Chris Samuels

Detroit, MI | by January 5, 2012

This past April I met up with Chris Samuels at his stu­dio before head­ing over to the North End Stu­dios Gallery to talk with him about his show there, Self-​​Titled.

Chris Samuels in an artist raised in met­ro­pol­i­tan Detroit mixed with a brief stint in the deep south of Florida. In 2009 he co-​​founded the artist-​​run gallery Org Con­tem­po­rary. In its brief exis­tence from March 2009 through June 2010 Org Gallery offered a glimpse of some of Detroit’s most cut­ting edge and crit­i­cal art. Art being made by emerg­ing prac­ti­tion­ers from around the coun­try includ­ing the New York based col­lec­tive, Corn Row Rider. Org also show­cased Detroit’s own next gen­er­a­tion of inno­va­tors. Such local tal­ents include Kevin Beasley, Co-​​founder of the artist run CAVE Gallery, who is now in his sec­ond year at Yale School of Art. This is how I first met Chris. In Novem­ber of 2009 I curated, CONSTRUCTS, at Org Gallery.

Since that time I have closely fol­lowed Chris’s career. In 2010 he attended Skowhe­gan School Of Paint­ing & Sculp­ture, his only for­mal art edu­ca­tion. His work has since been exhib­ited in New York, Chicago, Los Ange­les, and through­out Michi­gan includ­ing a solo exhi­bi­tion at the Museum Of New Art Detroit. In 2012 Chris will exhibit new work at the Austin Museum of Art’s Art­house at the Jones Cen­ter in Austin, TX.

On this April evening I met Chris at his sprawl­ing loft apart­ment and stu­dio in Detroit’s East­ern Mar­ket Dis­trict. Chris’s loft is indica­tive of many such artist spaces through­out Detroit; spa­cious, beau­ti­ful and afford­able. Chris has walled off the front por­tion of his loft to serve as the base of oper­a­tion for a prac­tice that eschews the iso­la­tion of con­ven­tional stu­dio production.

Chris’s stu­dio thus func­tions more as a place to test out ideas and new arrange­ments. The real work is always fully real­ized on site.

We sim­ply began our con­ver­sa­tion at the stu­dio so I could get some shots of Chris in his own space and to get a glimpse of some of his tools, so to speak. Once I was shown where the ideas ges­tate, we headed a few miles north to the North End Stu­dios Gallery to view and dis­cus his prac­tice in the con­text of his cur­rent show, Self-​​Titled.

A lit­tle back-​​story is nec­es­sary at this point. North End Stu­dios is a once vacant build­ing that has been re-​​occupied by a group of recent grad­u­ates of the Col­lege for Cre­ative Stud­ies in Detroit’s North End on Grand Boule­vard east of Wood­ward Avenue. This group of young artists share stu­dio space in the huge build­ing for min­i­mal rent. The third floor of North End is an expan­sive open gallery space with con­crete floors and no win­dows. It is com­pletely open save for the con­crete pil­lars that sup­port the next floor above.  North End is yet another exam­ple in Detroit of a col­lec­tive space, run by a group of young artists seek­ing to bring cut­ting edge ideas and projects to view.

In Self-​​Titled I noticed famil­iar ele­ments from pre­vi­ous projects of Chris’s. I say projects because Samuels’s work seems to require the con­text of mul­ti­ple pieces, but also, Chris always responds to the space he is occu­py­ing with his works. It is in this regard that he isn’t inter­ested in a tra­di­tional stu­dio prac­tice. Chris’s work is in the same vein as many young artists inter­ested in a cere­bral art that engages in plac­ing, arrang­ing, alter­ing and expos­ing. In his artist state­ment Chris says that he “cre­ates works that expose the mytholo­gies of com­fort and class in the 21st cen­tury while uti­liz­ing hand­made & every day objects as sym­bolic cues.” Unlike many such young artists how­ever, Chris’s work tran­scended my expec­ta­tions of such pur­suits and exposed a quiet and extremely sub­tle beauty below the surface.

His choice of mate­ri­als was inescapable; rub­ber stress mats, metal con­struc­tion studs, and medium den­sity fiber-​​board. Indus­trial mate­ri­als, each placed, arranged and altered through­out the gallery floor. There is no ques­tion this work has a min­i­mal aes­thetic on the sur­face yet for me Samuels work is incred­i­bly for­mal in its con­struc­tion, a term I use to ref­er­ence its source mate­r­ial rather than actual fab­ri­ca­tion. A mono­chro­matic palette of black, grey and khaki per­vade the entire show, giv­ing each piece a visual con­ti­nu­ity cre­at­ing strong spa­tial rela­tion­ships between the works. The more time I spent in the space the more it became clear to me that part of Samuels true genius lies in his com­po­si­tion and spa­tial engage­ment. This is where the work most effec­tively tran­scended my expectations.

On the wall are hung unas­sum­ing scan­ner prints of objects placed, arranged and altered on a scan­ner bed, each hang­ing from a sin­gle black clip. On the far left wall as you enter the gallery is a video pro­jec­tion which upon closer obser­va­tion reveals itself to be a looped pro­jec­tion of the very elec­tri­cal closet it is installed next to. This piece was one I found to be par­tic­u­larly engag­ing. Again it was some­thing you might want to glance at and walk away from, but encoun­ter­ing it in this space I could not. I have seen other exhi­bi­tions at North End, many of which have been very good, but always this elec­tri­cal closet has exposed itself as a prob­lem of the space to be ignored. Here Samuels is not sim­ply acknowl­edg­ing this spa­tial flaw, he is prob­ing it and decon­struct­ing it in order to cre­ate what I found to be an image of duplic­i­tous beauty.

You can see more of Chris’s work at:

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  • Lisa K Rosenstein says:

    great inter­view. and the space makes me want to move to detroit!

  • Brian Barr says:

    Come for a visit, there are many artist run spaces and stu­dios like this in Detroit!

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