Chris Auret’s solo exhibition, You Have My Word, promises colour, conversation and the cosmos. His exhibited body of work is comprised of three distinct (but connected) chapters that explore a progression between art and artist. He links words and thoughts with portraits and self-portraits, abstract colours and shining stars. He has fully committed to the experience by living at Muti gallery for the duration of his exhibition. Unless he’s upstairs drinking wine with gallery owner, Guto, you can see him there, in a mini studio (set up in the display window). Interested in how he and his work have developed since his last feature on 10and5, we caught up with him after the launch event to find out more.
How do you describe yourself and what’s it like being an artist?
For some time now, I’ve realised I like to see myself more of a MAKER, in some ways more than an artist. A person who makes things; be it books, photographs, paintings, music, etc. Being an artist is one part of it, yet at the same time all of it. It sounds cheesy but I believe we are all artists of some kind. When I made the decision to leave my “real” job and pour my energy into a dream, I got lost in the making process, allowing the universe to play its part. And only now have I been able to resurface with all the pieces neatly placed together for others to experience. It was an incredibly frustrating place before it became the most beautiful space I could occupy. It took me this solo exhibition to discover my voice as an artist; what I wanted to say, who I wanted to talk to, how best to do so, these were questions I allowed myself to ask constantly. I say in the rationale: In order to become an artist, I became an artist. And an artist I will be.
And how would you describe your current exhibition of work?
This is my first solo exhibition and rightfully a very personal one.
The show itself is separated into three linear parts: “Familiar Fools”, “Back to You; Back to Universe” and “Meeting My Maker”. Each of these chapters is a representation of my journey into the art world over the last three years – a place seemingly new to me since working in advertising for some time. The works are more conceptual in comparison to anything I’ve done in the past, which was a very deliberate decision as I began to take my pieces and their messages quite seriously. Throughout the experience of their creation, I unlocked something within myself I cannot quite describe and the show is a documentation of that process as best and as truthfully as I can possibly share with the public.
The exhibition comprises of photographs with hand-painted writings, paintings on canvas and glass, a video element, as well as abstract works – all touching on themes of self-discovery, what it means for me to be an artist, an exploration of the physical and spiritual worlds, as well as the conscious and subconscious mind and more. As a commitment to my creative practice I will be living in (but not limited to) the gallery window throughout the duration of the show.
Please briefly explain each chapter of your exhibition and how they relate.
The whole exhibition is based around a story and needs to be experienced as such. It’s important (although not entirely necessary) to read the booklet I created for the show while you look at the pieces, to truly grasp where I’m coming from. I say ‘not entirely necessary’ because I hope my art stirs something in the viewer, without saying anything too. The three chapters are as follows:
Chpt 1: Familiar Fools (Body of photo/paint/text compilations)
I have defaced moments in my life with messages I’ve learnt through new experiences and ultimately a new found awareness. Being unsatisfied with the current version of my external world, I began to engrave these messages into my every surrounding, both physically and mentally, in hope that I could understand that which is unfamiliar. This is the world I knew with my eyes, looking through an externally taught lens. And then my realisation of the lens itself, followed by the removal of that lens, replacing it with my own prescription.
Chpt 2: Back to You; Back to Universe (Body of “paintings”)
I went inward with my newfound sight in an attempt to rediscover my existence in the world, with painting as my governing tool of exploration. I believe within each artwork lies how I FEEL as accurately as I can, and need to, currently convey.
“Art was used as the personal method in exercising the shadow content of the psyche and introducing it to the conscious mind” – Kymatica
“The Beginners Mind” – The willingness to question (Zen tradition)
“It doesn’t mean we have to question everything every day or not believe in anything at all but rather be humble to acknowledge how little we know about the universe.” – www.dianesmusings.com
My friend, Jess Segal, in an email to me (July 2014):
“The Inca’s believed in dark matter and instead of the western star gazing principals (where westerners have formed patterns and pictures in the night sky from joining different stars in constellations (dot to dot and lines), the Inca’s found and created images in the negative space found between star constellations… Basically the jist of it is that their way of star gazing ‘they say’ was the gateway to the ‘answers’ and ‘secrets’ in the sky that were being sent from the Gods, energies and past ancestors… They believed the milky way was the gate way to the super natural world where they used the constellations in conjunction with the cycles of the sun, moon and seasons to depict their mythology, ways of life and enhance their understanding of the world and to discover the ‘secrets’.”
Chpt 3: Meeting My Maker (Body of abstract works)
What I found was the beauty and sheer power of manifesting ones own destiny by tapping into what I have come to know as The Universe, the Higher Self, “my Genius”, the Secret, a godlike voice which, when channeled in the right ways, can take people to heights we as “normal” people never thought possible. It is the process through which you listen to this voice that determines your power. I can now look at all the masters in my life, the Bob Marleys, the Jean-Michel Basquiats, the Nelson Mandelas and I can see them as normal people, and realise I can touch them and talk to them as they have done so to me. These works are versions of these voices; remnants of their whisperings in my ear and my being present in the moment to catch them and listen. Their movements are here in my every conscious and sub-conscious decision. I look at these now and I know they are beautiful and timeless because, as pieces of dry paint peeled from my palette, they are a representation of everything I have been through. Three Years ago, I underwent an operation which gave my life a new perspective. And now here I am. If I had to leave you with anything it would be this: We often wait for near death experiences to jolt our approach to life. If you need it to be, let this very moment be your near death experience. You have a choice everyday as to how you live. And, provided your cause is for the greater good of the universe, I believe you can do anything your heart desires. You have my word.
How does this current body of work compare to what you were painting in the past? How and why is it different?
In the past, it was more about creating. Not holding anything back and getting so lost in that process that I started to inspire myself as I experimented with my style. Once I found my style of sorts, I started to have fun. People related to my work, which was awesome. I started very light, with pleasing images, focusing more on beauty through paint, and expression with colour and brushwork. This could be seen in my early work through my landscapes or portraits. When it came to thinking about a solo show, I took the message I could put into the world very seriously. It became more conceptual, more meaningful as I started to explore things through my art. Things I wanted to know more about. The spiritual world. The philosophy of life. The universe. I left the advertising world, which in some ways was represented in the Familiar Fools chapter, and went inwards with painting as my tool of exploration. And through that process, I fell in love with the pieces of paint I was peeling from my palette when it was dry (which I used to throw away). I felt it was only when I was being conscious and aware that I was able to see the beauty in these objects. I collected these pieces for around 4 months while painting Back to You; Back to Universe. One day I laid them out on the floor of my room and consciously let my subconscious take over and went into Meeting My Maker. I think it’s important to know I will still be working back and forth between the past and the future, constantly searching in the present.
You are a mural artist as well. How has this influenced your style or work?
Yes, thanks to my two good friends (Skubalisto and Mr MIgo), I was pulled into the mural world, painting my first piece at Trenchtown in Observatory almost a year ago. They pushed me to my limits and beyond. Since then I can never look back. It has influenced me tenfold. Being able to place work in the public realm constantly made me aware of what I wanted to say through each artwork. I realised the potential to influence people through my art. How crazy?! Or to make them question something. Or start a conversation. Or make them smile. Or make them realise something within themselves. That’s power. Also, within the works for the show, spray paint leant itself quite interestingly, as seen in the universe/galaxy pieces. I made myself unfamiliar with the style of painting I had come to know again and again. With murals, there are different pressures involved under which the artist works. I learnt so much through the practice: how to make decisions quicker, and be calm under the gaze of others when I worked. Believe in myself and work confidently. That was the key. It’s also been an interesting gateway into places I wouldn’t usually find myself, like Kayelitsha and Mannenberg. The amazing unfamiliar familiar.
What is the connection between your art and your work experience as an art director in the advertising industry?
Working as an art director was an interesting process for me. I lead myself to believe that if you have a creative brain, the advertising industry is where you need to be. Unfortunately for me in the end, it was somewhat of a frustrating place, but at the same time a very important one to walk through. I realised the power in creating messages and how to talk to people. It also taught me to think conceptually. I love ideas. I love brainstorming. But when I was pouring all that creative energy into something I didn’t quite believe in, like a print ad for a brand I wouldn’t buy myself for example, I started to question whether there was maybe an alternative path. Painting became that escape. The Familiar Fool section is very much inspired by my leaving the advertising industry and rather surrounding myself with messages I believed in.
Who do you want to communicate to?
Anyone who’s keen to listen! Old, young, of all shapes, sizes and colours.
How important is your work space to you?
Incredibly important. I would stay it is everything. Throughout the last 3 years I have been lucky enough to have lived in some of the most amazing rooms and studios, from Everybody Love Everybody a few years ago, to a friend’s backpackers in Muizenberg, a cabin on a yacht, and now in the most inspiring house in Hout Bay surrounded by beautiful minds. I realised the mutual benefits available when you are able to SHARE ideas. And to make sure you create a space for that to happen. This entire body of work has been completed in my room/studio where I sleep and work. I don’t think it’s a healthy way of working but one I had to go through. And I am hoping now to separate these two worlds. In some ways that’s another contributing factor to why I feel the need to live in the gallery. I’ve been living within my work the entire time and it’s just made sense ever since. I’m sitting on the floor right now after a day of grateful conversations, all worthy of this entire experience already.
And the exhibition environment, how was this planned?
It was actually quiet a crazy experience in itself. I realised the show around the end of July, going into August. And the search for a space began. I looked into renting an entire warehouse for the month in Epping and hosting the show in that fashion. That was before I came to visit The Muti Gallery through some friends’ recommendations. As soon as I walked in I knew I had found the right space and the best people for what I needed. It’s been a beautiful collaboration in itself. The process was well thought out, beyond my expectation, and has run better than I could of imagined. The crazy thing is that I’ve just been through day one. I have just short of two more weeks with the work up and myself here, and have some pretty interesting plans ahead, including tattoos, a book making night and some sounds. So keep a look out :).
What’s your next chapter?
Travel South Africa. Get lost get found. Learn. Experience. Talk. Listen. Act. And share!
THANK YOU FOR ASKING!
THANK YOU FOR READING!
Chapter 1: Familiar Fools
Chapter 2: Back to You; Back to Universe
Chapter 3: Meeting My Maker