Chris Bogia works in a studio in Long Island City, Queens. His most recent works, hybrid paintings/sculptures (or better yet, sculptures as substitute paintings) made of yarn and plywood continue his longstanding use of techniques borrowed from craft to create works that reference decoration and design.
In a 2012 essay in October, George Baker identifies the notion of the effigy as a central trope of the work of the artist Mike Kelley. “Like Allan McCollum‘s notion of art as a ‘surrogate,'” Baker writes, “Kelley’s thinking of art as an effigy positioned the work of art not as presence, but as an inevitable substitute, a stand in – one usually under the threat of violence, however, or as a memorial to that which is gone, a product of decimation.” Baker explains that Kelley treated modernism itself as an effigy, presenting “the products of high culture in a deathly guise” via a chain of substitutions and displacements in which the artist plays amongst and hybridizes prior forms to open them up to substitutions that manifest “other drives, other ‘cultures.'” Kelley’s engagement with form as effigy carries not only a “negative, critical ambition” that is “a modality of anti-art, a strike against the dominant culture,” but also, Baker concludes, “participates in a deep way with the cultural or popular forms of acknowledging loss and bereavement.”
The concept of art as effigy is useful in considering Chris’s work. As the artist himself writes below, there is a sense in which his recent works function as transformed substitutes for art of the past (cubist and mid-century modernist painting in particular), transforming high-cultural objects into their negation – the theatrical or decorative prop. Though playful, generous, and unassuming at first, extended exposure to the work results in a feeling of historical vertigo. One begins to encounter in the work a sense that one is encountering something remembered, forgotten, recalled, and then transformed into something else.
Reading Chris’s work as engaging in the logic of the effigy is also useful with his prior works, large sculptural installations that incorporate and transform design objects, sexual ephemera, and record sleeves into altar-like structures that the artist has used as sets for photographic works in which he enacts personalized rituals. As Baker writes of Kelley, Chris critically engages with popular forms in view of postmodernist concerns. In so doing, Chris brings new life to these forms in a joyful protest that playfully enacts the wonder of making.
Q. Tell me a bit about your studio. How long have you been there, and how did you find it?
A. I’ve been in this studio for about five years. It had been split up in to three spaces by some NYU MFA alums, and when a slot opened up I took it. Later, I took over the lease from them, and here I am still. It’s close to home — literally on a bus line that goes from my studio’s corner to my apartment’s corner, a convenience I relish.
Q. What does a typical day in the studio look like for you? Do you have any habits, rituals, or practices that help you work?
A. I usually get to the studio around noon, having taken care of personal and work emails in the morning. I like to always tidy up a bit first. It’s really hard for me to work unless I have everything in its right place. From there it depends on where I am with a piece. If most of the big decisions have been made and I’m in production mode, I’ll just get cracking. If I finish a section of yarn application and need to stretch out, I will play on my phone a bit, and then get back to it. If I am starting new work, I will usually make a few works on paper, taking time in between to consider new possible directions in the work. About 4-6 hours is what I can do before I get antsy and need to head home. There is always music playing, and in heavy rotation are Kim Deal, Neil Young, and music that I’m trying to learn (I sing with the New York Choral Society, one of the largest and oldest choirs in New York).
Q. A lot of your work involves the use of yarn. What is it about yarn that intrigues you?
A. A lifelong interest in craft and an affinity for non-professionally hand made object have always been important starting points for my own creative process, but how I came to use yarn was very specific. I was a junior at NYU and I got my 90s college dream job – working at the Todd Oldham store in Soho. Todd was doing incredible things with textiles, incorporating embroideries, beadwork, and especially yarn/crewel into his collections. Every day at work I’d be feeling these beautiful surfaces in my hands, and when I realized that I was responding more to the fabric on designer dresses than my contemporary art history classes, I knew I needed to incorporate it into my practice or go to design school. Yarn has been a primary medium for me ever since.
Q. You recently moved from work with more overt content (for example, specific design objects and record sleeves) in a more abstract direction. What prompted this shift?
A. You know I am still figuring that one out. I had been working full time as the academic administrator for the NYU Art Department and didn’t feel like I had the opportunity to risk failure by experimenting. Every second needed to go towards something I felt would be “successful.” After working for five plus years on these larger shrine-like pieces you mentioned, I wanted to be a different kind of artist. I wanted to be able to move through ideas and images more quickly, with more opportunities to experiment. I started by challenging myself to make works on paper, with little or no forethought to the result, everyday. This might seem like a normal thing to do for any artist, but I was used to creating plans for something laborious and working on it for months. One work on paper I did during this period was a frame-like shape with geometric shapes balancing within it. I don’t know why I made it. Another sort of looked like an altar, another a mask, and they all started to relate to one another in a way that felt intuitive to me. I started experimenting with the drawings, creating them as flat wall pieces made of yarn and wood. I was working with abstraction for the first time, and it felt so easy and right in ways that nothing had felt before.
Q. Do you consider these works paintings? Why or why not?
A. The most consistent series of abstract works I’ve done so far have been the “frame”/balance pieces. I thought the sketches looked like what a set designer might quickly sketch for the set of an apartment of someone with distinguished taste in décor and art – like a scene from Madmen or something: “For this scene I need an abstract painting over that couch in front of the grass cloth wall.” When I started to flesh out the drawings and build the actual pieces a formal sincerity emerged in the compositions that did not feel cynical or derived from a narrative like the one above – it felt like mystery. Now I look at them as their own thing, “sculptures of paintings,” or “painterly sculptures.” I am trying to stay as fluid as I was when I started making them by staying not too sure of what they are.
Q. Looking – at other art, at films, at objects – plays a role in so many artists’ process. What visual sources excite you?
A. Other artists, music, literature, dance, all of the usual artsy things, but I do have one unique place of inspiration that I’m always excited to talk about.
Since I was very young I have always played video games. I have literally grown up with the medium from its infancy. Though problematic to me now, it was a comfort that gaming seemed to be a boy’s domain when I was an awkward middle school sissy, uncomfortable with sports and in need of a safe refuge. I spent thousands of hours by myself in flat, dark landscapes – achieving goals and re-affirming a fragile sense of social normalcy that was constantly being threatened. That pre-adolescent experience still informs the way I make images and think about space, and though gaming continues to evolve and fascinate me in profoundly nerdy ways today, it was the flat yet vast wilderness of early video game landscapes that continue resonate formally within the work.
Q. Your work references, among other things, the traditions of handcrafts and housewares/decor. What effect do you hope this produces in the viewer?
A. I think my work reflects my own social compulsions to be friendly, approachable, and perhaps less optimistically – “perfect” – while also hopefully possessing some depth. Alex Jovanovich, an artist whose work I adore, once told me that striving to achieve a perfectly crafted “thing” is a common practice for gay male artists, and perhaps it is – always trying to politely win a viewer over who could dismiss you at any moment is how many gay men are socialized. I know I feel a strong compulsion for the work to make you like it before it can ask you to think more deeply about its inner workings. I achieve this by crafting surfaces that are, culturally, decorative and perhaps familiar on some level. I want to lure in my viewer, give them an “ah-ha” moment, encourage them to feel like they are part of an imminently approachable, generous exchange. The darker sadder parts are there, but they wait patiently to be discovered by viewers who spend the time.
A. FIAR has been life changing for me, allowing me to quit my full time gig and spend more time in the studio unfettered with the fear of making mistakes and fully engaged in creative risk taking. I really can’t say if the content or form of my work is changing as a result, but I have had many meaningful conversations with past residents about what it means to be a “queer artist,” and I know that those conversations have broadened my understanding in major ways. Trusting my own forays into abstraction was made easier after conversations with FIAR alumni like Travis Boyer and Gordon Hall who shared similar journeys.
Q. What makes a good studio visit?
A. I like the ones where people tell me my work looks AMAZING for like, a couple hours, and why.
Q. Is there anyone you have by on a regular basis to discuss your work? Or any particularly important conversation partners who have informed your practice?
A. I am fortuitous to have the amazing artist Rachel Mason just down the hall from me at the studio. Rachel is like creative Valium. We went to Yale for sculpture together ten years ago, and being able to have someone to walk away from your work to that doesn’t take you too far away from it is a release valve I cherish. I have so many other great artists and curators in my life whose opinions are like gold: Hein Koh, Mamiko Otsubo, Dave Hardy, Marc Swanson, Bill Arning, Evan Garza, just to name a few. I am lucky to have lived in NYC for half my life – and I’m so grateful for all the support my community gives me.
Chris Bogia was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1977. He studied art at both New York University (BA 00’) and Yale University (MFA sculpture 04’). He has been showing is work in New York and abroad for over 16 years. Bogia currently lives and works in Queens, New York. Chris Bogia is the co-founder of the Fire Island Artist Residency (FIAR), the first LGBTQ artist residency program located in Cherry Grove, on Fire Island, NY. He teaches at both New York University and Bruce High Quality University. He was awarded both the Alice Kimball Traveling Fellowship and the Larry Kramer Initiative research grant for Lesbian and Gay studies from Yale University.