Glass meets artist Christopher Page on the opening of his show at UNIT9, London

CHRISTOPHER Page’s installation, Exterior. (Morning.), conceived for UNIT9 project space in east London is an immersive site-specific environment that draws from Baroque quadratura –illusionistic ceiling painting that extends church architecture into the virtual heavens.

Reimagined in the present, and within the “abstract” geometry of a contemporary art space, Page’s installation proposes a Day-Glo heaven that radiates synthetic pink light, reminiscent of the kinesthetic installations of Bruce Nauman or James Turrell, though rendered in fully analogue painting.

Composed of multiple layers of acrylic paint sealed with a layer of oil paint directly applied to the ceiling, Page’s installation may look at first glance like a flat expanse of colour, yet upon closer inspection one detects a highly modulated surface. Juxtaposing representation with the dissemination of artistic and architectural tropes, the work acknowledges its superficiality within its very titling, which – structured like a stage direction – prompts viewers to step into a scene suspended.

_DSC1206LRInstallation view of Exterior. (Morning.) at UNIT9, London, 2017. Photograph: Damian Griffiths

Tell me how your project with UNIT9 came about.
UNIT9 is one of those rare spaces that encourages young artists to push their practice into realms beyond the saleable. I am drawn to an expansive approach to painting, so this was the perfect opportunity to produce a site-specific work. I have done one or two things like this before, but this is the most ambitious project to date.

My work always stems from a negotiation between the “essentials” of painting – depth and flatness, light and shadow, the frame – and the architectural space that surrounds it. UNIT9 is a white box with only one obvious feature – the rectangle of fluorescent lights on the ceiling, which immediately struck me as a giant frame. I am very interested in the history of illusionistic wall and ceiling painting and the way it conspires with architecture to conjure phantasmagorical spaces, especially in the Baroque period. The Pseudo-Modern white-cube style of gallery architecture has almost no features that can be extended into virtual space – in fact, it all feels like simplistic virtual space. And so I proposed a fluorescent ceiling painting to dramatise the strange abstraction of these white interiors, spaces that are usually made to disappear behind the art objects that they frame.

Missed2016Missed 2016 Oil and acrylic on board 90 cm x 55 cm 

What were your primary concerns while conceiving and executing the wall-based work?
It is a painting that is many times larger than my usual canvas paintings, and must be executed many times faster. Practically speaking, I had to invent a method that combines my usual fastidious oil-painting approach with scenic-painter style expediencies. The work seems to conjure the effect I want – treading a fine line between the immersive and the flat. The process was a physical test – I work alone; just the oil paint layer took 14 hours to apply, and there were many other layers than that. Another concern was what effect fluorescence would have on such a large scale. Fluorescent paint is such strange stuff and can produce quite unexpected results. I am happy with how it has worked out – the painting has a powerful visual effect, whilst also feeling utterly synthetic.

Do you see the work primarily as painting, object or something other?
I am a painter. No question about it. I think in terms of the axioms of painting that I mentioned above not because of some mystical allegiance to the history of painting, but because I think they are the most relevant concerns of our visual moment. From the built environment to the computer screen, we live under siege from perpetual, multi-dimensional illusion and the collapsing of space into image (and indeed into time). Painting was diagnosed by Hegel to be the art-form that would preside over the transformation of ‘Art’ from a kind of knowledge-proper into something else. That something else is what I paint under the sign of.

_DSC1234LRQuadratura, 2017, Oil and acrylic on ceiling. Photograph: Damian Griffiths

Why pink?
Fluorescent pink is arguably the brightest, most visually stimulating paint you can buy. It is also arguably one of the most tasteless (I’m not sure if these two things are connected). Beyond that, pink is the most ambivalent colour – both the most natural (one thinks of the inside of the body, or the morning sky) and the most synthetic (the word ‘bubblegum’ seems to sum that up). It is also chromatically ambivalent – it is hot and cold combined – and ambivalence is always where I always find myself.

The environment is a strange hybrid of pleasure and discomfort. Was this intentional? If so, how was this consciously achieved?
Yes, talking of ambivalence, I like to proffer hollow pleasures and shallow illusions. I find it amusing thinking about my work in relation to someone like James Turrell whom you mentioned – Turrell offers pure optical pleasure, seemingly free of the embarrassment of material. My work on the other hand dramatises its artificiality: it is made of the rather banal next-to-nothings of our synthetic world, just paint and foam. Different forms of plastic, basically.

To be more precise, it is my hope that the pleasure and discomfort stem from the same duplicitous cues. The colours and forms are simultaneously natural and unnatural  – “organic” curves that are actually more digital, a “skyscape”  that is more like a texture-map, with the play of pinks perhaps referring to the body or to a nightclub or spa.

Son2017Son 2017 Oil and acrylic on canvas 80 cm x 80 cm

Tell me about the three objects that are shown within Exterior. (Morning).
My great hope with this exhibition was to conjure a feeling of heat as well as light, in order to proclaim the former’s absence from such situations. The objects appeared in my mind as something akin to sun-loungers that would accentuate, and almost highlight the irony of the situation. During the process of painting the piece, a kind of magic happened when pigment rained down on these from above, hazing their uppermost surface with fluorescence and making the objects appear to be bathed in a warm glow. Beginning as “props” with purely symbolic meaning, the objects have become the central illusion in the exhibition. The effect is really uncanny when you experience it in person.


Installation view of Exterior. (Morning.) at UNIT9, London, 2017. Photograph: Damian Griffiths

Which artists have most influenced your practice? Is there anyone you would love to collaborate with?
I am influenced by many artists, stretching from artists from ancient Rome (the painters of the Pompeiian wall paintings in particular) to contemporary artists working today. To be more specific, though, it was under the tutelage of Peter Halley that I really learned about painting. In truth I am most influenced by my friends, particularly my peers with whom I studied at Yale. I think about them and watch their work develop very intensely and we are always talking and thinking together. I do collaborate with some of them – especially those involved with the Seeld Library – and there is no-one I would love to collaborate with more.

What next?
Next I have a solo exhibition at Hunter / Whitfield in London, and after that some institutional projects in different parts of the world. I don’t think I can say much more about that without being imprudent, so I’ll leave it at that.

by Rowena Chiu

Christopher Page’s installation, Exterior. (Morning.), opens at UNIT9 in Shoreditch ‪on Thursday, March 9 and runs ‪until Friday, April 7

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