Christopher Tandy is an Oakland-based multimedia artist gearing up for the closing reception of his first-ever solo exhibit, "No Devil Lived On" at Glass Rice in San Francisco. Tandy describes his work as expression of the depths of his psyche, his graphite images depicting "fleeting moments where the veil of what is real and what is created by (his) subconscious thins." We had a chance to talk with Tandy about his exhibit and inspirations.
Glass Rice will feature a closing Q&A with Tandy Saturday, July 21 from 5-7 p.m. If you're a Bay Area resident, make sure to check it out. If not, head on over to his website for some of his fascinating graphite depictions and follow him on Instagram for upcoming events and more of his work for "No Devil Lived On." All photos provided by Glass Rice.
What inspired you to become a professional artist?
Christopher Tandy: I think it was something I always saw for myself or wanted. There were, and continue to be, tons of roadblocks, but I think it really comes down to intention - the way someone is living their life, how they’re choosing to spend their time, or what they’re focusing on. For me, that’s art. Even if I’m not in the studio making it, I’m thinking about it, or trying to be engaged with it somehow.
When I started drawing again as an adult, I had this opportunity to have a solo show in a friend of a friend’s insurance office. I said yes and threw this party, invited everyone I knew, and had them invite everyone. People actually showed up. I guess that was the turning point - I knew I could do it, I already did, I just needed to keep going.
What media do you use? What inspires you conceptually to choose one medium over another?
CT: I mainly use graphite and charcoal, but I also use a lot of different substrates to make different graphite washes with. Recently I’ve also been exploring sculpture using found objects like driftwood and animal bones.
What does Dark Art mean to you?
CT: For me, Dark Art explores the unknown. Sometimes that’s connected to supernatural elements, but I think it can also be rooted in reality - the inner workings/dialogue/demons of a person for instance. I don’t deliberately make Dark Art but it’s generally how anything unknown is going to be perceived.
How long have you been creating artwork?
CT: Since I could hold a pencil. It’s given up on me, and I’ve given up on it a few times when I was younger and maybe less disciplined. I’ve been seriously and continuously making work for about nine years now.
Where do you draw your inspirations for your work?
CT: All sorts of places. I read a lot - science fiction and fantasy, psychology books, and metaphysical books. I think that’s really sort of set the groundwork for me.
I’ve also seen ghosts for as long as I can remember, so my connection to the spirit world is a major source of inspiration. My spiritual practices have really informed my work as an artist, and vice versa.
Ghosts have always been a very real thing for me. Some of my first memories involve them. My grandparents house always had a lot of spirits around and my grandmother was one of the first people to help me open some of those doors. I remember her teaching me some basic protection spells and helping me understand what I was seeing and feeling. Without that, I’m not sure what would have happened.
Growing up, I would shut them or opened them depending on what’s going on. I have definitely had some pretty crazy visitors, good and bad, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if a ghost is just being playful or malicious.
For me, my art is a way to express these things that I see and feel, it’s a way to make sense of it but also communicate about it. So yes, creating is a large part of my spiritual practice. I have other points of access that I’ve spent time building: I cast runes and am starting to explore the tarot more. I keep an altar at home and in the studio and I feed them with intention and thought everyday. It’s a nice cycle of giving and receiving.
Nature is also a big inspiration, as well as ancestral knowledge, dreams, other artists, and traveling. I find inspiration everywhere honestly and not always in the same place.
How would you describe your work?
CT: I like to think that my work allows people to pierce the veil a little bit easier and experience this eclipsed spirit world. It’s really always there.
Could you speak a little more to your relationship with spiritualism, magic, and psychology and their role in your artwork?
At this point for me the lines are pretty fuzzy here. I studied psychology in school, after dropping out of art school; Jung and Campbell continue to inform my work by driving me to dig into my psyche and the collective unconscious.
I’m a firm believer in reincarnation, past lives, and so on. I also think that spirits can linger in order to help themselves or help others if they’re so inclined. There’s a lot of communication from the “other side” that’s possible if the channels are open.
Jungian archetypes also play into this I think. These shared experiences and paths that are passed through lives and generations. All this knowledge that we can access, again, if the pathways are open.
I think magic and spiritualism are woven together a bit (at least for me) and I feel that they are another part of my foundation. My spiritual practice is just as important as my art practice because it gives me the tools I need to understand the worlds I see.
Tell us a little bit about your newest solo show, "No Devil Lived On."
CT: This show really helped me connect a lot of dots. It consists of drawings done on paper and mylar as well as sculptures and cairns.
I had a lot of goals and plans when I started, and a lot of them changed. My gallerist really helped me push myself and make the type of work I wanted to and I think that led me to some really exciting places. The sculptures and participatory elements are new for me and without her support, they might not exist, so that’s interesting for me to think about.
Thematically, I like to think that the show looks at the intersection of our reality and the spirit realm, and where that intersection might actually be. I tried to make a show that expressed now only what that world looks like, or what inhabits it, but what it feels like, sounds like, smells like.
This is also my first solo show in a gallery - that’s an item that’s been on the “to do” list for the last nine years that gets checked off for the first time this year. That’s really exciting.
Having this autonomy to make the type of work I wanted definitely affected me, and had an impact on the type of work I ended up making. I had the opportunity to take a lot of different ideas that I’d kept filed away and bring them to life. Most importantly, I feel like it allowed me to tie everything together - the paper drawings/paintings, the Mylar drawings, the bone cairns, and the sculptures. It’s usually pretty difficult to show different modalities of work inside of a group exhibition setting.
I was and continue to be really interested in creating an experience and transforming space - having the opportunity to build a solo show allowed me to explore that more. Glass Rice doesn’t really feel like a gallery when you walk into it right now... and I find that really exciting and interesting. I want to do more of that.
What made you decide on the media you used?
CT: I made a lot of different type of work for this show so that answer is a little different depending on what pieces we’re talking about.
I’ve always drawn to using graphite and charcoal. But definitely in the past two years it’s become my primary medium. There is this great feeling of familiarity and strangeness to it, probably because there always seems to be new ways to apply it or work with it. This is something I find super exciting. My drawings on mylar are a result of an ongoing experimentation with the medium.
Also, a number of years ago, I inherited a pencil collected from my partner’s dead father. I used them in every single drawing in the show. I ended up getting the animal bones from the same source, but only more recently, when I needed them.
Your exhibit is winding to a close Saturday, July 21.
CT: That's correct: we’re doing a closing reception for the show coupled with an artist talk. There will be some wine and I’ll have an opportunity to talk a bit about the show and answer questions. I’m looking forward to it as odd as that sounds - usually openings of any kind are just so hectic and that usually gives me anxiety. I think it’ll be nice to interact with people on a more intimate level.
I expect people are going to ask me to explain what the hell they’re looking at. I suppose I haven’t thought about the types of questions I’d like to be asked, but I’m looking forward to letting more people into this world and helping them understand it.
Most of our readers are aspiring artists. What sorts of advice do you have for them?
CT: I still think I’m an aspiring artist, maybe there’s something to that… staying hungry, staying humble, and always striving for something. Pay attention to what is sparking your interests. Read a lot. Make a lot of work, then make more. Go to artist talks and learn about art and how to talk about art. Learn how to talk about your work. Make more work. Do not take no for answer. Make more work.
Location of Glass Rice
680 8th Street, Suite 240 B
San Francisco, CA, 94103