Interview with Chris Gray

Chris Gray is a London based artist born in the UK. He graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art & History of Art from Goldsmiths University in 2015 and has been exhibiting internationally since. Gray was recently awarded the XL Catlin Art Prize 2016 and has also been selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016. Recent exhibitions include Valletta Film Festival, Malta (2016), XL Catlin Art Prize 2016, London (2016), Young Gods | London Graduates 2015, Griffin Gallery and Charlie Smith London (2016) and Reality Hype Phase 11: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Reality, Denmark (2015).

DC – Congratulations on recently winning the XL Catlin Art Prize 2016 and also on being selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016. After some years of boxing, what made you decide to become an artist?

CG – My life has never run in clear-cut stages, most things have tended to overlap. I feel that I’ve always been an artist, and boxing features heavily in my work. I was practicing art all through the years I engaged in the sport of boxing, and during that time my art was fused with boxing because boxing was the main subject for my work.

DC - You often discuss how your work explores fictional violence and the duality of fear and fascination evoked by violence. Are these themes throughout your work somehow linked to your past experiences of boxing?

CG – I feel a similar way about boxing in the sense that there is an element of fear, and yet boxing can become like an addiction. To be a good boxer means that you have to hurt people and you risk being hurt yourself. It’s a double-edged sword. There is this brutal element. The fact that boxers often end their careers with trauma to the brain can be off-putting, and yet it remains a fascinating sport because it embodies facets of human nature that we admire; such as courage, strength and perseverance.

DC – You say that your work has been perceived as being quite controversial. What has been the response to your work and how has this shaped how you are continuing to create new works?

CG – Although the overall response to my most recent film Death By Chair has been very good, there are people who find my films hard to watch because of the violence. To some extent my work polarizes opinions, and this is because views on violence differ so widely in our society. Violence has an undeniable potency in terms of how it can affect the viewer and whether that is positive or negative is really down to the individual. There is an element of self-censorship there but that is more to do with my own threshold with violence, rather than the expected reactions from the audience. Violence is an important issue in society. We are all influenced by what we see on the big screen, for example, which I feel makes violence a relevant subject to discuss.

DC - What inspires you? (and/or) Which artists inspire you, and why?

CG – I am inspired by things that make me experience strong emotions, and I use this inspiration in my work. In the making of Death By Chair I was inspired by the medieval period during the Middle Ages when people would go to watch public executions. Society has changed a lot since then, but I’m not so sure how much people have changed. When we watch a graphic scene of medieval execution replicated in film, it presents to us a similar dynamic that was in place during the Middle Ages when people were permitted to watch the real thing.

DC - You describe yourself as a puppeteer and you have been looking into brutality within mainstream cinema. Could you tell us a bit more about the different contexts of puppetry and cinema within your work?

CG – It can be misleading when one word is used to describe a creative individual. I am an artist and a puppeteer but I am also a sculptor, a painter, a performer and a filmmaker. I like to combine different mediums in my work. In the process of this, contexts tend to become juxtaposed; when you are used to seeing something in one context and then it is placed it in another context it can unsettle the mind, which I think is a good thing because it challenges the way you think. There are elements that I have taken from cinema, particularly in regards to fictional violence that are not commonly used in puppetry. I would say that it is quite uncommon to see the cutting of flesh and the resulting blood flow in a puppet show. But this is fine art; it’s not your traditional puppet show. The flesh and blood in my films is something that people are used to seeing in cinema. Cinema has normalized it and so the viewers have become desensitized. Seeing it in a situation where it is out of place, the horrific nature of it is brought back to the viewer in stark clarity.

DC - What are you working on right now and what future projects have you got coming up?

CG – I have recently moved into a new studio and I am working on a number of projects that I am very excited about. I will be able to reveal more as things develop but can say that I am working on a continuation of the themes that I have been developing in my work.