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Interview with Collage Artist Christopher Ilth

Christopher Ilth is a self-taught artist born and raised in Chicago. Ilth began drawing as a child but now works primarily in collage. Heavily influenced by Surrealism and Dada, his meticulous compositions offer a striking combination of organic, mechanical, and political imagery. Ilth also recently hosted a group art show reflecting the aesthetic of the “trash rock” scene called Tarantisimo Summit—named after Ilth’s music compilation series. He is currently producing work for the upcoming Dystopia show, themed after the 1927 German sci-fi film Metropolis, at Los Manos Gallery. I had the opportunity to interview Ilth via email, where he discussed his process, influences, and what dystopia means to him.

Untitled #169, 2011



Nicole Rhoden: Talk a little about your materials. How do you acquire the images that you use in your collages?

Untitled #168, 2011

Christopher Ilth: I’m a collector by nature. Always have been, but I’m not a hoarder. After a while, I’ll throw out things that have no use to me. One day, I found myself surrounded with books and magazines I had collected throughout the years. Instead of throwing them away, I found a use for them.

NR: Do the original images inspire a collage, or do you have a vision and then seek out the imagery to achieve it?

CI: Both. Many ideas linger in thought. When I flip through the pages, I choose what will formulate these thoughts, ideas and ponderings.

Untitled #164, 2011

NR: Some of your work, particularly the color collages, are extremely intricate. How do you achieve such precision?

CI: Perverse attention to detail.

NR: How do you feel about Photoshop? Would you ever use photo editing software to create a collage, or do you feel it would compromise the integrity?

CI: I use Photoshop minimally after scanning, mostly brightness and contrast, but it’s a compromise. I’d rather not. I would, however, like to print my work large scale and rebuild it. Unfortunately, cost is an issue.

NR: Can you describe your pieces in the upcoming Dystopia show at Los Manos Gallery and how they fit into the theme of the exhibit?

CI: I interpret dystopia as cut and dry, concrete, black and white. The message is, you can’t escape or turn away from it. It’s static and complete. You live it out, then you die. Until then, you’re a pawn, a prisoner, a mouse in a maze—totally hopeless and spiritually bankrupt.

Whereas I see life as shades of grey in flux, with nothing staying the same, but instead changing at a rate that it isn’t always noticeable until it has completely changed. I’ll try to give you an example. Walking down a street in Chicago, I’ll see a new building, not having any recollection of what was there before.  Yet I have walked down that street a countless number of times. I might remember that there was construction going on in the past, or know the building from having seen it, but by the time they are done, there is no trace of it. This is something that happens with buildings in this city all the time.  Unlike dystopia, it will eventually change and continue to change. A dystopia stays the same oppressing, idle, landscape. My black and white work [in the show] relates to this theme, because the vision is often stark and cold.

Untitled #149, 2011

NR: One of the pieces on your website is a homage to Max Ernst. What draws you most to Surrealism and Dada?

CI: I gravitated towards Dada & Surrealism through the pioneers of the punk movement in the 70′s. Those art movements shared individuality, autonomy, rebellion. However, punk, while having a visual side through fashion, record sleeves & fliers, was mainly about music. Dada & Surrealism was not only a visual art movement, but was also a revolt of everyday life with manifestos, pranks, and revolution that made a statement against the establishment and reason.

To me, it’s a revolt against this agreed-upon reality—that is, the materialist world many find themselves pawns in. Through dreams, we can step outside that. Through juxtaposition of the ordinary, we can achieve the extraordinary. Language too is limiting. The dada poems of Hugo Ball were grunts and syllables isolated from words—nonsense, but through this nonsense is a possibility to greater meaning, a greater freedom. That’s how I see it. I can only explain so much of what I mean with words. Collages provide me the outlet that I can’t find with words.

Dystopia will run at Los Manos Gallery, 5220 North Clark Street in Chicago, from March 30th until May, 2012.

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