Christopher Moss (b. 1977, Wilkes-Barre, PA) received a BFA in 2000 from Marywood University, Scranton, PA and an MFA in 2006 from CUNY Brooklyn College.
His work has been included in exhibitions at Theodore (New York, NY), Shaheen Contemporary (Cleveland, OH), Grizzly Grizzly (Philadelphia, PA) Field Projects (New York), LABspace (Hillsdale, NY), SEASON (Seattle, WA) and Sulfur Studios (Savannah, GA) among others.
"When I started this series of paintings I had just finished work on a new studio building behind my house. My father and I had spent the early part of 2019 constructing the studio and I spent the majority of 2020 slowly finishing the interior myself – insulation, walls, ceiling, etc. I moved all my art supplies into the building in November of 2020 and started making these. I had a full container of drywall joint compound left over from construction which I used to begin building low relief surfaces to paint. I've been working with this icon, : ) for over 10 years. It’s become a solid character or group of characters in my personal pantheon. The avatar – two dots and a line – is the lowest-common-denominator visual representation of the individual online. As remnants of our social media landscape, it's not hard to imagine these could exist outside communication technology as totems, future archaic emoji. In the past I have used weed names coined by amateur botanists, bad internet passwords, and homeland security’s list of words being tracked across the internet to title my paintings in large series. Lately titles come into the studio as I’m working. They’re song titles, or lyrics, earworms, coincidental fragments I pick up and put here and there. I still think everyone is worried. First we found everyone we’d ever known since grade school, then we decided we’d rather not know them that well. We got good and lonely and then we all got worried. It's not a great place to be but it seems like we've been here for a while and we'll be here for a good while longer so we might as well get used to being worried and lonely together. You want to talk about it?"
Tell us a little about yourself (where you are from) and your background in the arts.
I was born in Wilkes-Barre PA, I went all the way to Scranton for a BFA and then finally made it to New York where I attended Brooklyn College for an MFA. I was fortunate in undergrad to find painting teachers who were expert at teaching young artists how to look and how to construct paintings. I spent what felt like a very long time being a student of that received wisdom, passed down from students of students of Hans Hoffman. As a student first coming to art making I think it's handy to borrow such a belief system, but the danger is that it's not your belief system. Many parts of it need constant reassessment and updating in order to continue being of valuable to you as you grow. I learned later, in grad school, how to make that expansive rather than restrictive.
I worked for art galleries in New York for several years, which was like a paid, third art degree. Recently we moved to Savannah, GA where there are far fewer commercial galleries but my studio is 6 times the size of the one I had in Brooklyn. The thing about New York, and probably most big cities these days, is you have to spend almost all of your time making enough money to survive, and that's not a game I wanted to play forever.
What kind of work are you currently making?
I'm making paintings which increasingly are becoming more like relief with thicker surfaces built up and painted on. In doing so I've also been using more and more non-brush techniques to apply paint to surfaces that sometimes bulge several inches off the supports. I call them heads, even when they are not exactly human heads. They're derived from keyboard emoticons, but being hand made they end up doing more and different emoting than is possible with an avatar or emoji.
What is a day like in the studio for you?
I like to get started early, come in and get things done before the rest of the day starts to get in the way. I work on many things at once, within one series I usually have several up to a dozen works in progress, and I usually have multiple series in progress at once. I set up little stations, one for large paintings, one for smaller work, one that can easily be turned into a drawing space if I need.
I work in fits and starts, sometimes I'm engrossed in one thing for hours, sometimes I'm taking a million little breaks to go walk around the garden to do some weeding, pick some vegetables, look at what new flowers have bloomed or which bugs are visiting the yard.
What are you looking at right now and/or reading?
I recently completed a long, time consuming project that required a lot of research. I've never been a research based artist, I'm not against it I just hadn't done it before, and in the midst of that work I imagined a world where I couldn't go back to any other way of working. Anyway, after I finished we took a trip to Charleston and I saw the Beverly McIver show at the Gibbes, it was a really nice reminder that research isn't always necessary, your own surroundings and perspective can and should be your subject. That's not my only take away from that show, I remember seeing her work from time to time in Art in America and Artforum back in the day, it was nice to finally see it in real life.
I have the Jack Whitten Notes From the Woodshed book on my desk, unopened. I do that sometimes, it's a holdover from the volume of books that used to sit on my desk at the gallery, sometimes for months, years. I was in charge of building the gallery library, it was nice to play with someone else's money at bookstores and used book sellers in NY.
I feel like I'm collecting books to read later. Every time I pick up a book and get going I remember some other thing I should be doing instead. Along with the Whitten book my pile includes these books, all of which I've read at least one or two chapters: Anne C. Bailey: The Weeping Time, E. O. Wilson: The Origin of Creativity, Amy Sillman: Faux Pas, George Dawes Green: The Kingdoms of Savannah and Jessica Leigh Lebos: Savannah Sideways ... And then there's my unread shelf, which is so much larger than my reading shelf.
Where can we find more of your work?
I was hiding for a few years after we moved, quietly working away but now I'm working on more exhibitions, especially in the southeast, you should check instagram @mrhopthescissor to find out more. I've just had a really busy first half of the year and once it gets cooler I'm looking forward to spending the fall in my studio.
I'll be in Best Laid Plans, a popup show that is part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, opening September 9th https://phillyfringe.org/events/best-laid-plans/.
I'm also in the current mepaintsme summer exhibition with 100% of profits from the sale of artwork to support organizations dedicated to non-violence, through September 6th: https://www.mepaintsme.com/exhibitions/20-open-call-2023/
I'm in an exhibition here in Savannah, too, called Lexicon as Sulfur Studios, closing September 16th https://artssoutheast.org/lexicon