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Behind The Chicago Scenes: An Interview with Christopher Galvin

Watercolor painter and graphic designer Christopher Galvin has an undeniable appreciation for the city of Chicago.  Native of the South Suburbs, his admiration is expressed through his vibrantly colorful watercolor paintings depicting pedestrian scenes and iconic images throughout the city.  His graphic, eye-popping style has undoubtedly been influenced by his thirteen years of work in the Design industry.  Notable current projects include the Bean Series, a series on aqua board inspired by Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate”, and his light boxes, backlit watercolors painted on translucent paper.  I sat down with Chris at 4Art Inc., the gallery that currently represents his work, and discussed his current projects, his graphic design career, and his thoughts on the art scene here in Chicago.

Lydia Shepard (LS)- When did you first get into painting?

Lakefront at Fullerton, 2010

Christopher Galvin (CG)- I got into painting in high school, when I was a freshman.  I started oil painting.  I did that while taking private art lessons with John Tylk, who became one of my mentors.   I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and my sophomore year of college I took a watercolor class.  That’s when I started using the medium, and since then it’s been almost all I’ve used.

LS-There was a hiatus from painting for some time, what brought that on?

CG-What brought about the hiatus was my studies in school.  Although I took a lot of different classes, in terms of different mediums or focuses, I went to school to be a graphic designer.  Once I started down that road, it was where my passion was, and it was something new for me.  It was something I was really into.  I really like typography and design.  A lot of what I’ve done up to this point in my work, the bean paintings, for example, I almost see them as a logo.  Each one has its own personality, much like a logo, to communicate its message.  A lot of what I’ve learned over my painting career and my design career is in my artwork now.  I was in the design industry for about 10 years, and had painted only a few paintings.  When I moved back to my hometown from Chicago is when I found myself painting a lot.  I had more time, I missed the city, and it was the subject matter of all of my artwork.  It all relates.

LS-The majority of your paintings have a strong Chicago theme. What about the city inspires you?

CG- There’s a lot about the city that inspires me.  Visually, I just get caught up staring at things in the city, whether it’s the skyline from a distance, or the glow from the foggy air that the city makes, or an old rusty beam hanging off of an EL track.  This city, to me, just has a lot of visual appeal.  More so than that, I grew very fond of the city when I was living here through my early twenties and early thirties.  It’s where I grew and matured as an adult.  It just became home for me.  Even though I am not living in the city now, I still consider it my home.

LS- Tell me about the Bean series. 

Bright Bean, 2011. (image curtesy of Christopher Galvin)

CG-What brought it on was trying to conceptualize a way to paint with watercolor at a large scale.  My paintings are more of what I would call a traditional watercolor.  They’re smaller, more intimate pieces.  I took a trip to Washington DC, and I was checking out the museums and all of the artwork there.  That was around the time that I started painting a lot, and I was getting into the art thing more.  Seeing all of the paintings at a large scale really inspired me to see what I could do with watercolor at that size.  The idea of the beans stemmed from them all being one piece.   The intention was to do a series of nine to twelve beans and have them on the wall, and that would be the piece.  It turned into something a little bit different than that.  People have been buying them individually; a lot of people who have bought one or a couple have bought more.  That makes me happy because that’s how they are intended to be.  It’s cool that people can enjoy just one of them, but they are meant to be in a group.   This is going to be an ongoing thing.  Right now I’m at 33.  If I painted a thousand of them, I would be happy with that.  But I don’t know if I will.  Right now is the moment that I am doing these, and it’s what I’m feeling, and we’ll see.

LS-As an artist based in Chicago, in your opinion what is special about being a part of the art scene in Chicago, and do you think it has things to offer that may not be available in other cities?

Mass Transitional, 2012. (image curtesy of Christopher Galvin)

CG- I think there is a lot of pride in the art scene in Chicago.  There’s a lot of pride in the city, period.  People that are from the city of Chicago, or from the surrounding areas, are very proud.  Chicago is the “City of Shoulders”; there is a mentality of hard-working people in Chicago.  Of course there is pride in other cities.  The design community is very much like this too; it’s a tight-knit group and there’s a lot of opportunity to meet people that inspire you.  It’s not the biggest art market in the world, but it is.  It’s not the biggest, its not New York, but there is a market for art here.  People who like my work also have a love for the city, and if someone can fall in love with one of my pieces, that makes me all the happier because I paint them from my heart.  I painted a lot of my Chicago scenes with no intention of ever showing them in a gallery; the intention was just to paint stuff that I like.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to bring them into this setting and have other people enjoy them too.  When I see someone looking at my work or talking about it, I like to just sit back and hear what they have to say because it’s really interesting for me to hear people’s interpretations of it, and to be able to say that they like this piece, and here’s why.  It’s really cool.

LS- You’re also a Graphic Designer.

CG- I think differently along the lines than other designers.  I don’t make a distinct difference between art and design.  Art was first, and then graphic design came second.  There is always the discussion, “Is art graphic design?” In my opinion, they are one in the same; they are ways of creative expression and communicating a message.  Much like a logo or a brochure, which is communicating a message, a piece of art is doing the same thing.   It’s just a matter of them being two different forms in the end.  To me they are all the same, but that’s just because that’s the way that I operate.  I have been a creative soul from Day One.  For me, all of those things just come easily.  I work for myself, and I decided to do so after ten years in the design industry.  Five years ago in April is when I decided to go out on my own, and it’s been quite a journey.  It’s cool, and I’m fortunate to be creative all day long.  During the day when I work on the design stuff I’m being creative, and at night when I pick up the paintbrush I’m being creative. LS-

What’s coming up in the future?

Sun Explosion, 2012. Galvin's first "Light Box"

CG- I want to buy a woodworking table and a saw.  I have all of these visions of furniture that I want to make.  I love furniture.  I collect it.  That could be down the road, because right now my focus is on the painting.  One day they may become the same thing, or they may merge.  My focus is on the light boxes; I’m very interested in light.  In many of my pieces the main subject matter, other than being the city, is light.  That’s another thing that inspires me about the city is the light, whether it be the sun shining on the side of a building or the twinkle of windows.  I just started thinking, I’m painting light all the time, why not just use that as part of the medium?  That’s how the idea of the light box came about.  I had this idea in my head, and I was walking around the art store one day and I picked up this watercolor paper; it’s a translucent sheet of paper.  The first thought was to put a light behind it, like a stained glass window.  It scared me a little bit to take on an endeavor like that, because there were a lot of question marks for me. How am I going to build it? What do I build it with? How do I do the lighting mechanism?  It was new to me.   But in the end, it came out awesome, and I’m very proud of it.  I will definitely do more of those.  Maybe I’ll do lit tables.  That way, I can combine the watercolor, furniture and the light box.

Christopher Galvin’s paintings can be seen at 4Art Inc. Gallery, located in the Zhou B Art Center in Bridgeport, where he has been a collective artist member since August 2011.  4Art Inc. hosts monthly 3rd Friday opening events, from 7-10pm.  To learn more about Galvin’s work, visit his website here.  To learn more about 4Art Inc, visit the gallery website here

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