Chris Engman: Prism
As I read Chris Engman’s artist statement about his recent project Prism, I was caught by the words “brimming with vitality and pleasure”. He was speaking of his son’s drawings, however, these words capture the reaction I had to his work when I first saw it. And I could easily add captivating, dazzle, ablaze and mystical.
While Chris’s work doesn’t quite fit into Photography Into Sculpture at Lenscratch this week, I had to include him.
In his words,
A child’s drawings are erratic, occasionally brilliant, very often brimming with vitality and pleasure. It is the latter in particular that made me my toddler’s student. I study his marks, I study him while he makes them. I watch the way he holds his paintbrush and sometimes, though not always, I hold mine in the same ways. Unlike him I step back to think about what I am doing. I measure and calculate, make landscapes and rooms, compose and prepare. I consider the meanings and metaphors. When I’m ready to make marks I push those considerations to a quieter part of my mind. I try to emulate his weasel-like lack of hesitation, his fanaticism, his joy and oblivion.
These photographs are records of drawings and paintings on photographs. The drawings and paintings were made together with my now 4 year old son Elio, in some cases, and by me in others. Sometimes, drawings on paper by him or me are used as source material, embellished or combined or altered freely by me. They are, among other things, an incomplete record of his and my own preoccupations, and the struggles and joys of our relationship. Made alternately with dollar store kid’s paint, pencils, crayons, chaulk, high quality acrylics, oils, and pastels, the vibrant colors are inspired by children’s art supply sets.
Combining photography with drawing and painting is an unexpected and exciting turn in my practice. For me, the stubborn indexicality of photography, which is to say its complicated relationship to things that “were there”, lends place and weight to the imaginary world of drawing and painting. At the same time the mark making adds whimsy, and color, and a seductive, more visceral materiality to a medium that can often feel like a tomb.
A prism breaks light into its constituent parts, revealing colors invisible to the human eye. It allows us to see, in other words, what is present but not perceived. This show is titled Prism in part for its vibrant colors. More importantly, because a camera is a prism. And most importantly, because my son is my prism. The world that I see through his eyes is new and strange, terrifying and beautiful. How wonderful is that?
Chris Engman was born 1978 in Seattle, WA. He lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Engman received his MFA from USC Roski School of Fine Arts in 2013 and BFA from the University of Washington in 2003. In 2022, Engman was the subject of solo exhibition at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, CA. Additional exhibitions include the FotoFocus Biennial 2018: Open Archive, Cincinnati, OH; Prospect and Refuge at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Second Sight: New Representations in Photography, Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA; The Claim, High Desert Test Sites, Joshua Tree, CA; Staking Claim: A California Invitational at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA; and NextNewCA at the Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA. Engman’s work is held in collections internationally, including Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, CA; Houston Fine Arts Museum, Houston, TX; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; Sir Elton John Collection, Atlanta, GA; Microsoft Collection, Seattle, WA; the Cleveland Clinic Collection, Google Cloud Collection, as well as numerous corporate and private collections.
Follow Chris’s work on Instagram @chris.engman
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