Double Image Catharsis (2005).
It’s my pleasure today to interview a young Canadian painter, Chris Floodberg, whose work resonates with many of the concerns of our times. You can see the full gallery of his work at his Website here.
ToB: Chris, thank you for talking to Histories of Things to Come about your paintings from the past Millennial decade. You received a lot of attention for your 2004-2005 series, Matters of Denial. The painting above, Double Image Catharsis, is an example of apocalyptic scenes that you presented, of a devastated, haunted and gutted society. Many of the richly-coloured paintings feature opulent settings and half-eaten feasts, as the viewer comes to the leftovers after the party is done and nightmarish urban scenes have surrounded the table.
To start, I was thinking about the painting title, Double Image Catharsis. Is there a metaphorical duality embedded in the Matters of Denial series – two perceptions, two realities? I wondered if these pieces present a viewpoint from the other side of the looking glass. That is, are they mirrors, which, when held up to a brightly packaged reality, show ruined truths? And if the paintings do reflect an ‘other’ or alienated voice, was there an implied generational shift in perspective here?
Chris Flodberg: I don’t like to think of the paintings as having one fixed interpretation. I think of them as fin de siècle narratives; the picked over foods, messy tables, and destroyed backgrounds could be a collective metaphor for the end of abundance and optimism. The viewer is left to pick up the pieces so to speak, and consider how to find meaning, or at least negotiate a relevant position for themselves in a world ravaged by excesses carried over from the past. Giant oil paintings are inherently decadent as objects, and there is an unavoidable irony in the work. The pieces critique gluttony, but only the wealthy may own them. I find this really interesting, and often humorous. I’m surprised that anyone would hang such a negative indictment of themselves in their own home.
Freakish Acts of Nature and Other Distractions (2004).
ToB: Of course, you painted these pieces when a lot of people were still riding high and the early Millennial boom was on. Have you found that people look at your Matters of Denial series differently now, perhaps as prescient, given post-2008 Recession attitudes?
Chris Flodberg: The paintings definitely play into a particular paranoia and cynicism that evolved out of the geopolitical and economic conditions of the past 5 years. At the time they were painted, the images struck a chord in many viewers and seemed to echo their own post-911 anxieties. While the paintings poke at real, immediate events, I don’t think of them as being historically specific. The dramas that play out in the paintings are ancient and persistent. Hopefully the paintings will always be relevant.
Waiting for Simon (2007).
ToB: In your artist’s statement, you remark: “In a world where newness has become a value in and of itself, I am more moved by the compliment that what I am doing technically feels like something from the past, while embodying something that is currently relevant.” Your piece from 2003, ‘Fruit, From Orchard Trees and Other Myths,’ has a Renaissance quality, but the title disarms that stylistic choice. The Matters of Denial series offers late Renaissance still lifes against Baroque and Neoclassical versions of Postmodern backdrops. Did you ultimately merge artistic styles in a neo-historical way? Did your choices of styles from different eras intentionally portray a temporal disconnect?
Chris Flodberg: I’ve always loved old museum paintings. My impulse as a painter has been to emulate the bravura and painterly skill of the masters. In terms of style, the language is fundamentally descriptive and ultimately aligned with pre-impressionist 19th century painters. This kind of painting is showy direct, and flourishy, which I think suits the themes. I don’t think of the paintings as having mixed styles in so far as technique, but I do see various references to different historical subjects mashing together with entirely current images.
Was it Ever Real? (2010).
ToB: The realistically-painted pieces in Matters of Denial are metaphorical and unreal. By 2010, in Recent Work, you moved towards the surreal. The still lifes are now poised before blurred urban backgrounds. Was it Ever Real? and Scenes From the Plastic Life, both from 2010, have some beautiful, almost-Buddhist luminosities in the palette that flirt with enlightenment, while betraying dark humour. Were you playing with the sense that we could not kid ourselves anymore?
Chris Flodberg: For me, the blurry background variations of the table paintings are vanitas images. The motion blurred backgrounds suggest to me transience, the rapid movement of time, and a certain intangible, uncontrollable quality. This movement sets the backdrop for a more clearly discernible still life containing traditional elements of Dutch and Victorian vanitas paintings, but again spinning a contemporary vibe.
ToB: You also have a 2011 series of surreal portraits of dogs, which reminded me a bit of the Gothic mood in a couple of Alex Colville’s pieces. The series is curiously named Giardia, which is a canine parasite? I wondered about your choice of series title.
Chris Flodberg: Most people think “Giardia” is some foreign word for “Guard” or something. Only a few people know that Giardia is a disease. In the case of the dog paintings, the title refers to the disease of power. The guard dogs are like totems, keeping the viewer away from the wealthy estates in the background. Here, the elitism of art ownership is directly at play. Are you the one being kept away?
Katrine in Kingston (2008).
ToB: Many of the pieces from 2010 show two paths diverging (Two Ways to Go; Bailout; Clear Abuses of Power). Was this part of casting off the metaphors and narratives that hound us?
Chris Flodberg: Bailout was directly inspired by the recent financial collapse. It is at once a humorous image, but also an image of chaos and disorder. Two ways to Go is a kind of allegory relating to the theme of excess run amuck. For me, a cruise ship is the ultimate image of decadence and waste; but in the painting, it’s destiny has reached a critical point where it may sink, or continue on in nightmarish seas; a conflict between two evils. Clear abuses of Power no longer allows the viewer to simply consume the metaphorical desserts without a broader realization that for all things, there is an ethical cost.
7 AM (2007).
ToB: You did a series of interiors (Spaces and Portraits) which convey stillness and private contemplation. Even in 2004, there was a huge difference between your discarded feasts in Matters of Denial and the Millennial supper in Apartment. To come back to duality of our reality – was there a push here on your part to draw a line between the noise and constant bombardment of the big media reality (as in 2007’s Giant Squid and Other Irritations) – what the world is telling us we are – and actual daily experience?
Chris Flodberg: Much of my imagery over the past ten years has been decidedly ‘unreal’ in its conception. These aren’t things you could go out and photograph or see in real life and are certainly not a reflection of my everyday life. As a Human Being making paintings, I’ve often felt that things can get too strange and unworldly, leaving me with a longing to once again spend time examining the things I see day to day such as the hallway in my studio or the floor of my apartment building. There is something grounding about coming back to the reality of one’s life; a sentiment akin to turning off a loud crazy movie and simply enjoying the silence of an empty room.
ToB: I also notice a shift in your use of colour over time. Or rather, you had early pieces with mainly neutral colours, but that palette has become more persistent. By 2010-2012, your colours are much softer, much more forgiving. With 2009’s Breakdown, we still have the Millennial cataclysm, but it is almost monochromatic. Was this a surrender? Do the muted colours reflect a change in values – a greater humility – an awareness that we had to stop forcing big narratives about ourselves on reality?
Chris Flodberg: There was no deliberate shift in my colour palette. Each image demands its own colors and mood. It should be noted that the images on my website are organized by subject, not date. Within any given subject category, there is a variety of dates. The categories do not represent a series as the individual pieces were done intermittently.
Port Authority (2006).
ToB: You have done several landscapes which shifted in tone and colour from the wonderful, bombastic and decadent Port Authority of 2006, to most recent scenes which are calm and serene. How did that transition in your vision come about?
Chris Flodberg: Since around 2008, my art has become ever more visually complex and intellectual, often focusing on negative themes. Also, photography has become an overly dominant tool in my painting; a kind of middle-man in what I have increasingly been feeling should be a more direct, emotive act. Recently, I have decided to start working exclusively from memory and imagination and to return to my roots in the landscape. I used to equate complexity, large scale, and conceptual themes with ‘quality’. I now believe that the greatest painters are capable of speaking strongly to our emotions through simple means; always concerned with feelings over superficial depiction and clutter. If I could live with any one of my paintings, I’d probably choose Study of a Floor or one of my newest romantic horizon paintings. The world needs meditation and reflection rather than more noise.
Bay, Final Light (2012).
Chris, thank you again for speaking to Histories of Things to Come! We can't wait to see future paintings from the new directions you are exploring.
All photographs are © Chris Flodberg and are reproduced with kind permission. Please contact Chris at his Website, http://www.chrisflodberg.com/, if you want to reproduce photos or images of his works.
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