On February 23rd, Gallery Poulsen will open a European debut by Colin Chillag titled Being There Then. After introducing the Arizona-based artist's work in their group shows and art fairs internationally, the gallery decided it's time to present his work with a solo exhibition, back to back with Aaron Johnson's 4th solo showcase with the Copenhagen-based gallery.

On February 23rd, Gallery Poulsen will open a European debut by Colin Chillag titled Being There Then. After introducing the Arizona-based artist's work in their group shows and art fairs internationally, the gallery decided it's time to present his work with a solo exhibition, back to back with Aaron Johnson's 4th solo showcase with the Copenhagen-based gallery.

We first saw Chillag's work in person during the gallery's summer group show back in August and instantly fell in love with both the concept and the technical execution of his insane group portrait. Mixing different visual languages and purposely creating low-res aesthetics, the artist assembled the most incredible gathering of familiar characters that include everyone from lost-in-space looking Kanye, nude Donald Trump, or vampire Mark Zuckerberg, all the way to Grumpy Cat, De Niro from Taxi Driver, South Park's Jesus, plus an entire range of celebs, historic people, sports figures, good guys, bad guys, as well as weird pop and consumer culture icons. So when we saw that he is working on a new body of work to be introduced for the 1st time outside of the US, we got in touch, took a peek at the new works, and tried to understand what the new pieces, new techniques used, and the exhibition as a whole is all about.

Sasha Bogojev: I first saw your work at Poulsen’s summer group show and was blown away with that group shot of everyone and everything. How did that piece came to be and whats the idea behind it?
Colin Chillag: Prior to this show I was working on a lot of group portrait paintings based on things like class photos, family portraits, sports teams, military regiments. That sort of thing. I was interested in the relationship between group identity and individual identity which seems particularly relevant at this very polarized and somewhat tribalistic time in our country. The painting you mentioned, "America Amuck," was intended as a kind of portrait of the current cultural climate in America. It was a bit of an impossible painting. I mean, it felt like I could have just gone on forever adding more and more figures to that one. 

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Newer works are quite different from what I could see on your IG. What's the story behind those?
I think Morten (Poulsen) decided to pair me with Aaron for the upcoming show because Aaron has been doing some multi-figure compositions and our work could relate well together. However, as you pointed out, the work I am doing now is significantly different so I'm not sure the connection with Aaron is as strong but I like what he is doing, so I think this exhibition will end up being more like two separate shows rather than one interrelated body of work.

But you two are also pretty experimental when it comes to techniques used, so there is that. What urges you to develop new ways of manipulating paint and what kind of techniques are you using these days?
Many of these paintings use a kind of thickly wrinkled impasto technique that I have developed over the years. Like a lot of painters, I have various techniques that I employ in different situations and that particular technique felt like it was symbolically meaningful in its physicality, in relation to the way I was thinking about my subjects. If that makes sense.

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What is the title of the show and how would you describe it?
The new show is called Being There Then and I think of these works as having a kind of dual subject matter. There is what I think of as the proximal subject, which is the straight forward depiction of a portrait, a landscape, or a vacation snapshot. And then there is the dismal subject, which is a bit harder to describe but its something like being itself or being in time, or what it means to exist.

Is that part what you're trying to depict in these new works?
It's not a question I ever really try to answer but it's more like a working conceptual framework. In philosophy, there is, of course, a long history of inquiry into the nature and meaning of existence - ontology, phenomenology, existentialism. But, it seems a bit unusual for painting. And really much of this is based on the recurring felt sense that everyday reality is the most astounding thing if you are paying attention to it. I sometimes feel like the most profound thing a painting can do is to simply convey in its own unique way what it felt like to be alive at a particular place or time. So it is something of this experience, which I think many people can relate to, that I hope to convey.

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Even the new works are looking significantly different from those group images, I feel like there is this constant edginess to your imagery. Is there a reason you like creating such paintings?
I have a long history as a painter of going back and forth between a more humorous or satirical way of working and a more serious and somewhat austere approach to painting. The current work is very much the latter, but in my view, it's not entirely without humor. 

Was there something you could name as the main influence for this exhibition?
Martin Heidegger was the central influence on this body of work and the titles for the paintings are derived directly from his terminology. I doubt he would approve of the way I use and alter many of his terms but fuck it, I'm an artist, I don't have to be right I just have to be interesting. (laughs)