I am back home in my studio after a journey to New York City to attend the opening reception for my exhibition that runs through to June 11. On the evening of the 26th, I had the chance to meet with and talk to collectors — and send some paintings on their way to new homes where I know they’ll be appreciated for ages to come. Sitting in a studio working on paintings can be a solitary experience, so it is redemptive to meet people who share an interest in what you do and are enthusiastic enough to talk to you about art for a good half hour.
When asked to come to New York, I jumped at the opportunity. I would treat it like a pilgrimage to the art galleries; my mission would be to meander at my own pace. I visited The Museum of Modern Art, The Frick Collection, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I went back to the MoMA and The Met twice; I wanted to get my money’s worth. I clocked nearly 20km a day on foot as I took guided tours and spent much time soaking up the atmosphere. These galleries also offer self-guided audio tours, so I listened to many curators and art historians talking about numerous artworks. I came home feeling fulfilled and satisfied. It was a good trip.
The remainder of my summer will be in my studio, working on a commission and four new large paintings for upcoming art fairs in Seattle and The Hamptons.
I am happy to share the news that I will be exhibiting some new paintings in New York City — the paintings go up from May 24 to June 11, 2022. The George Billis Gallery has a space at The High Line Nine Gallery at 507 West 27th Street for the summer.
If you are familiar with my work and have been following the progress for some time, you’ll see a new direction in some of the paintings. It would be about 14 or 15 years ago that I painted in “black” — and I have to say that I find it refreshing to take my favourite subjects and breath new life into them.
My exhibition in Los Angeles is done and I have run through the full cycle of emotions after completing a large body of work and exhibiting and promoting it. I have found over the years, that the best way to battle the expectations and anti-climactic feelings is to just jump right back into making new paintings. So that’s what I am doing. I just put the finishing touch on a dozen clocks, shown here, and now I’m on to the next piece.
American Art Collector magazine has featured my work in the past, and it is always an honour to be invited to do so again. Below you can read a recent interview about my latest body of work for my 6th solo exhibition at the George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles.
British Columbia artist Christopher Stott introduces a new collection of work displayed at George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles, California, through March 26. He continues to paint in his distinctive, realistic style, featuring still life, vintage objects like typewriters, box cameras, clocks and books. In keeping with the tradition of the early Dutch Masters, who have had a huge influence on his work, his pieces are full of significance and hidden meaning.
“At first glance, Stott’s paintings are elegantly refined compositions of objects on a monochromatic background,” says Tressa Williams, director at George Billis Gallery, “but digging a little deeper, the viewer falls down a rabbit hole of symbolism…Stott is part of a new generation of representational painters pushing the genre forward in fantastic ways.
It’s true that Stott has been painting the same genre, always still life objects. “In fact,” he says, “the telephone is the first object I ever painted 20 years ago.” He notes that a vintage, black rotary phone was the first object given to him in art class to paint. “What makes it still fresh?” he continues, “the idea is still relevant to today. With a receiver, you’re both talking and listening. You must stop and listen before talking; it’s a one-on-one conversation. Now, we live in a world where everyone screams over everyone else, but no one is listening.”
In Telephone Receiver I, a highly realistic black telephone on a gray background with a pencil nearby, one can clearly see the simplicity behind his vision. “The idea behind this is very subtle,” says Stott. “I’m not telling people to shut up and listen but rather, offering a meditation on real and meaningful conversations.”
The formal aspects of painting are also important to Stott, which goes hand in hand with history. “I really think that good art is connected to art history,” he says. “It has to have a bridge or passage directly to the history of painting. My subjects are old enough to be in our living memory, but the style, technique and composition are hundreds of years old.”
This is illustrated in The Interpretation of Dreams 112021, featuring a collection of vintage books with a clock on a white shelf. The way Stott uses these props is reminiscent of master still life painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. “He was the first to have stepped out of academic painting and painted strangely intimate, quiet paintings,” says Stott. “[The new collection] is a direct homage to paintings done in 1766. The same ideas of what they were doing several hundred years ago are still relevant to us now.”
Stott utilizes the same techniques that Dutch masters were using 400 years ago. He works in many layers to create a luminous effect under different lighting. It’s also very much about balance and symmetry for Stott, which is represented in his clock pieces. For instance, 10:10, No. 10. is painted on a 10-by-10-inch canvas with the clock hands set to 10:10.
A component also near to the artist’s heart is the history of vintage objects and even the process of searching them out. “For this particular show, I want the experience to be how I experience walking into an antique shop or museum,” Stott says. “You come upon them and look at them a little closer.” The show will have smaller paintings with several hanging closer together in groupings, so as to mimic this feeling. He adds, “I [want people to see] how I like to isolate these items and give them a new life.”
My great-grandmother, whom I was close with growing up, was born on a farm in Poland in 1904. When she was ten years old, she and her family became shrouded in the brutality of World War I. The farm they lived and worked on became the stage of the Eastern Front. As a child, she was an eyewitness to the horrors of The Great War. We heard snippets of what they had to do to survive, but it was difficult for her to talk about the war. It was as awful as you could imagine.
She left Poland with her own young family in 1934, just after the Nazis came to power and just before World War II. The rest of her life was lived in peace in Canada.
She died in 2000, at age 96. I always thought about the scope of her life, about the profound changes the world went through over the near-century she was here. And now I am left wondering how she would think of the current situation.
I collect these vintage and antique books that I use in my paintings. This particular piece has a Victorian-era philosophy text long side classic Penguin paperbacks.
The ideas and stories in these books are not old, useless and out of date. Instead, it would seem that everything old is new again and in the wrong way — as evidenced in yet another terrifying war in Eastern Europe.
I find myself wondering if I should start painting traditional still life subjects, like fruit, because these clocks are complicated.
Here are two recent paintings shown framed and ready for the gallery wall. I have been represented by the George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles for just over a decade now and have had enough exhibitions with them for the number of paintings and times I’ve been there to become a blur.
I can remember the dream of having a gallery show my work in Los Angeles. I worked hard enough, and it came true.
Recently, an art consultant asked his numerous artist followers on social media why they think some artists succeed and others do not. Hundreds of answers poured in, and as I scrolled through them, one thing became so apparent; artists suffer from severe status anxiety.
There is an intense amount of competition in the art world. But to succeed, according to many, means that you have been blessed in all ways except the actual art-making. Apparently, one must possess many or all of specific characteristics such as; a naturally charismatic personality, very wealthy parents, easy access to top universities where your sex appeal and persuasion garnered you top grades and attention, to have been born in Manhattan and live there rent-free, etc., etc. You get the picture.
The consultant kept responding by asking these jaded artists the same question over and over; “what about the art? doesn’t the art they make have anything to do with their success?”
I think it is only natural to have these competition struggles, but I was surprised at how superficial and odd it seemed once you can see so many brief and desperate answers all in one place, like looking at the data from a survey. It was a reality check — no need to wallow in self-pity and jealousy. That is your biggest setback.
The art one makes is the most important thing. It is its own reward.
Over the centuries, still-life and object painting have always done more than depict something as it is. The subjects in the images can tell a story, represent an idea and be used as symbols.
As I hunt around for objects to add to my collection, I always make sure that they somehow fit into the narrative I am pursuing in my overall work. For example, in the painting “Still & Moving,” I have a still camera and an 8mm film camera — one takes still images, the other moving. Anyone who has been using social media for the last decade knows that the advances in cameras have shifted us from still images to videos. Instagram, an app that initially was about sharing photos of what you were doing at the moment, used heavy filters to “age” the images and make them appear aged and somehow “authentic.” But now, here we are, with Instagram becoming all about the moving pictures. We have entered the phase of brief and trivial videos that one can sit and view for eternity.
As someone who has used social media in all its forms over the last 20 years, I have often wondered if I will eventually be left out as I feel no need to move on to the next iteration. You are reading this on my blog that I have published since 2007 — an ancient medium as far as many would be concerned.
I draw inspiration from my work from centuries ago (see the last post), so I have a bit of a “long view” of what I am doing with my work. Focusing on the minutiae of now isn’t my game.
These two paintings will be part of my upcoming exhibition at the George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles.