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Interview with Christopher Fahey

By November 12, 2019Art

By Julia Cipriano

Chris Fahey’s show, “Nurtured Forms,” opened in The Java Project Gallery this past weekend.

The series of wall-mounted sculptures are incredibly intricate, speak to the meticulous time and energy Chris inevitably put forth. From the appearance of the material to the shape and curvature, each piece is entirely unique. Visceral and oceanic, the work seems alive–capable of moving and breathing independently. It’s a series that deserves to be experienced in person, so stop by the gallery and see it for yourself!

Question 1: In your artist’s statement, the idea of nurturing came up frequently. Both in regards to the materials that become sculptures, and yourself as the artist. Can you talk a bit more about this – mainly, how nurturing differs from creating?

I consider nurturing and creating to be interdependent terms. When we think of the stages of a human life (or any animal’s life) from conception to adolescence to adulthood, that life really needs assistance in being further created beyond just conception and birth. There is no independence for the earliest phases – so, to me, nurturing becomes creating and to create is to nurture. But, back to the art, I have another work entitled, “Intertenacity” from 2016, not in this show, that applies this concept a little more intensely by its title. For me, not only is a tenacious disposition necessary to sustain a carefully crafted creation toward an end that invites a considerate and thoughtful viewer’s eye, but that same energy of care to nurture/create each step in the process amounts to a kind of masochistic patience. I say masochistic because loss and/or failure is inevitable in any endeavor, but especially when someone knowingly and repeatedly chooses the more uncertain, precarious path – it does take a certain type of will. As one step in the aesthetics of a piece becomes clear and complete, another option appears, and that step might be altogether a new challenge because of the contextual demands for my hands and eyes. So, if I want to preserve what came before (on the piece), I need to edit very very carefully. Sometimes thin wood snaps, glue and paint crosses initially intended lines. These unforeseen incidents only further add to the challenge of dedicating huge amounts of time in completing a single step, so their physical results invariably become regarded (by me) as part of the nurtured creation, both visually and emotionally. Each piece is my intent, my accidents/“incidents,” and my memory of the consequence of a decision. Even though I’m not a parent – to me, this all sounds a bit like being one, in relation to their small child. Because I have such a vivid memory of the “incidents” of my childhood, I feel I am equipped to initiate this dialogue of “nurtured creation/careful viewing” with the viewer, who then becomes the surrogate caretaker by way of their viewing. 

“Intertenacity,”2016 – 39 x 18 x 10 in.
 Acrylic paint and oxidized copper paint on wood, redwood, resin-spackle, sawdust, high-density polyethylene, ink, dye

Question 2: You also refer to the sculptures as “relief objects.” What does “relief” refer to?

While I’m able to comfortably refer to them as sculptures, I feel that, because I require a 180-degree engagement from the viewer (rather than offer 360 degrees) of a three-dimensional object, I feel that the term “relief object,” becomes more appropriate somehow. Also, to me, the idea and effort of nurturing is confrontational. The one doing the nurturing can’t tackle every layer/angle of the challenge at will. There is a limited range to the engagement, or “only so much you can do” so-to-speak, like viewing a painting, or choosing one meal/school/activity over another for your child. At least, this is how I still like to work at the moment – it just feels more intimate to me. I started out just painting on canvas and never managed to get away from the wall more than a few times. I’ve tried.

Question 3: Can you share a bit more about your creative process? What guides you as you shape and color the forms – do you work off of a mental image / idea / memory, or do you work in response to the materials?

For the most part, my materials continue to inspire my aesthetic choices. The short answer is that I bounce back and forth between warm and cool, bigger and smaller. The warmth of the redwood (that I salvaged and repurpose[d] from a conservation project in the city) still inspires me, and the neutral nature of white and black plastic materials (also salvaged) that can be mixed either cooly or warmly into a work depending on my mood, affect me just as much. Then there is also the sawdust and wood glue mixture I make that turns dark brown or tan which is pretty versatile in the initial dry state. If I just finished a warm-tone piece with yellows and reds, I will simply want to treat my eyes to the cool because of how long they take to create. I’ve gone from spending an entire year on a work, dedicating 30 hours a week on average, to spending two or three months, dedicating about 15 or 20 hours a week. The other choice that fluctuates is size. If I find a scrap of wood or plastic in a size I like, the size of the sculpture becomes dictated by that scrap. If I just finished a larger work, I will maybe want to do more than one smaller work next to give myself a “break.”

Materials aside, I have wanted to express something specific before. For instance, “Bazoo Ganglia” came from my desire to make an oval form with a central point of flowering growth. While I thought of botany a little bit, I mainly thought of the brain and its lobes. The basal ganglia is the central area of the brain in which my mother suffered a stroke.  While I’m no doctor, I came to learn that this area helps facilitate smooth, voluntary movement, but, in addition to this, the stroke also negatively impacted her cognition and emotions. It has many functions. To lose this area of brain functionality (or any area) was obviously horrible for her and a devastating event for me as a witness who became something of a stranger to her emotionally until she passed away. For reasons related to the “incidents of my childhood,” that I touched on earlier, I was unable to develop much of an emotional connection with my mother even when she was healthier, which made all this so much worse for me. But, back to the title, “Bazoo” was my mother’s nickname for her mother, who unfortunately suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. The idea of memory, in it’s fragile significance and living consequences, is embedded in this piece, but in making such an obsessive, difficult object at that time, it became a kind of act of defiance on behalf of my Mom, toward committing my own careful movements against the unrelenting physical traumas of aging.

Question 4: How does this series fit into your larger body of work? Do you like to work in other mediums?

I think, by working in the world of biomorphic forms, I continue to be inspired to abstract from anatomy as well as my ambivalent relationship with my own physical self. My emotions are obviously tied to every bit of the physical. I find drawing breaks very relaxing and freeing. A drawing break that lasts a month or three is a nice time away from the repetitive motions of rasping and sanding a sculpture into a biomorphic state. In the past, I worked representationally and abstractly in different styles with oil paint on canvas and board, from 2003 to 2011. I’ve also enjoyed making things like screenprints, woodblocks, stone sculptures, and welded metal sculptures, but since those were more student days, I plan to revisit these mediums if and when I can. I also really look forward to getting into ceramics and sewing at some point soon, but I have more I want to do with the wood for a little longer, like integrate painted, abstract imagery into flatter, but still relief, objects. Some of those have been in progress for years and I actually feel that the time to turn it into a new body of work is here.

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