"Encounters: Honoring The Animal In Ourselves"

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I’m delighted to have three works from my Familiar series included in Encounters: Honoring the Animal in Ourselves at the Palo Alto Art Center. With a wonderful roster of artists (several of whom I’ve long admired but haven’t before shown with), the exhibition promises to be something special.

Encounters will be on view September 14-December 29, 2019, and the opening reception is on Friday, September 20, 2019, 7-10 p.m. I will be attending the opening as well as participating in a series of “Art, Ecology, and Animal Talks” taking place the following afternoon, Saturday, September 21, 2019, 2-4 p.m. I’ve included the exhibition press release below.


In the summer sun of the hillside, with my eyes
Far more than human. I saw for a blazing moment
The great grassy world from both sides

—James Dickey, “The Sheep Child”

“Defining the animals as a way of defining the human is as old and common as beer.”
—Onno Oerlemans, “Poetry and Animals: Blurring the Boundary with the Human”

Humankind was born living alongside other animals, studying their behavior, sharing resources, fighting for land, sleeping under the same sky. As civilization progresses and cultural paradigms shift, it is inevitable that our relationship to our nonhuman brethren would also change. Today, other animals possess an endless number of positions in society. They are political pawns, commodities to be bought and sold, and pests to be eradicated. As often and as much they are beloved companions, symbols of beauty and innocence, and essential to environmental stability.  They are worshipped and slaughtered in what is, unfortunately, unequal measure. If human activity continues at its current rate, we will lose half of all species by the end of this century.

Our artist ancestors, who painted in blood and carved into stone the likenesses of the animals with whom they shared space, had no choice but to locate themselves within the context of the greater ecosystem Today, encountering an undomesticated creature as we go about our daily lives is, at least in most urban areas, an event of note. Watching a coyote cross a busy street, glimpsing a bobcat on a hike, following a hawk as it circles above, or even finding a salamander in a backyard, can be a singular occurrence in the course of a human life.

All the artists in this exhibition have had, or imagine they have had, revelatory encounters with other animals. Even more, they find meaning for their own lives by interpreting these occurrences. Drawing freely from the characteristics, behaviors, and archetypes of the nonhuman animal world they examine the events and emotional content of their lives, exploring themes of kinship, identity, hybridity, death, and love.

In her animated short Ascend, Shiva Ahmadi uses animal imagery to rage against and memorialize the real life death of a 3 year old Syrian refugee. Photographer and fisherman Corey Arnold documents the interactions between animals (human and nonhuman) he witnesses and experiences as a fisherman on the Bering Sea. Patricia Piccinini sculpts arresting, hyper-realistic creatures that are both human and other, speaking to the mutability of form.  Printmaker Belkis Ayón Manso draws on the power of the animal archetypes in African-Cuban myth to tell her own story.

As John Berger puts it, “animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.” And if the artists in this exhibition are any indication, this they remain.

Shiva Ahmadi
Corey Arnold
Roberto Benavidez
Craig Calderwood
Leonora Carrington
El Gato Chimney
Kate Clark
Anna Fidler
Belkis Ayón Manso
Kara Maria
Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor
Patricia Piccinini
Robb Putnam
Christopher Reiger
Fanny Retsek
Samuelle Richardson

The Parsha Project

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As part of a communications and design job I held from 2016-2018, I created illustrations inspired by the weekly Torah portion, or parsha. Each Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), the artwork appeared on the cover of Congregation Beth Sholom’s service pamphlet, along with an expository note about the image and its inspiration. In all, I created over 112 illustrations, beginning with Parashat Beshalach (13 Shevat 5776 / January 23, 2016) and concluding with Parashat Vayikra (1 Nisan 5778 / March 17, 2018).

My artwork and writing generally wrestle with contemporary constructions of nature and the human relationship to non-human animal species. That’s my wheelhouse. My projects rarely draw on my Jewish identity, practice, or knowledge base in obvious ways. It was a privilege, therefore, to spend two years closely reading and visually interpreting Torah, a text that’s familiar to so many, but earnestly read by too few. Because I created each parsha illustration with its destination - a pamphlet cover – in mind, I felt the illustrations should *not* be displayed on their own; they are meant to appear framed by text. This preference gave rise to the poster format, which best reflects the project’s constituent parts: interpretation, illustration, and design.

Here, four of the posters that were selected by the Jewish Community Library (San Francisco) to be included in “The Parsha Project,” on view now through November 14. Maybe I’ll see you at the opening reception on Thursday, September 26, 6:30pm.

Details about the exhibition can be found here.

The Thinking Behind the Charitable Sales Model

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Art is no less vital today than it was millennia ago, when our ancestors painted on the walls of the caves that sheltered them. The best contemporary art still inspires empathy, induces catharsis, elevates our spirit, and feeds our hearts and minds.

But the relationship between art-making and human experience is complicated by economics. For over 2,000 years, art has been assigned a monetary or barter value. Given this long-established correlation, it is naive to decry the commodification of art; the artist, after all, must earn a living. But too often art is principally understood as an investment and the art world as an arm of the greater luxury market. As a result, artworks are reduced to status symbols, brands traded to display the owner’s wealth and social rank.

Like many other artists and writers, I am troubled by this warped appraisal of art’s elemental value. I am compelled to create, but the time I spend painting, drawing, writing, or otherwise creating precludes significant action in other spheres. How can my paintings, drawings, and prints, “fine art objects” traded in a luxury market, exist in accord with my ideology? More specifically, how can I earn a living and connect my creative work to worthy efforts?

In the fall of 2008, I decided to begin contributing a percentage of every art sale to nonprofit organizations that are working to redress environmental and social ails. By generating money for important causes through the sale of my artwork, I can act in proxy; the long hours in the studio can be connected to the spirit of the art and to the greater community. This charitable sales model is a concrete metaphor for the emotional and intellectual sustenance provided by the artwork itself.

How It Works

Whenever artwork is purchased, whether directly from the artist or through a gallery or other third party, a charitable contribution equal to 10% of the funds received by Christopher is made to a nonprofit organization working to tackle environmental or social challenges.