Christopher Russell, 1. Background
I first saw Christopher Russell’s photographs at Acuna-Hansen in xxx (some year a long time ago) installed in the back room. This was before his 2005 show with the gallery, “The Veil Trembles and is Very Thin” and I think some of what I recall may be mixed up with that later experience. There were four or five photographs – some landscapes with things wrong about them, a photograph of a once ubiquitous Calvin Klein ad here shown dirty, water-stained and much distressed. (Calvin Klein Inc. possibly mightn’t like Russell’s misuse of the image but to my mind this was the best those sunglass-wearing, shaven and crispy clean boys could look.)
(The queerness I was loving went deeper in my mind than just a tingling of my gaydar.) Without being able to determine why, I was hooked. We went back and looked more, asked questions, and asked for an introduction to the artist. Several weeks of calendar and geography negotiations later we drove up one of the canyons in the Verdugo’s to visit Russell’s studio.
Let me set the scene: Russell lives on a cul-de-sac in the canyon, the house is a charming riff on 1950’s California ranch house style – reddish stained wood with white trim and a shake roof with a nice yard. Russell and his friendly dog met us at the door, hugs-petting-hello and stuff and then he ushered us into his garage-studio and closed the door. (Stopping the inconvenient narrative and focusing on what we heard and saw)
“Bedwetter” is a zine that Russell published while in grad school at Art Center and clandestinely placed around the city and in bookstores. Ultimately Skylight Books carried the publication and now 2nd Cannons is selling the few remaining issues (click on Bedwetter for 2nd Cannons link). He included photographs, stories, texts by friends, etc. and often one had to destroy of parts of the publication to open it. (Such a dilemma for the collector!)
The “Landscape” series of photographs (later compiled into a book of the same name) is a project from his undergrad days at CCAC (yes, at the time CCA did acknowledge Craft as part of the curriculum and atmosphere) while on break after his first semester bought an inexpensive camera, cut a hole in a jacket pocket and visited Golden Gate Park to take pix of men being men in nature. Cruising. Cruising and then achieving fruition in fact. (Camera-wise for Russell, otherwise for his subjects the cruising men. Nice the way that works.) I imagine he was a little nervous, concentrating on his craft to overcome his shyness and gleefully closing in on couples and groups secretly capturing moments of passion and connection on film. 5B4 blog April 2009 post about the 2007 book “Landsape” here. Everything I see online states a publication date of 2007. I think the book was published in 2007 then held by a mysterious gentleman and not released to the public until Russell’s 2009 Hammer Projects exhibition. Follow Hammer link to read essay by Amy Gerstler. (God – don’t you find that romantic? “Held by a mysterious gentleman and not released…” it’s like something by Edgar Allan Poe.)
Artillery Magazine and John Knuth did an interview in 2009 (caught here on YouTube) and Russell shares the story of his “Finding Faye” book and photo’s (obsessional and possibly delusional behavior relating to stalking Faye Dunaway) and (in a delightful bitch-slap from a shy boy to cooler undergrads who disdained his “gay” work) tells of Sally Mann lecturing at CCAC during his “Landscape” exhibition and stopping her lecture to ask to meet “the person who made those remarkable photos hanging in the lab gallery.”
When I’ve spoken with Christopher about Mann’s request for a meeting he decribes it as a turning point for him – as the moment whenhis private desire to be an artist is publicly stated and in fact emphatically reaffirmed by a leading figure in his field. One might say that Sally Mann “brought him out” to use an old fashioned term from the queer world. I never have remembered to ask what they spoke about. I’d like to know.
I need to wrap up a bit but I’ll return with more and Christopher Russell at thoughts on his show at Luis de Jesus Gallery in Bergamot Station soon. 2525 Michigan Avenue, F2, Santa Monica, 90404