Artists are notorious perfectionists, but when you see the results from that fine attention to detail and refusal to let a small mistake slide, you understand why.
James Chronister operates a little differently, reveling in the small mistakes in his paintings. The outcome of his more relaxed attitude towards perfection has made his work no less visually stunning.
Chronister's currently the artist-in-residence at Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, spending his days creating half-tone prints from vintage photographs he finds in books, newspapers and other sources. For his process, he takes an old photograph and projects it onto a canvas. He then grids the image, replicating every dot and curve by hand. When he's done, the paintings look like large, fuzzy photographs.
"What I’m interested in with my process is making things that are essentially analog" explains Chronister, who's originally from Montana but now lives in San Francisco. "What I relate to a lot is music made by certain people. Like, there’s this guy named Ariel Pink in Los Angeles who, for a lot of years, from what I read, worked out of his bedroom and made all of his music on four tracks, recording over tape with a microphone. The music has a real analog feel, probably because it was made on real analog equipment. So you’ll be listening to a song and suddenly you’ll get to a part where it kind of skips or something jumps around or there’s scratches or little pops on the music. I really relate to that kind of space that the music creates and I kind of want to make the same mental space through visual means that music like that does."
That interest in analog sound inspired Chronister to let those little imperfections go. He feels that even with the paint not mixing quite well one day, or the paintbrush not being pointy enough during one session, the image still holds strong.
"They definitely don’t work sometimes, but I think that when they do work, there’s a threshold of allowance for mistakes that I make" he says. "There was a lot of bad versions of these paintings along the way that had too many errors. When they do work, they work at like 90 percent, I would say. There’s a little bit of slips and scratches here and there that make it more handmade-looking."
The fact that a small painting takes a month of full-time work, while a large one takes two months, might have something to do with it. Who'd want to trash a painting they've painstakingly been working on for weeks just because there was a bit more splatter in a small corner than expected? Luckily, his current residency allows for full focus on his work, something he finds very tranquil and wonderful.
"There’s no friends, no bills, no job, no anything," he says. "It’s just you and however you want to create your day. You put everything on hold and you’re with people who allow you to be creative. It's fantastic."
Still, even with a somewhat lax sensibility Chronister's work is painfully meticulous. He sits on a swivel desk chair for hours at a time, slowly going through each grid on the canvas. The detail in each painting is apparent even if you aren't aware of his process; it seems this thorough manner of working is in his genes. His father, an attorney, has been making Native American beadwork for years.
"He’d come home from work and we’d all be watching TV at night," Chronister recalls. "He’d be in his chair making little beadwork pouches and stuff, which is very similar to how my process is. It’s a bunch of little, teeny weenie beads merging to form an image, usually some sort of geometric image, and this is very similar. Every little mark works together to create an overall image. I think it’s got to be genetic."
Check out Chronister's work tonight for Lux@Night from 7 to 9 p.m. The event is free for Lux members and $5 for non-members. Blues duo Ripe Red Apple will perform and Crepes Bonaparte will have food available for purchase. Chronister will be in the studio through April 13. His art will be on exhibit through May 18.