“The work is done when I have painted myself out of it.”
When Christopher Rigney and I first discussed the various aspects of his work, I was not sure where to begin. I found that in fact, this unknowing was actually a place one rather likes to be when it comes to art.
I remember the strange wordlessness I once had while staring at Édouard Manet’s The Dead Christ with Angels, the inky night, collapsed body, and the awkwardness of the figure, who seemed inexplicably posed on an invisible chair. Three years later, I would see this stiffness to be an indication of death, rigor mortis, lovingly and terribly depicted. Nevertheless, I will always remember the discrete way the artist cropped his image, the coldness of color, explication of sorrow and the radiance of the depicting of the sacral.
I mention Manet’s work not because Rigney’s paintings are in any way the same, but rather to acknowledge a similar effect on the spectator. For his part, Rigney’s stirring pictures possess a layered effect, using color to show the brush of the artist, and an invisible light evoking ghosts and obscured memories.
An education in German and British schools meant exposure to the visual arts; Rigney remembers evocative illustrations in the textbooks, as well as drawing lessons. Nevertheless, the artist’s practice emerged from a sort of disengagement from the art world proper, building his vision through a process of filtering images, studying, and developing his own pictorial vocabulary, which in turn reflects the process of building an oil painting, studying, developing, exploring, each decision forming part of a layered tableaux.
Rigney does not insist on projecting the sense that his vision is one of absolute autonomy and purity, as is often insisted upon by artists and their critics. Rather he acknowledges the intricacy of models, in the way canons and iconic work is studied, adsorbed, and reinterpreted in the development of technique. Moreover, it seems that the way in which craft, history and the process of making is a tangled moment, worthy of study, and contemplation.
The iconography of Rigney’s paintings is complex, with fragmented narratives, and the use of clean composition and space, chopped up with the use of framing and refocusing, interspersed by the presence of ether, fog and clouds of impasto.
When asked about how he arrives at these works, Rigney explains that generally he often makes numerous quick sketches of imagined things as well as drawing from life. The paintings begin with a ruminating on these disparate pieces, as he seeks to identify an underlying vision, a process which has its own metamorphosis which he notes, admittedly is time-consuming. During the working process, ideas coalesce and as he observes:
He explained that the moment of decision during the working process is crucial to the success of a painting:
“It’s about making decisions, deciding what is important. The choices made, or at times not made, are life of the work. They are what allows it to breathe.”
RB: You use academic drawing & painting techniques, but also there is a very contemporary sensibility. I look at your work and see traces of the underpinnings of Daumier and Goya. I understand you work in a classical way, studying the old masters as a path to achieving your own sensibilities. Are there any personal events in your life that have changed your artistic outlook?
CR: No radical change – none that come to mind. Everything has just built on the last bit of what makes up my personal outlook. I just continue to experience and learn – little by little. The little bits that probably add up the most for are my conversations with Sergio Ladron de Guevara – his Pandora series is wonderful, he is the greatest influence.
RB: I was immediately attracted to the qualities of cool classicism in your work, and this quality reminds me of the artist Balthus, whom I know you admire. Ialso see there are a number of images that evoke loss, death and the unwinding of memory.
CR: It’s interesting that everyone sees the dark part of the paintings. I don’t set out to make dark little images. And yes, my life has had sad episodes – a very close friend committing suicide, friends passing away, grandparents passing on and the such – but nothing more than the average person has. It may just be that these are the emotions that actually get noticed and felt, the ones that register. The moments that jolt you awake.
“I try to get down to the very essence when painting, I strip away all of the façade, expose a rawness. :
And yet, within this rawness, there exists a distillation of ideas, of refined technique, and crystalline beauty.