“The feeling of freedom coats my paintings. Aside from the fact that I have chosen to feature the human form as a centerpiece, I have yet to really establish a concrete direction. My tentative plan is to use my freedom to attempt to show the world how I perceive it.”
Introduction by John Dominguez
Interview & Photographs by Theo Constantinou
Houston Christopherson, is for lack of better words, working out the kinks. From one painter to another, he’s not quite there, but he’s coming along at a very fast pace. Christopherson decided to end his pro-skateboarding career a hair shy of a decade this past year, and in lieu of boarding, Houston decided to try his hand at painting. Being influenced by the Neo-Pop Expressionism movement of the 1980′s in NYC, Houston decided to delve right into a new personal form of expression. He no longer crashes the streets and rides them like waves, rather, he spends his time adding and subtracting from the canvas.
Steven Fry, did a six part BBC television series about America and his travels across the United States. He says in one episode, “Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, “All art is useless.” And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra without which life is not worth living.” I never agreed with Wilde’s sentiment about art being useless but I do agree with Fry. How is art the love and wine of life for you and the ‘extra’ making it a life not worth living for you?
I suppose it just gives me the freedom to communicate to a large audience. To say whatever it is that I want to say, in whatever way I choose to say it. When I was a bit younger—I would have categorized myself as high energy—talkative. After waiting tables for seven years, my longing to interact with people steadily declined. I had a hard time brushing off the people who made fun of my name. There is just something about the waiter/patron interaction that people find the need to treat me like a servant—longing for their 10% tip. It created this coldness within my personal interactions. Art has been a peaceful combatant of my coldness towards others. It enables me to value people and interaction again. It makes me forget about the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem.”
To address the “art is useless” comment, I believe Mr. Wilde has some serious human evaluation to do. This comment takes me to a previous thought I had about how the term, “art” is becoming so diluted in this country. It’s hard not to see the art in everything. I try not to think about it in a negative light. There are so many places in this world where people don’t have the opportunity to understand that perspective. People have come up with ways to rationalize something as simple as shaking a martini shaker—it is an art form. A personal way of expressing movement. It adds aesthetic to simple tasks. A bartender will use artistic expression to display a sense of showmanship to his customers; it becomes a small show for people. The bartender hopes to get a few extra dollars for his efforts. This is just a small example of how art is everywhere. It has an exponential amount of uses that enrich the experiences of this world.
Chuck Palahniuk said, “Personal identity seems like it’s just such an American archetype, from Holly Golightly re-inventing herself in ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ to Jay Gatsby in ‘The Great Gatsby.’ It seems like the sort of archetypal American issue. If you’re given the freedom to be anything, or be anyone, what do you do with it?” So it seems as if you’ve been given the freedom to be anything…an artist…What are you doing with it?
I’m simply exploring interest; I work and I go to school. Freedom is such a strange thing to have, it creates the illusion of individuals who are bound by nothing. It romanticizes the idea of doing, saying and being anything we choose. Freedom presents me with the question of choice—”what should I do?” This makes it much more difficult to answer. But the feeling of freedom coats my paintings. Aside from the fact that I have chosen to feature the human form as a centerpiece, I have yet to really establish a concrete direction. My tentative plan is to use my freedom to attempt to show the world how I perceive it.
So a couple days ago I went to see the new Spielberg movie, Lincoln.
Did you? How was that?
Daniel Day Lewis is unbelievable. Talk about a guy who has mastered his craft. Every role that man has been in is spot on…
The only comparison of that skill that comes to my mind is how Johnny Depp plays Hunter S. Thompson in both The Rum Diaries and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. He just gets so deep into those roles; like, I can only imagine what was going on in their minds. I guarantee you that he probably had to convince himself he was Hunter in order to come across so eccentric.
In the film, Lincoln quotes Euclid in which he says, “Euclid’s first common notion is this: ‘Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.’ That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning. It’s true because it works. Has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is self-evident. You see it, there it is. Even in that 2,000 year old book of mechanical law, it is a self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” On January 31, 1865 Lincoln and Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which declared that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 147 years later we have re-elected the first black president…It seems to me that still, however, that people—regardless of race, social status, age, sex—still find themselves to have superiority and they do not believe that they are equals. Do you think that Euclid’s theory that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other? And moreso, why do you think humans will or will not except this reasoning?
Superiority is innate. We use it in order to survive; our superiority complexes are an instinctual urge that help us to survive, whereas equality is a reflection of thought, and only if you can ignore all of your instincts can you be equal with somebody else. And that’s the only way that equality can come about and has come about, is because we’ve become a smarter race. We’ve become smarter people so the more we’re able to deny our animal function, the more equal we’re gonna be, eventually, in the end. That’s kinda the only way I can see it. Why won’t humans accept this reasoning? Because denying your nature is hard. It is. I mean, when was the last time you said no, I don’t want a cigarette? I assume you know it causes cancer, but you do it anyway. Cause it’s hard to deny our bodies’ instincts.
John Steinbeck said, “It has always seemed strange to me, the things we admire in men: kindness and generosity, understanding and feeling are the concomitance of failure in our system. And those traits we detest—sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism, and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.” Do you agree with Steinbeck’s sentiment? And why do you think men admire the first qualities and love the produce of the second?
I think they just love what they can’t have, essentially like they want all of those things. Our entire society, as far as our U.S. culture, is based around these fucking stars and their drama and these reality shows. The people I look up to in this world are people who are great artists, and great thinkers…
Why do we admire the first qualities? I dunno. They admire them because it’s what they were taught to admire. Honestly, greed—I would say the only trait I wouldn’t look fondly upon is egotism and self-interest just from the fact that you gain so much more when you’re thinking about yourself more often. But you can’t sit there and think that you can tell people how to live their lives. As long as you can all live—as long as everybody lives for themselves and tries not to think about it, I dunno. It was something that Ayn Rand said. Do you remember what it was? I know you read that…
I don’t remember what she said exactly.
It was something along the lines of looking at self-interest in a positive light.
People have their vices. I mean, I’m trying to do the first steps of what Steinbeck was saying. I know that those things are right but it’s so easy to fuckin’ do the second. Become something more. People love what you’ve created but some of the shit that you’re doing is completely fucked up. It’s that double edged sword…
It sucks though because I’m not…I dunno, I don’t explore edgy topics. I try to stay away from them right now. I try not to cover anything that’s gonna be something that people are gonna think down upon, I guess. I have this sense that I want to be a profound person and be somebody that actually understands how the world works and not just understanding what the best hair gel is, or what the best self-tanner is. And I’m trying. The entirety of all this art is almost a documentation of trying to break away from social norms. I’m trying to learn and as I learn more, as I explore mental topics—as far as personality disorders or trying to figure out the way my mind works. I’m just documenting it and that’s what I keep telling myself as I do this. Not only am I learning how to draw and how to paint but I’m also learning about life as far as the psychological aspect goes, cause I think it’s interesting.
Why won’t you explore these topics? Are you afraid of them personally?
I’m afraid of the ramifications.
By who? I thought you were doin…—
By the man, I guess! I guess I’m still afraid of the man. Cause he’s still out there. I mean if—let’s say I wrote something different on that newspaper in class or in the hospital and they took it completely the wrong way and I got kicked out of school. It was my small bit of expression that almost cost me my education—it almost cost me five thousand dollars to draw that picture. Like they said: if you have any more discrepancies, we’re gonna kick you outta school. I’m just like, I mean, I won’t draw on your newspapers any more but they were afraid of me. They were afraid of my exploration and it was kinda moving.
I was fuckin’ pumped. I went home and painted some fuckin’ crazy shit! They took that as a threat…I just don’t want anything else to come of it. I don’t want to lose my educational opportunities.
But see, this is the man scaring you. Because that is true freedom of expression. They’re just suppressing that. That’s what the beauty of it is. I don’t care if they show up at my door, it’s like that Clash song, “Guns of Brixton”: “When they kick out your front door / How you gonna come? / With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun ?”
That’s what I’m saying, like, it sucks that we have to still fear it. I didn’t stop it myself but I stopped displaying it. And I’ve kinda just been a little hesitant to show people it. Like, I keep talking about wanting to show in galleries but I’m still fuckin’ nervous about it. Nervous about the fact that my parents see my artwork and they think I’m crazy. But then other people come and see it and they like it—cause they get it. They understand it, man. And I love finding that connection where somebody freakin’ understands it.
Interview Edited by Zach Bove
I just wanna fuckin’ make art. But it’s a recent coming about—y’know, I said about 8 months—it just transferred from skateboarding. I wanted to be a pro-skater and that was it but I didn’t try hard enough and I recognize that. And I recognized that I skated for 9 years and the best thing that I got was a $90 check from a skate competition for beating some 13-year-old and I was depressed about it, honestly. And I don’t want to half-ass making art. I don’t want to half-ass trying to create.
Do you feel insane sometimes?
Every day of my life …
I’m a weird human.
You and me both.
And I make this stuff, so that I don’t feel as weird.
You’re actually producing something so you can tell people that you’re doing it for something, whereas you just enjoy it regardless of if you compile somethin’ from it or not. I have to say I admire that.
This is my perspective. You have to see the world through your eyes and do your work out of pure love…This is my way of taking what I see and reinterpreting it so I don’t go crazy, through the interview process that is…
This is basically just my reflection of the world, too, so I don’t go crazy. I have this obsession, as you’ve seen from all of my work. It’s all people. That’s all I do is faces. That’s all I do is explore that facial shape and what I can do with it and it’s because I look at people all day. Like, that’s what I enjoy doing. I enjoy even just the fact that the most minute line in this painting or these drawings changes the entire feel. And you should see it happen; it’s fucking incredible. And I long for even just that moment, and there’s tons of moments that are just like it. You can take this entire face and you don’t do that mouth and it looks one way and you put one line down and he’s happy and you change it and he’s sad and you move it and he’s depressed and you move it again and he’s fucking perplexed! And you can do so much with it in just 5 lines, 6 lines. Those moments, man. And I don’t know why and I still haven’t figured it out because this is the first time that I’ve actually talked that process out—it is so amazing to go through. I think it’s just a reflection of humanity.
Each individual has to find their own way.
Interview Edited by Zach Bove