Getting Happily Lost with Chris Austin November 18 2020

Chris Austin is a painter and sculptor living and working in Toronto, Canada, whose paintings depict captivating scenes imbued with a surreal luminescence. His works are inspired by his travels through North America, and in particular, the Pacific Northwest. Chris explores the fluctuating state of nature and our place within that narrative. The underlying theme of his artwork is the climate crisis and the irreversible impact it has on wildlife. Chris also seeks to change the perspective of predator animals by introducing an alternative view of these majestic creatures. His paintings depict a surreal luminescence and captivating scenes.

Interview by Louise McIntosh. Photos supplied by Chris Austin.

What is the allure of creatures from the forest and sea? 

Ever since I can remember, there’s always been a deep-rooted fascination with depths of the ocean and the deep woods. I like playing with both compositions and trying to blend the two worlds together

Do you draw your scenes from references or imagination? Do you have favourite locales you find yourself hiking to and revisiting?

I’m always taking photos, whether with my iPhone or with a full frame camera. I do a lot of photo reference prior to painting anything on a surface, but I also tend to imagine colour gradients as I go and make things up somewhat with my imagination... I live essentially right on the Niagara escarpment, and the local scenery has been very beneficial for inspiration in the studio.

What gets you in the flow?

I have a fairly regimented routine to help get me in the flow of things. I am 6’5” tall and unfortunately with the height, comes a lot of tension and pain in my spine from hunching over a desk drawing/painting all day, so I always start the day with a good yoga stretch mixed with either a walk or run outdoors to help loosen things up. When the blood is flowing, the creativity tends to also flow. 

Talk us through the process of creating one of your paintings

Today I sifted through a pile of reference photos that I took while on a hike locally and I blended them together somewhat with Photoshop. Once the composition was correct to my liking, I then sketched it and made a value study. From that value study, I made a larger, more detailed final painting. 

Your paintings have this glow of an otherworldly, luminescent quality – how to you set out to achieve this effect with your materials at hand?

I have experimented with different techniques over the years to get that glow look and a lot of it has been trial and error. I suppose I still haven’t quite mastered it personally as every piece is a different approach.

You have mentioned in past interviews that due to a nickname of 'Little Bear' you have painted yourself often as a bear. Is this is the case in Courage to Continue?

As a child I was nicknamed 'Little Bear' because I was always so much taller than most kids, and a lot of my peers looked to me for protection. I never was a fighter, but often in sticky situations, my height usually sorted it out, and guided peers out of trouble. I was definitely channeling those years as a kid with this particular painting. 

What has been a seminal experience for you and how has this affected your art?

I would have to say that the way Hollywood demonises apex animals in film, like sharks and bears, has impacted my work. I’m trying to somewhat change that perspective by introducing a friendlier side to these beautiful yet awfully portrayed creatures. 

I heard you are a baker and a sculptor – any other hidden talents you care to share?

Just a regular guy, living my best life.

Thank you for your time, Chris!