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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Chris Willcox


Ten years ago, when I moved into my current studio, I found the former occupant had left stacks of Life magazines from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The dates of the magazines encompassed almost exactly my birth year to age ten. The historical moment they represented provided an invitation to look back and recognize how that time was characterized by great sentimentalism. That realization started me on a path of image-making that looked to the utopian ideal that I now recognize as being intrinsic to the culture surrounding my childhood and for anyone raised in the 60s and 70s. If I notice in myself the desire to look to a simpler time (although in many ways the simpler time of the 60s and 70s was anything but that in terms of social justice movements), I see that impulse as a response to the present, which by contrast, seems too fragmented, too complex and too de-centred. The series of paintings that came from this image bank, entitled, Witness, employ the figure as a ensemble player in much larger dramas that look at nature bumping up against the human world of history, technology and innovation, representing all the potential damage that can result from human striving.   

The current series of works on paper are intergenerational in scope; they are representations of what I think of as both my own childhood summers spent in the remote woods of Northern Ontario, and the experience of my two sons’ more urban and contemporary childhood.  The figures depicted in these works are expressionless and neutral—beings who find themselves in circumstances where they have to survive and meet the challenges of being isolated and alone. On the other hand, these paintings are a way to reflect back on a time I imagine as simpler and less complicated.  Yet even as I move to make work that is uncomplicated or of an uncomplicated time, I know that is an illusion.  The act of removing and covering over the previous layers of painted acrylic and ink, may obscure them only, in turn, to reveal another set of circumstances and questions. It’s not that I reject complexity nor that I long for a kind of atavistic simplicity that borders on nostalgia, I just want to shift the complexity from the impersonal, day-to-day, computer-driven world to the more philosophical, personal and spiritual world of introspection. I often think I want silence and peace, in both the global and personal sense, but more accurately, what I desire is a less fixed, rigid and hard-edged approach to painting (and life, for that matter).    

I flirt with the romantic idea of the Canadian landscape as a sublime and endless open space. Although the current paintings are most obviously figurative, they loosely reference the sense of unending wilderness that I am so accustomed to. Through washed out, painted marks, I’ll suggest a grove of birches or animal, but ultimately, those details degrade in favour of the lost and isolated quality of the figures who inhabit a world that is unknowable and frightening.  Apart from having a Romantic (capital “R”) notion of landscape, I have to admit to having a fear of those grand, open spaces as well.  I think the bogeyman of my childhood wasn’t a person, but rather, was the vast wilderness that was on the edge of every city space and functioned as a utopian backdrop and metaphor for Canadian independent identity and heartiness. 

The landscapes of this new series are becoming abstract spaces that act as voids for the figures to drop into. I am practicing editing these images down to their essence (or, lately, even absence).  It has been difficult for me to let go of what I see as grounding details for the figures.  In place of what I once saw as concrete, knowable spaces, I imagine instead these spaces as almost generic and post-apocalyptic– the aftermath of human destruction. Perhaps the children shown in the work court our desire for the wild child, the unrestrained, unmodified self.  As I work, survival narratives play out in my head.  I paint situations where the children will have to fend for themselves and under difficult circumstances and still be okay, as a way to both call forth and allay personal and cultural anxieties at the same time–a kind of visual homeopathy. "
Chris Willcox


1998  MFA, Summa Cum Laude, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University,New Brunswick, Multidisciplinary Master of Fine Arts degree with a focus on painting, art theory and criticism. 

1992  BA, Honors Fine Art, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON
Bachelor of Art degree with emphases on painting, printmaking, art history and theory. 
Dean’s Honor List 1990-1992. 

1989  AOCAD, Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto, ON
Professional Art degree with emphases on painting, printmaking, and drawing. 


2010  Banff Arts Center, Banff, Alberta 
2010  Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village, Colorado 
2005  Minnesota State Arts Board, Artist Initiative Grant
2002,2004,2010 Wallace Travel Grant, Wallace Foundation, 
2001  Vermont Studio Center Residency, Johnson, Vermont 
1998  Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, finalist
1996  Fulbright Scholar, USA
1992  Robert Watt Memorial Scholarship 1996 
1995  Ontario Arts Council Grant
1994  Ontario Arts Council Exhibition Assistance Grant
1991  Warner-Lambert Prize for Printmaking

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