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: christophersamuels.com