I am pissed up and down dude because, for example, the NSA spying program. That’s essential in this country, so they didn’t get shut down. Fucking WIC [the big federally-funded health and nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children] is non-essential, but NSA spy program is highly essential. That’s the kind of civilization we are living in now.
Annette Isham makes art work and lives in Washington, DC.
Zac Willis, born in southwest MO, is an artist living and working in Washington, DC. An avid collector of toys and an obsessive documentarian, Willis redirects his energies toward amassing the stories of others in Centerfold Artists.