Artist and designer Chris Burnett’s media-mixing aesthetic informs both his personal and client-commissioned work, as the once separate streams of his curious-minded and acquisitive vision increasingly inform one another. The graphically robust and compellingly physical mixed media collage and resin works of his art practice makes itself felt in the most interesting of his design gigs — especially his new collaboration with The Prisoner Wine Company on labels for a boxed flight benefiting criminal justice repair and reform. At the same time, the deep and daily engagement with popular visual culture his design jobs require cannot help but seep into the intentions and contents of his abstract collages — the most recent results of which go on view in Portland this week.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
CHRIS BURNETT: I’ve been making things ever since I can remember. I grew up in a very creative household, and my parents were very encouraging of me and my brother to pursue the arts, placing us in weekend art classes, making sure we went to schools with creative programs, etc. So I guess I’ve always considered myself an artist!
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
Well, there are a couple of ways to approach this. I studied Graphic Design in college, so most of that work is about whatever the subject matter is for the client — whatever they are looking for is what I try to execute. On the other hand, my personal artwork is primarily abstract collage — I like to think I’m more focused on evoking a feeling than a specific concept. However, I have started to notice how my collages are parallel to the times we’re living in. Everything is starting to blend together these days, especially because of the internet, and it’s hard to really make sense of it all. So my interest in abstraction starts to represent the culture in which it exists.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
It’s rather hard to answer this question because outside of my art practice, I have so many hobbies that choosing only one to pursue is always difficult. I love working with my hands, so I probably would do another job that involves physical labor of some sort. I also love skateboarding and wanted to become a professional until I realized I didn’t want to get hurt anymore. My 30-year-old knees can only take so much. That said, I feel like maybe if I wasn’t an artist, I might still be trying to figure out how to become one.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
Yes, I went to California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which is a multidisciplinary art school right outside of L.A. Honestly, it was the best four consecutive years of my life. I was raised rather sheltered, so going to CalArts really opened my eyes to a creative world that I knew nothing about. There were dancers, musicians, actors, designers, artists, animators, and more and I really just wanted to be immersed in a community that was full of people like me. I also enjoyed learning from an amazing group of professors and faculty.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
L.A. is home, so as a native, it just feels rather natural and easygoing. I did live in Portland for about four years after college and that was a very explorative time. It’s also where I met most of my current friends because we all worked at the Nike HQ at some point. But I eventually came back to L.A. for a job and realized it was where I wanted to be for a lot of reasons. The weather – yeah, that’s an easy one. The music industry – a lot of my clients live here so it’s easier to work together. The diversity – there are so many different pockets of the city, and they all have their own unique vibe. But on a deeper note, I just feel that the energy of the city matches the energy of my personality. But who knows, I feel like NYC is still in the cards at some point.
When was your first show?
I’m actually having my first show in about a week…crunchtime! I’m showing some new collage work at a gallery in Portland called FISK. It’s run by Bijan Berahimi, one of my best friends who was also a classmate of mine in school and my first roommate in Portland. He invited me to come up and display some original works in his new space, so I’ve been really busy with that as of late.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
The most recent project I finished was a collaboration with The Prisoner Wine Company. They just launched an initiative called Corrections which aims to bring awareness to the challenges within the prison systems across the United States. They created a limited edition box set of three different wines and asked me to create some original artwork for the labels. My aim was to inspire action through emotion, and the pieces I created really strike the tone of hopeful optimism, which is what The Prisoner was looking for. In addition to raising awareness, proceeds of this project will go to Rubicon Programs — a not-for-profit organization that provides essential services for communities living in poverty and disproportionately impacted by the ills of the U.S. justice system. It’s been a real pleasure to work on this because they really trusted my artistic vision, and it always feels great to contribute to a project that has a tangible motive behind the work.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
This can go a lot of ways…because I’m interested in so many different forms of art, there are multiple people who are dream collaborators. In the fine art world, it’s a toss-up between John Baldessari (RIP), and David Salle. The former for more of his conceptual approach to his artwork, and the latter for his visual acuity (he’s a painter, but his work takes on a very much collage-based approach). In the music world, either Kevin Parker of Tame Impala or Tyler, The Creator. Lonerism was the first Tame Impala album I heard, and it inspired me to start making music altogether; and with Tyler, it just seems like we would vibe on a lot of the same musical stylings and sounds. And last but not least would be the fashion world, which is a new hobby that I’m picking up. Would love to collaborate with Fear of God, or maybe do a project with Rick Owens (we share the same birthday!).
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
It really depends on how I’m feeling. There’s typically always something playing in the background, whether that’s a YouTube video, an album, a podcast, or random episodes of Seinfeld/TheOffice. But if we’re talking about music, I listen to a lot of indie and hip-hop artists. The latest would be Magic Sign by Martin Courtney, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar, Talk Memory by BADBADNOTGOOD, Mahal by Toro y Moi, Geode by Ark Patrol, The Untourable Album by Men I Trust, It’s Almost Dry by Pusha T, Changephobia by Rostam…I mean, I could really go on and on!
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