Chris Burnett and his creative world domination plans are simply awesome.
TWS –Hi Chris, can you please tell us something you’d like people know about you?
CB –I’d love for people to know about my plans for creative world domination. They’re top secret plans, but you can at least know that I have them 😂. I’m looking to inherit Kanye’s spot, minus the rants. Well maybe the rants…we’ll see.
TWS –Skate, art, design, music… What came first? Can you tell us about the path you took in the process of finding your creative identity?
CB –I grew up in a very creative family–my dad produced gospel records that my mom would sing on. My parents always encouraged me to be creative at a young age, and drawing and painting just stuck. Along the way my older brother Jordan, who’s also an artist/designer/music-maker hybrid, got into Photoshop and skateboarding. And because it’s what younger siblings do, I followed suit. By this point I was the artsy kid in high school and after taking an elective graphic design course, I found the path to college at CalArts. Funny thing is that my senior design thesis was essentially a beat tape that I produced. My classmate had introduced me to Ableton in my last year and that’s when the music bug got me.
TWS –What led you to collage? What has this medium that made it your weapon of choice to express your ideas through it?
CB –I discovered collage at CalArts in my third year. There were some Grad students who put together a little club where we would sit around a table of paper scraps, drink beer, listen to music, and just make things. It was called CACA, short for the CalArts Collage Association, and it was where I made my first collage. I fell in love with the immediate satisfaction that comes from just making whatever you want in the moment. No teachers. No briefs. No clients. Just pure creation and a final product. We were all so used to creating things to communicate concepts for our schoolwork, that this free-form process really excited us.
TWS –You’re based in LA. How do you feel the city has informed your practice?
CB –Because most people drive, posters and billboards adorn the streets with striking visuals to get your attention for the split second that you might see them. There’s all kinds of illustrations, lettering, murals, marketing, ads, movie posters. I mean, these are things you see in any city but I feel like it’s on overdrive here in LA. I tend to gravitate towards the less noticed and more abstract aspects though, like painted over graffiti, construction sites, decaying signs and textures. I’ll take photos of everything and incorporate it into my work. Not to mention environmentally, it’s really beautiful sometimes. Sunsets here are some of the best in the world which is why I use lots of purple to blue to orange gradients. These are all rather surface level attributes of the city, but I relate to it because I aspire to make work that’s beautiful and visually interesting, first and foremost.
TWS –You work on so many mediums that I can’t imagine you have standardised process when facing a new project. How does things start when a new commission enters Colibri studios?
CB –I think subconsciously I’ve avoided establishing a working process, to allow for more spontaneity to enter the workflow. There are also a number of factors that can affect how and when I start a project…like what the client is asking for, how many things I’m juggling, how excited I am about the brief etc. I get bored rather easily and always need to switch it up when working. Most times I just wait until I feel like it’s the right time to start…not necessarily the best thing to reveal publicly 😂 But still, even trying to predict that feeling is impossible. I tend to rely on the ever elusive a-ha moment which kickstarts everything for me…and even those are just happy mistakes a lot of the time. What I’m really saying is that I’m no stranger to procrastination. I’ve worked on projects that I didn’t start until it was due the next day and some of those end up being my best work. Something about that down to the wire pressure makes me give my best. Like Kobe hitting a buzzer beater.
TWS –Your work blurs the distinction between digital and real in many ways. Your paper collages tend to have elements that include digital glitches, textures, etc. and your digital collages also import many elements from the physical world. Can you tell us about your idea of digital and physical in your work and how do you manage to make both works co-exist in your work?
CB –I didn’t notice this until a couple years ago. I finally realized that my abstractions were actually a representation of our collective digital and physical lives. It makes a lot of sense when I look at my creative trajectory. As a kid there was no internet or computers. Everything made was by hand. Paper. Canvas. Pencils. Charcoal. Pastel. Paintbrushes. Scissors. Glue sticks. As time went on, I realized that I could make a career out of graphic design–a trade that I learned on the computer. Back when apple had all those crazy colored iMacs. Eventually these two worlds would merge and become the language that I now use to speak. The rough edges and gradients symbolize the sunsets and Sierra Nevada mountains at the edge of LA that I saw from the car window as a kid. And the rectangle boxes and pixel edges echoed the interface of the computer which I now see everyday. I believe this tension between the two create an interesting dynamic that invites the viewer into a familiar yet simultaneously unfamiliar visual world.
TWS –You blend art and commercial projects in a unique way. How do you perceive the difference between both areas? And what’s the relation between them in your own practice?
CB –Commercial projects are the things I make for other people and art is the stuff I make for myself. Over time they’ve started to merge and look similar, although to me the feeling behind each is different. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, even though I lean towards slight cynicism. My art comes from a very pure place that isn’t affected by numbers and well…money. I’m just getting around to selling my collages but for the longest time I’d just make them and give ‘em away, or store them in an envelope somewhere. It gets weird though when someone references my personal artwork for a commercial project because to me, they exist on two different planes. I get it though, I’m not complaining. I appreciate that people enjoy what I’m making. But after doing graphic design and commercial art professionally for about 7-8 years, I really want to focus on my personal artwork. It’s like I’m trying to resist selling out, even though the commercial work is what really brings home the bacon. And I love bacon. It’s really conflicting at times.
TWS –The list of clients and projects that you have worked with is really impressive. Is there any specific project or client that you would love to work with? If you could choose which would be your next project?
CB –Dream client would be the skate brand Fucking Awesome. Or maybe Tame Impala–Lonerism is my favorite album of all time. I love what Kevin Parker is doing now, but his early music is what inspired me to start making songs and I’d love to do his album art one day. Bring it full circle. And then we’d go to the studio and make music together and be best friends for life 😂. I’d also love to design my own shoe, that’s been a dream of mine since I was little. I just gave in and bought an iPad–been sketching footwear silhouettes on it. My mom used to sew clothing designs that my brother and I would draw so clothing is definitely in the near future somewhere too. There’s also this car I’ve been dreaming of making, it’s similar to those vehicles that pull the planes at airports. That, mixed with an old Land Rover, but as a sedan, not a truck. And it also seems inevitable that I’ll have my first gallery show here in LA, hopefully sooner than later. Maybe I perform some music at the opening too? I don’t know, I have so many dream scenarios that it’s hard to pick just one.
TWS –Tell us about your music. You write, record and produce your own tracks. How does your creative process shift when working with music compared with working in visual arts?
CB –So this whole time, even though my parents encouraged my pursuit of visual art, they always wanted me to make music. I denied piano lessons for years and now I regret it 😩. They did force me to join the choir though so singing comes pretty naturally now. But between making art and making music, they’re actually very similar. I just fuck around hoping that I hit one of those aforementioned a-ha moments. For music that might mean that I start on the piano or guitar, just playing chords and singing gibberish until something sparks, or sometimes hear a part in a song that I want to sample. And there’s no way to predict what or when that a-ha moment will be, or if it will even happen. Spoiler alert, a lot of the times for music it doesn’t. But if it does, it always ends up being something new and challenging that puts me in a vortex like flow state. My song ‘Daydream’ was done all in one night. And it all started from those first guitar notes you hear. There are tweaks afterwards to get the mix right and make sure it sounds as good as it can and that process takes longer. But the main idea just pours out of me all at once. A lot of what I learned at CalArts applies to every creative medium and especially music. The same way I approach layers in a collage is the same way that I approach tracks in a song…although I end up with WAAAAYYYY more layers in my music.
TWS –Can you tell us about your decision of deleting your Instagram account? How’s your life post-instagram?
CB –I’m definitely less tethered to my phone. Theres also this feeling of not being in the loop which I’m starting to like more and more. It allows me to create from a place of less influence, a place that’s not concerned with what’s trending. Truth is, I’d been on social media from the jump. AOL instant messenger was its own form of it, albeit an infantile one. Then came MySpace. Then Facebook. Then tumblr. Then Instagram. Then Snapchat. Never got on Twitter. And TikTok might be the first app I’ve never cared to explore. Eventually I realized how it was manipulating my (and everyone’s) behaviors and I didn’t want to give up my power like that. I also realized that my work was existing in this artificial hierarchy of metrics, algorithms, likes, comments, followers, and basically numbers. And that was not a context that I wanted to be in. I’d rather someone stumble across my website than just leave the generic “🔥” comment on a post in the midst of a million others. It sounds silly, because I know that Instagram allows a lot of creative people to reach new audiences and connect with others on a global scale and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But at what cost are we giving into manipulative tactics for more followers? We definitely need to address our relationship to social media, and change the way that it works. Especially with everything that has gone down in the past 4 years. I don’t know if it’s really helping to cultivate a healthy society mentally, especially since the majority of “users” are not only in the creative industry.
TWS –What’s your own and personal definition of collage?
CB –Well, to define it as one thing, is to say that it can’t be something else…which to me defeats its very purpose. Collage feels like the combination and/or recontextualization of disparate ideas to form something new. I hate when people say that “everything has been done before” or “nothing is new”. Try and Google an image of a baby translucent elephant, wearing a pair of Cool Grey Air Jordan 11’s, with spiraled out eyes, smoking a clove cigarette, while skating down Mount Everest on a blazing hot summer day with a pack of wild robot hyaenas chasing him on jet skis…I bet you won’t be able to find that image, because it probably hasn’t been made before. But I bet you just saw your own interpretation of that imagery in your own mind, right? Meaning, you can be the one to make it and bring that very strange and new idea to the world. Collage allows us to create new things all the time. Even some of the greatest inventions are just idea-collages. Music is just a sound-collage. Food is just an ingredient-collage. Sports is just team-collaging. Clothing is just fabric and material-collaging. Television is just scene-collaging. Sentences are just word-collages. It goes on and on. It’s everywhere! So to me personally, it’s less about what it is visually, and more about our collective way of thinking and creating. Ok here’s my definition 😂 Collage is the process of creation.