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INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS REGNER

An inspiring conversation about the art of confrontation and self exploration.

The interview was done on

7TH AUGUST 2020

S.M

"So Chris, where were you born?"

C.R

"I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the USA"

S.M

"What was it like growing up? Tell us a bit about your childhood."

C.R

"It started off very rough and became more peaceful over time. Without getting into too much detail, my father came from an abusive family, and this behavior transferred onto him. After a particularly traumatic event, my mom separated from him. I eventually stopped seeing him all together. Thankfully my mom's side of the family was supportive and caring.

On a happier note, I have a lot of great memories. I'm very grateful to have lived the majority of my childhood internet-free. I'm part of the last generation that can claim that, which is a strange, depressing thought. I was deeply in love with video games (and still am, albeit a lesser extent), as a form of escapism and emotional storytelling. I couldn't get enough of them. Some of my favorites were Sonic, Earthworm Jim, Quake, Doom, Final Fantasy, Half-Life, Max Payne, and Starfox. It was a golden age when game companies were small and took bigger risks.

I loved cartoons as well. Ren and Stimpy, Rocko's Modern Life, Courage the Cowardly Dog, TMNT, and Power Rangers were some of the highlights. I miss that 90's grotesquerie. 

I also got heavily into skateboarding in my teenage years. This is the only opportunity I'll have to brag about this, but towards the end of my interest in the hobby, I had finally landed my first handrail boardslide. I loved flip tricks, so I focused mainly on those. I could Nollie Flip 5 stairs, Nollie 360 flip, and had 360 flips on lock. Never missed."

S.M

"What a golden era for teenagers. Your work seems to reference a lot of childhood memories, perhaps the good, the bad, and the ugly. Tell us more about how you work as an artist. Would you say that those memories and emotions are channeled into your paintings?"

C.R

"Definitely. Before I started making my recent body of work fixated on father figures, sons, and masculine influences I was making work about cults and A.I. singularity. I was more detached from the subject matter and was thinking about grand, epic narratives. Not to say there was anything inherently wrong with this approach, but I think I had been denying true personal expression in terms of content for years. After a particularly revealing interview project I did in grad school, I think this truth finally hit me. The difference now is that I am implicating myself in these narratives and actually revealing my lived experience in the objects I pick and the figures I depict. It has been difficult to open old wounds, but it comes with the satisfaction of knowing that I have been able to make lemonade from lemons."

S.M

"Why did you choose art over all the other means of self-discovery? Or exploration. I mean, what led you to pursue art? Or are you not really pursuing?"

C.R

"It was just natural, I suppose. When I was young I would draw from comic books and video game covers. I liked to create alternate realities populated by characters that I admired. Strong, self-reliant heroes that possessed traits I didn't feel I had. I stopped drawing and painting for a bit in my early twenties and tried my hand at finger-style guitar. It just didn't do it for me, and I found myself coming right back to art after experiencing a few figure drawing classes. There's something inherently satisfying about drawing and painting to me that I couldn't match with any other art form I attempted."

S.M

"Perhaps for those who are born in the 90s, your work has this strange nostalgic feel to it, you know...terminator, power rangers, and NERF gun-looking toys, etc. What’s your view on nostalgia?"

C.R

"My views on nostalgia have changed over time. It used to be a trap I would fall into in times of depression. I would imagine my past self to be more at peace and the times I used to live in to be simpler. This isn’t true at all when analyzed with any scrutiny, but it’s hard to not fantasize about what has been or what could be. Living in the present is something I struggle with, but I feel that I’m getting better at it with time.

I think it’s important to find the good in your current situation, which can be very difficult. Nostalgia can prevent growth and I’ve seen individuals get sucked into that pit heavily. I imbue my work with nostalgic objects and symbols not because I long for a time warp; instead, I associate these things with other memories or events that aren’t as wholesome. If I do integrate these images, I do my best to distort their meaning and depiction, showing the inherent awkwardness and dishonesty of nostalgic memory."

S.M

"Your approach seems to have an interesting balance between something emotional and something analytical. It’s fascinating that you talk about your very personal past and yet possess this third person-like view where events are analyzed as almost a separate entity. 

What do you see yourself doing in the future, as an artist...or perhaps something entirely different...do you fantasize about the future? What can be and how it should be."

C.R

"I find the dual approach of the personal and the analytical to be vital when making work about difficult subjects. It allows for communication without being too self-indulgent. At least that's my hope.

I try not to think too far into the future about art. I like to keep an open mind about my next projects, as I tend to talk myself in and out of ideas fairly quickly. I never know when something new will catch my attention and refuse to be ignored, so I want to be receptive to that possibility. I'm very wary about repeating myself, and if I sense that nothing new is happening in a series, I'll move on. I'm not really looking for a style to latch onto. If I find it necessary to become an oil painter, I will. If I think sculpture makes more sense for a project, I'll sculpt. My only desire for the future of my art is that my best work is yet to come.

My fantasies for the future tend to be about cultural issues. I hope the divisiveness plaguing our society can be regarded in a couple decades as a necessary transitional period that this country had to go through to get to a better tomorrow. I'd also like to own a house somewhere peaceful with my fiancé, have my student debt eliminated, and paint full-time

And my pipe dream is to make a video game someday. Probably with a team of people."

S.M

"Many of our team members, including myself, are based in Japan. So we really do understand the beauty of video games...hence I noticed your love for pieces like metal gear solid. When you say “divisiveness plaguing our society” it feels like you’re not just talking about black and white race matter."

C.R

"I'm glad you appreciate them! They've been an important influence on my practice, and I get a multiplicity of reactions to this. I'm always excited when someone notices the specific references, even if they're just stand-ins for other ideas. As far as subversive, risky art goes, Hideo Kojima is a master of the craft. Metal Gear is that perfect mix of seriousness, campiness, and fun. It's aware it's a video game and that self-reflexivity just adds to the enjoyment. 

No, I'm just speaking generally. We have a two-party political system here and we've reached the point where these two sides are no longer attempting to understand each other. Things are tense and it's hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. My hope is, like I said, that we will come out on the other end better for the difficulty we are experiencing now, and that dialogue will eventually happen to heal some of the division."

"A good satirist can see things from all angles without affiliation."

"To transcend misanthropic judgment requires experience, empathy for the humanity of the subjects depicted, and a certain amount of self-awareness"

"Distilling symbols and signs allows a painting to communicate effectively in the short-term, but runs the risk of patronizing the viewer and negating the complication of the image"

"If I have left you conflicted it is only because I am as well."

"The argument for decency and sensitivity can devolve into an argument for sterile, benign art that skims an opaque surface. Instead, argue for discomfort at your own expense as a way to test your values and revel in the contradictory nature of being human."

S.M

"2020 has been a rough year, with the pandemic, Australian bushfire, ongoing police brutality based on racial discrimination, and the explosion in Beirut. Many artists have been hit one way or the other. Tell us about your experience."

C.R

"The pandemic prevented me from being able to have a standard graduation and thesis for my MFA, which was disappointing, but I managed to find a studio and get used to being out of school, which made the transition easier. I live in Rhode Island currently, which generally speaking has done a really good job at handling the outbreak, so I don't necessarily feel unsafe. I'm naturally a homebody, so I'm used to being in the studio or my house. I think that's given me an advantage mentally during this time. Things seem to be moving to Instagram, in terms of the art world. This is out of necessity for sure, but I think that this shift was inevitable, and I welcome it. I find myself liking city-life less and less as I get older, especially given the incredible downsides that have been exposed during the pandemic. I come from the Midwest where there are pockets of art communities that have a lot of heart and do the best they can. But there's no money there, so it can be hard to forge a career there.

My hope is that this digital shift coupled with the inevitable exodus of artists from NYC and LA will decentralize the art world and allow for people to work in other areas easier. I've never wanted to live in NYC. I don't have the temperament for it, so I'm all for having digital shows and sales and being a part of publications such as this. I feel optimistic about the future of art, which is great given how negative this year has been."

S.M

"Very true. The art world has been showing a confident transformation, and we’re very excited to see more artists emerging from the crowd due to the utilization of social media and online platforms. Though your practice as an artist is relatively personal to you as an individual, what sort of roles, or responsibilities do you think artists have towards the society?"

C.R

"I'm not sure about responsibilities, but artists do have a role. What makes art a unique vessel for communication is that it doesn't have to offer answers. Art is the place for complication and contradiction, for observation, not proselytization. It exists (or should exist) outside of the grasp of moral busybodies. This autonomy is necessary so artists are allowed to take risks and explore the dark depths. Without this freedom, art becomes neutered and denies its humanity, and art without this humanity becomes an object bereft of meaning; a product to be consumed, a pretty picture. It's the artist's role to relate to the viewer in unexpected ways and tap into those thoughts you aren't consciously aware of that pass through your mind."

S.M

"In your figurative paintings, you appeared a few times as a model. But in your recent works, a boy is reappearing here and there. Who is he? Is he you? What’s the story?"

C.R

"They are stand-ins for me, and for any boy that didn't quite feel up to par. I wasn't a very tough kid; I was sensitive, not particularly popular, and a bit nerdy in my interests. I had good friends, but they were probably nerds too. Like I said before, I gravitated towards depictions of men in media that were everything I felt I wasn’t, and I would express the desire to be like them through drawing. The difference now is that I'm more aware of my shortcomings and have a deeper understanding of the subconscious desires for fame and strength that I had when I was a kid. This is why I depict the children in my paintings as failing in some way. They hold weapons, but they are harmless. They portray themselves as SWAT officers, construction workers, and soldiers, but something is always off. The camouflage is useless, saturated garb, the masks are digital, the weapons are limp or neutered in some way. I source a lot of the kids from stock photos of Halloween costumes, as I feel that exemplifies that desire to emulate strong, silent masculinity but always comes short."

S.M

"Earlier on you mentioned that your childhood was missing a father figure, which is also expressed as the title of your recent painting. How did this influence your view on masculinity? Did you in some ways fill this missing masculine figure with the heroes and the characters you love?"

C.R

"Without a solid or present father figure, it’s been difficult to chart a path at times. I’ve had mentors and family members that have provided some guidance, but nothing really replaces a father, at least in the ways that I needed. I think over the years I have discovered that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, which has been freeing. Being an artist has helped me to understand this, as there isn’t really a guidebook for this career path. It’s empowering when you can chart your own map. Surrounding myself with other sensitive individuals has also been encouraging, as I have found this personality trait to be incredibly detrimental in my interactions with men throughout my life. 

I think my recent work has made me confront a lot of my assumptions about masculinity, both through painting and in real life. In my experience, when you grow up without a strong male figure you try to find it in media, art, video games, comic books, etc. This led to feeling less-than and forced me to cultivate my own path to being confident in that identity. My recent paintings and sculptures have made me finally confront the archetypes that I've looked at as masculine influences, and I've found myself conflicted. On one hand, I genuinely enjoy the things I portray in my paintings but I also realize they are fictional. I've always been a sensitive individual, which has caused a lot of conflict within my interactions with other men throughout my life, and I'm trying to come to terms with that."

S.M

"I think your practice as an artist, and as an individual, has this element of bravery, especially in the context of confrontation and self-exploration. I find your experimental and analytical approach to reviewing your own past itself very inspiring.

Here’s my last question. What would you say to the younger generations who had, or still are facing similar experiences?"

C.R

"Thank you. I appreciate that a lot. It hasn't been easy to rehash some of this stuff, so I'm glad that it has some power to it.

I would tell them to persevere, have confidence in yourself, and to not view sensitivity and empathy with derision. Don't get taken in by the traps of jealousy, resentment, and rage, no matter how easy those paths may seem. Turn those emotions into something productive and positive, if only for your own sake. Put effort into and value your relationships with others. Know that it's ok to be conflicted, that it's ok to ask questions, and that it's ok to not always be right."

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