Christopher Buening is a Seattle artist who has done everything from murals to designs made with white out. In April he created weekly ceramic installations in various public spaces. He’s a member of SOIL Gallery and you can check out his work at chrisbuening.com. He will be showing at SOIL in June with some new ceramic and sculptural pieces.
Craig: OK, first off: please tell everyone how to officially pronounce your last name. It’s not pronounced Björk, right?
Chris: Bee- Ū -ning. It’s German in origin, but was changed a couple of times when my family ancestors immigrated.
(So, no: not bone-ing!)
Craig: Your work is autobiographical, with titles like “The First Thing I Ever Stole”, “HighSchoolHigh” and “Madonna Fag” and deals with subjects like being forced to try hunting as a kid and making urns for lost friends. Is there any part of your life you haven’t used for inspiration yet?
Chris: Yes! There are tons (I can’t tell you, you have to wait and see). And mining the past is never-ending because (until I die) more stuff keeps happening! I jump around in time… doing work from various instances in life. And it isn’t all autobiographical. Sometimes I do political, social or ‘all-over-the-map’ work. It is rarely meaningless or purely visual though. There is usually some story or meaning behind it. Some of it may start out as a purely visual or media experimentation but as I get deeper into the piece a theme almost always develops.
Craig: I see a lot of teeth and skulls in your work, including a cast of your teeth from high school. What’s going on there and also: how did you get that skull so pink (“Pink Skull, Gay to the Bone”)?
Chris: The teeth all came about because I was invited to be in a small group show called ‘TEETH’ at Soil (just about teeth!). The Seattle Times review is online somewhere. I had to make work about teeth and in working on that subject, it turned autobiographical. As for the skulls… the ones you are referencing are from my show “High School High”. I was a total hesher/burnout/biker-type dude in high school. All a ruse of course. I thought the butcher I acted and the rougher the crowd I hung out with, then people might not figure out I was a homo. It was not cool to be gay when and where I was in high school. You faced daily torture. So I was a roughneck. I did like dark heavy metal music (which helped me fit in) and I was good at drawing and thought at the time that I might be a tattoo artist. I practiced drawing dragons, spiders, swords, skulls, stuff like that, and tattooed my friends. The skulls were a nod to that.
Recently, I have done a couple of installations around the theme of “Sticks and Stones may Break My Bones…..” (but names will never hurt me). So, skulls and bones are appearing in that respect.
How I got the pink you see: I use various/multiple coats of spray paint and acrylic to get the color on my ceramics. I am new to ceramics so I am just starting to experiment with glazing.
Craig: Tell me about the ceramic public installation project you did during April. I saw a photo of a family talking to you while you worked. Was that fun to interact with people? And you let them take pieces?
Chris: It was fun. I did most of them in parks on nice sunny mornings so the people who stopped to watch or talk were relaxed and curious. Kids liked it a lot. Also- there were some people there because of my Facebook announcements, so I did know some of them.
The installations were made of many smaller ceramic pieces that came together to form text or an image. After they were complete, they were left there. So, over a week or so they slowly disappeared as people took pieces from them (or re-arranged them). Free Art for the People! It was nice to do a project outside the gallery and have the work be available and accessible to anyone.
Craig: How much correction fluid do you go through? Who’s your dealer and how do you work with it?
Chris: I have slowed down a bit with that series (the Wite Out ‘portraits’). I still do them on occasion, but not as much. At the height of production I would go through maybe 20-30 pens per piece? I buy them in 4 packs online from Staples. They have gotten outrageously expensive lately. I guess hardly anyone uses Wite Out anymore.
Craig: Are these Trump heads going to be in your new show? Is this their final look? Did you have nightmares while working on them, or is that how you came up with them?
Chris: Yeah, the “Trump Heads” are in the show. The photo is of them in raw clay form. After they were fired they were just white so I have painted half of them ‘Cheap Gold’ and half ‘Cheeto Orange’. “Trump Heads” can be purchased for $10 at Soil Gallery in Seattle in the month of June. 50% of all funds raised will go to a local LGBTQ charity helping at-risk youth (Lambert House). People may keep their “Trump Head’s” if they wish, but I hope they find something fun to do with it! Love Trump? Put him on a high shelf in your home. Hate him? Leave it in the urinal at your favorite pub! Smash it! Throw it on a fire! Get creative. I ask that you upload pics to my Trump Heads Facebook page or use #TrumpHeads.
I made them all in the aftermath of the election when pounding his face into and out-of clay was a nice, constructive release compared to what I wanted to do.
Craig: When I walk into an art supply store, it’s the same as if it were a hardware store: I have no idea where to begin. How do you find your tools and mediums?
Chris: That’s pretty straightforward: Either the idea for the piece dictates the media (what is the best media to carry this idea out?), or a particular media I am curious about and want to try dictates the ‘look’ of the piece.
Craig: I like your piece Faggot, which involves rainbow colored sticks. It seems very calming despite the name, is that because I’m colorblind?
Chris: LOL! I forgot you are colorblind!! I often wonder what that is like. I suppose that’s what drew you to the more graphic style of art (with your comic strip [The Adventures of Em’ma Gawd! & Anna Rexia] and graphic, black and white pieces)?
“Faggot” was a piece that involved painted sticks and painted ceramic ‘sticks’ held up in a set of forked natural branches that lean against the wall (or wherever). It’s a play on the old meaning of faggot (a bundle of sticks) and the new meaning (via Hitler’s concentration camps where piles of dead homosexuals and Jews looked like piles of sticks). I left that piece in Volunteer Park, leaning against a tree in early April.
Note: There is some disagreement over where “faggot” as a derogatory term came from. The Hitler thing is what I have read/heard in the past, but some say it is from the Salem Witch Trials where it was said that the only way to burn a witch was to burn her with the flames of a homosexual (!?). There are a few different stories and myths.
The terms ‘Fascist’ and ‘Faggot’ both derive from the Latin for ‘bundle of sticks’
Not very calming?
Craig: Didn’t you DJ in Wisconsin? Any good stories there?
What music do you listen to while you work on your art?
Chris: Actually, I started DJing here in Seattle. I was the first DJ at the Cuff when they opened their new Dance Floor area. I amassed a pretty good record and CD collection between London and continuing to collect here in Seattle. At the time I spun mostly progressive house and trance (at least- for the Cuff’s dance floor). I eventually quit because they wanted me to play top 40 remixes and “More Cher!” and I just couldn’t…. I think the highlight was DJing to a packed house for NYE 1999/2000. I also DJ’ed Nike’s international fashion show in Vancouver in 2000. That was fun.
But I honestly don’t listen to as much music anymore. On occasion I will throw on something new I am into, or some down tempo stuff, but mostly I listen to the news or talk radio in the studio…. I know… BORING! Maybe I kind of burned myself out with all the years of thudding beats at a loud volume, late nights and constant partying.
I also listen to podcasts while I am working. Actually- podcasts are taking over my listening life. I like a bunch of them- some of my faves:
- Your Last Meal- Rachel Bell,
- Neil deGrasse Tyson- Star Talk,
- My Dad Wrote a Porno,
- Savage Lovecast.
Craig: I relate to your having taken psychedelics early on for artistic inspiration but not anymore. What substances do you use now? I had to switch from PBR to coffee!
Chris: It’s funny that you ask this since last weekend I e-mailed you saying I would get to this interview, but not that weekend because I had been on a ritual psychedelic experience and was in recovery mode. That took a while to recover from!
True- I used to do a lot of psychedelics. I did a LOT of drugs of all kinds and have been through various addiction issues. I now only use alcohol on occasion (I try to limit it to weekends) and marijuana sometimes at low doses. I love that it is legal. In addition I will very rarely, and for inner-exploration and ‘mental reset’ purposes take MDA. I have a group that I do this with once or twice a year. We make it a special thing. It isn’t taken lightly.
Craig: You’re a member of SOIL Gallery…that means you’re rich, right?!?
Chris: Oh for fuck’s sake. No. But I am married to a guy who does pretty well and is smart about money. Thank goodness. I am hopeless when it comes to the financial world. I am a good saver, but I don’t make much. Without my husband I probably wouldn’t be in Seattle. I’m not sure I could afford to live here.
I love SOIL though! It’s a lot of work, but I think it’s one of the best galleries in Seattle. We don’t operate for profit. We are a group of artists with a gallery space and we strive to promote new, important, out-of-town, under-represented artists and unique shows that maybe an artist couldn’t do in another gallery. If you don’t have to worry about sales you can really push the envelope.
Craig: So your favorite animal is…the earthworm?
Chris: Yes! Growing up in Wisconsin, my first job was picking night crawlers in our big yard at night in the Summer. The best was when you would catch them mating and grab them where they were joined and pull two out at once. There were thousands back then… some of them 8-10″ long. I sold them to the neighbor across the street who ran a bait shop out of his garage. Hey- it was a different time.
Craig: You’ve used airsick bags as canvases. Were you worried an art critic would write that into a review, like, “I needed an airsick bag after staring at his art”?
Chris: Yes. Unfortunately, back then I was still pretty much completely ignored as an artist. I certainly wasn’t on many critics’ radar.
Craig: Have you had any bad reviews and how’d you deal with that?
Chris: A bad review is no review. And yes, I have had tons of that. All artists have.
Craig: And finally: what do you miss most about working with me at the video store?
Chris: Everything! That job was awesome. I saw Pat at the Giorgio Moroder concert a couple of weeks ago! You know…. I miss the gossip and cruising hot guys and waiting to see what porn they were going to rent from the back room. “He’s straight, Craig! Dammit” or… “Total beefcake, but he seems to only rent skinny, young Asian-boy porn… I guess he won’t go for me” Remember the little black and white spy (security) cam trained on that porn room!? Lol. Also- wasn’t it just a little bit fun when there was a line of people and some guy or girl at the counter would say, “What Late Fee’s!?” and we’d have to start listing them: “Anal Vixens 4, Sluts On Parade, Deep Throat Sorority, Pete’s Dragon…..”
So- did you ever have sex in the porn room there? Be honest, Craig! 😉
Craig: Hey, when did the interviewees start asking questions?!? (Actually, I love it!) I do miss the sign for the porn room that had a mysterious dripping stain running down over the words “Adults Only”: very artistic!
Christopher Buening: New Work (Guerrilla Ceramica)
June 1 to July 1
See a selection of brand-new drawings, paintings, and ceramics by artist Christopher Buening, much of which will be from his project Guerrilla Ceramica (a street art take on ceramics). Buening had a thoughtful, vulnerable show called Hunter < Gatherer at 4Culture in 2015. Jen Graves described one of the featured pieces:
“In It Was a Man’s World, Buening used white-out to write those words in unmanly cursive on top of a found painting on a slice of wood. It was a man’s world his father took him into all those years ago, so the piece is a nostalgic expression of a place from the past…But I also read it as a wish for a time when that past tense will apply to the whole world. A time when the relationships between women, men, and other animals are governed more by love than by power and dominion.”
112 Third Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104
Craig Trolli’s comic strip The Adventures of Em’ma Gawd and Anna Rexia won no awards but really: what other drag queen can say they wrote and drew their own comic strip?