Tuesday, July 19th, 2011 | 3 Comments
The many visual worlds created by
Chris Kuzma are as varied as they are strange. The Toronto artist is as likely to be found exhibiting his painted works in galleries, as making editorial illustrations for magazines, self publishing comics, or curating anthologies with his co-collaborators in the art collective Wowee Zonk.
His paintings subvert the calm orderliness of everyday life, tipping mundane situations towards nightmares of cartoon violence. His comics are far more overtly bizarre and riotous, deliriously navigating his Orwellian office world of the “Complex”.
Your paintings from the “Secret Shame” show at LE Gallery are quite unsettling in their violent encounters of the mundane and cartoon worlds. What were some of the ideas your were exploring in this series?
The majority of those pieces were collected from other shows I’ve participated in over the past three years and seeing them all together at the LE show definitely revealed a common theme to me.
I feel that I’m striving for a balance between the familiar and the jarring, or the playful and the sinister, and that I’m constantly trying to paint a pretty picture that, upon closer inspection, might leave the viewer slightly unsettled.
I have always loved cartoons and respected them as art, and the best ones always had an overtly sadistic element to them. This, coupled with my realistic approach to painting, opened up so many avenues for how I might combine these two influences.
“I feel that I’m striving for a balance between the familiar and the jarring, or the playful and the sinister, and that I’m constantly trying to paint a pretty picture that, upon closer inspection, might leave the viewer slightly unsettled.”
Your recent comic Complex is awesome! We loved the bizarre dystopian office world you created. What was on your mind when you wrote this?
Thanks! Complex is a giant facility that extends so far in every direction that it is unknown as to where it started or if it ever ends. I wanted to create a world where I could do a story about literally anything and it would remain in this particular continuity.
I guess that’s pretty anal on my part (after all, you CAN do whatever you want in comics), but for some reason I like having the option of that connectedness. For instance, there could be a part of Complex that’s stuck in the Paleolithic era and another that’s light years in the future, but they are both contained within the Complex mythology. It’s like that show Sliders with Jerry O’connell!
Your paintings are quite stylistically different from your comics work, which in turn are quite different from your editorial illustration work. Do you intentionally vary your style to suit the medium? What do you like about working in each of these genres?
I do vary my style based on the medium, but I never feel that I’m being dishonest with my artwork or pandering to anyone. With my comics and personal work, I am free to experiment in any way I choose and there are elements from each present in the other.
When I get an illustration assignment, my approach is often dictated by the deadline and the mood of the article. But I always feel like my work is my own.
I’m not sure if I ever want to arrive at that comfortable point in my artistic career where I say “This is it. This is my style. This is how I draw”. It is my opinion that if you are not constantly challenging yourself and trying new things, you are redundant.
That’s why I find working in each of these mediums so interesting. Comics allow me to be loose and goofy, painting trains my hand and eye, and illustration has me thinking on my feet and learning to trust my artistic instincts. Each offers up different challenges and instructs different parts of my artistic self. And oftentimes, these lessons learned will overlap and reveal something new.
Or maybe I have ADD.
“I’m not sure if I ever want to arrive at that comfortable point in my artistic career where I say “This is it. This is my style. This is how I draw”. It is my opinion that if you are not constantly challenging yourself and trying new things, you are redundant.”
We loved the painted typography you recently did for the Creative Type 3 show in Toronto. How did you approach that piece, given that you don’t usually incorporate type into your images?
Actually, that piece was based off of a painting I did for a show at the Steamwhistle gallery last summer. I painted a figure whose body was made up of different buildings. I found that I really enjoyed painting these tiny detailed buildings, so I decided to carry that into the Creative Type piece.
I have no idea when it comes to the technical aspects of typography (kerning, tracking, etc.), but I’ve developed my own measuring system that works for now. I would like to learn more about the actual techniques typographers use.
You are one-third of the Wowee Zonk art collective (alongside Ginette Lapalme and Patrick Kyle). How did you guys meet and what are your goals for the collective? How do you approach working collaboratively?
We met at OCAD a few years ago and have been hanging out ever since. The main focus of Wowee Zonk is the comic anthology of the same name. It is our goal to produce an increasingly excellent comic anthology that highlights the amazing talent that is happening Canadian comics today.
We have released three issues so far and have recently begun planning for the fourth. The always amazing Koyama Press published the third issue for us as well as a book called Pobody’s Nurfect, which collects some of our paintings.
We are all pretty agreeable people and we share similar artistic influences and aesthetics, so we are fairly trusting of one another when it comes to our collaborations. I’m just glad to be hanging out with these guys, they continually challenge and inspire me.