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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Interview with Chris Crites

q) So, can you tell me a little about yourself? Full name, age, some background info, etc?

a)Chris Crites (born Christopher Sutton Crites) 34 years old. Have a degree in graphic design, and was attempting to get a degree in illustration, but went with studio art instead. Born and raised in California, lived in Colorado, North Carolina and Arizona. Washington state is my home now, and will hopefully remain so (unless I bail on living in the U.S.)

q)How did you get started making art?

a)My paternal Grandmother is an excellent artist. She paints and draws wildflowers and plants in the mountains of North Carolina. She has always been my main inspiration. When I was younger and would visit she would set up still life scenes and encourage me to try them in different mediums.

q)How would you describe your art?

a)The great majority of my art is acrylic paint on brown paper bags, portraits based on criminal mug shot photographs from the 1890’s to 1950’s. I use a limited palette of 5 or less colors.

q)Where do you get the inspiration for your art?

a)Mainly from police and accident photos. The color combinations are experiments loosely based on contrasting colors.

q)What are you working on now?

a)Having just completed 15 paintings of mug shots from San Francisco, California 1940 – 1942, I am planning on doing a series based on the mushroom clouds of the American nuclear testing in the Pacific and Nevada desert. Seems fitting with the times.

q)Are there some web sites that you would like to recommend? Artists, art communities, xxx,...!?

a)There are three international news related sites I check daily: and
For art I like checking out the user galleries on and
Of course I need to list because they list art shows in Vancouver, Canada, Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. I am their visual listings editor, but it is a great resource for us in the Pacific Northwest to see what all is happening on a monthly basis.

q)What's your favorite medium to work in, and why?

a)I am really into the brightly colored, liquid acrylics on brown paper bag right now. It just has a unique look that I appreciate and it is always a surprise to see how the pieces end up, because I never know what to expect until I get that last color in there.

q)What advice would you give to younger up and coming artist?

a)Be as professional and prepared as possible along with being honest and yourself. Get out there and meet the people you can that do work you admire, respect or appreciate. Know what is going on in the art scenes you want to be in. See what galleries are showing and pay attention to where the artists you like are showing. Keep those galleries on your mailing list for show cards of your own. That way, when you are ready to approach them with a body of work, portfolio or show idea, your name will be familiar to them.

q)What is your personal definition of life and art and everything else in between?

a)Life and art, what else is there? Just kidding. I suppose it would be that you really ought to be enjoying whatever it is that you are doing, or why would you do it? Life is a lot shorter than we think and at the end I don’t want to be saying, “well, damn, if I had only…” Communication and sharing are essential components in art and life.

q)Take us inside your process a little bit. How do you begin a piece? What inspires the concept?

a)It begins for me with an image that really catches my attention. Hence the mug shot image, or a horrific car accident. The expression on the person’s face, the swollen and blackened eyes, a smirk, some look that really makes me wonder who that person was. From looking at the black and white source material, I choose what will be my darkest color, and work from that to what will be my lightest. I paint them in that order as well, from dark to light. Each color on it’s own, not overlapping, just the color, on the surface of the paper bag. Often the result has been mistaken for a type of screen printing, but they are all hand painted.

q)What are your artistic influences?

a)Wow, there would probably be quite a few, and I know I will neglect including them all… Chuck Close, Kathie Kollwitz, Egon Schiele, Caravaggio (I was fortunate enough to see “Judith Beheading Holofernes” in person in Amsterdam this year, and it was really incredible to experience), Hieronymus Bosch, one of my favorite painters was Jan Van Eyck, I always enjoy looking at Pacific Island art – but really, I don’t think any of those artists have a direct influence on the work I am doing.

q)How are the reactions on your work in general?

a)I have been pleasantly surprised that the reactions have been quite good. For example, I was not sure how people would react to a series earlier this year based on the Civil Rights issues around the 1956 Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott arrests but the show was great and well received. It is kind of weird how some people maybe relate to the mug shot images, my audience is quite diverse in age, gender and demographics.

q)What are you doing when you are not creating art?

a)Freaking out. I do some contract based web design and graphic design for a previous employer. For the past couple of years I have been curator at two different venues, setting up, installing and promoting art shows for up and coming artists in Seattle. Starting in 2007 I will be doing that for a well established venue and begin branching out to Oregon, California and Canadian based artists as well as those in Seattle.

q)What are some of the greatest challenges that you think artists face today?

a)There are always challenges for anything worth doing. Time and money are certainly big obvious ones. Censorship has caused some problems, that being censorship by outside forces as well as self-censorship. One great challenge, or maybe not a challenge, but I see a lot of artists out there, and there is a lot of art that looks like something else already being. Could be due to trends, but it is a challenge with so many artists to keep your work fresh and unique.

q)What is freedom to you as an artist?

a)Freedom to create whatever it is you need to create without having to worry about pleasing anyone else. Not having the fear or pressure that something has to sell. Freedom to take the time it will take to do it the way you want. Making your self happy.

q)Are there any particular works you've done that stand out as your favorites?

a)The last series of 15, my current “San Francisco: 1940 – 1942” show for whatever reason, really worked out. Almost always, when I have a show, I have pieces I like, and pieces that I don’t, or that I don’t think work because of the colors I chose, or something. This last batch came together without me feeling like that. Also, the one “scene” piece I did for the Civil Rights show “Don’t Let that Man Take Your Flag” was such a crazy image, of this police officer grabbing the flag out of a little boys hand. That one came out pretty powerful, but it was because of the subject matter.

q)Last Books you read?

a)Just finished “Cruddy” by Lynda Barry. That is a pretty fucked up story, but quite good.
“Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why” by Laurence Gonzales
“Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way” by Charles Bukowski (published posthumously, but still has some great stuff in it)

q)Last records you bought?

a)“Hot Women: Exotic & Spicy, Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World taken from old 78rpm records” Compiled by R. Crumb
Gorch Fock “Thriller” – saw them open for the Scratch Acid reunion show and damn, it was like the Butthole Surfers screwing the Cows.
Akimbo “Forging Steel and Laying Stone” local band recently signed to Alternative Tentacles

q)Who are your favourite artists & Your favourite galleries?

a)Pretty much covered the historical favorite artists, but my local friends and favorites include Sara Lanzillotta – she makes incredible dolls, creatures and monsters. Robert Hardgrave (aka Farmer Bob) is an excellent painter. Kamala Dolphin Kinglsey just moved to Portland, Oregon, but her work is great. Francesca Berrini makes these amazing collages and makes maps out of old maps.
Not so local, but Kozyndan are quite good (especially their panoramic street scenes.) I get plenty of laughs out of Scottish artist David Shrigley and I do like a lot of what Banksy does. Elizabeth McGrath in Los Angeles. So many, I could go on…
Favorite galleries? Roq La Rue in Seattle has pretty consistently great shows. Shooting Gallery in San Francisco. BLK/MRKT Gallery in Southern California.

q)Which do you think make good art good? originality, or style? And, why?

a)Originality and style are both very important. Both of those qualities are immediately apparent in a work of art. If it lacks one or the other, it probably won’t stand out. Also, if what you are looking at really makes you think of another artist, or that it looks like a knock off, it won’t leave a lasting impression.

q)Do you get emotionally attached to your work and do you miss your work when it is sold?

a)Occasionally yes. There are a few pieces that I just won’t sell. There are also some I sometimes wish I still had, but I try and document all of my work, so I can still look at it later. It was a lot more difficult in the beginning, when I was first starting out, but it also feels really good to produce something that someone else really wants.

q)Your contacts….E-mail…links

a)Pretty much all the work I am doing and have done in the past couple of years is at
My email is and I always love feedback, and welcome commissions!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview. Great artist. Great person. Support this man's work.


5:57 PM  

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