November 1 – December 14, 2018 – Gage Family Art Gallery
Reception: Thursday November 1, 6-8 p.m.
The artwork that comprises the series Adrift (2017-2018) deals with human migration and, in particular, the global refugee and migrant crisis. More than 65 million people around the world are now officially displaced from their homes by conflict, violence and persecution – the highest figure recorded by the United Nations since the Second World War.
I felt morally obligated to make work that might add to the compassionate and sympathetic viewpoint supporting refugees seeking asylum and safety. Media sources have provided a steady stream of now-familiar imagery showing groups of people kept behind chain link fencing, incarcerated children in detention centers, or figures in life jackets crowded into flimsy, inflatable rafts crossing the Mediterranean Sea. As Susan Sontag points out, “the western memory museum is now mostly a visual one,” and the volume of images depicting far flung, upsetting stories has reached a fever pitch. The paintings in Adrift present a cobbled-together synthesis of familiar media images representing this humanitarian crisis.
As reference, I have either used media photographs as inspiration or repurposed them by fixing them directly to the panel or canvas. This practice allows me to work within the conversation that already exists. The “seams” between the borrowed photographs and the painted surfaces are meant to be evident. Using photographs as an element in the work allows me to honor their existence, power, and gravity. The painted surfaces re-orient the original photos towards a more dream-like space where a reset or pause button can be hit that allows for reflection where shock and horror once reigned.
The large paintings of the sea are meant to disrupt the picturesque ideal of ocean panoramas. I want to place the viewer in the water as if swimming (or drowning). News photos of ocean crossings often place viewers at a safe distance (such as on the shore), where we are allowed to witness migrants’ passages at a safe remove. The paintings are meant to be somber reminders of real-life struggles and individual human lives. The water is depicted as black, tumultuous, or in extreme close-up as if to engulf and surround the viewer. My intention is to put the viewer in the same position that refugees and migrants are forced into. The works in Adrift represent a loose and unspecified narrative that the viewer can piece together. The images are taken from media sources of the last few years, but they are also meant to represent the long and grim history of perilous ocean crossings, slavery, and human suffering.
Canadian painter Chris Willcox was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. She earned degrees from the Ontario College of Art and Design and the University of Guelph. She earned her MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, in New Jersey. She moved to the Twin Cities in 2000 to accept a position at Macalester College in St. Paul, where she is a tenured professor in the Art and Art History department. Her work has been shown at galleries in the U.S. and Canada, with her most recent being at the MAEP galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Phipps Center for the Arts. She is the recipient of numerous grants, including Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council Grants, and most recently in 2013-14, a George and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation Fellowship in Painting and a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant.