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CHRIS ENGMAN

Opening statement

Luis De Jesus Los Angeles is very pleased to present CHRIS ENGMAN: Looking, the artist’s fifth solo exhibition with the gallery. The works in this exhibition continue his Paper series which he began in 2012 while a graduate student at USC.

Engman originally created these new photographs for our presentation at Paris Photo New York 2020 which was ultimately canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. We're pleased to share them with you here in our new Viewing Room. What follows are images of the work installed at the gallery, interspersed with a personal statement by the artist. We hope you enjoy it! 

Private viewing is available by appointment. Please contact the gallery to schedule a visit.

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CHRIS ENGMAN:

If I had to boil down to one word what I do, especially with these Paper works, it would be, I look.  I enjoy looking, I use photography to think about looking, and my works are situations I have created for myself to make myself look harder.  The marks I make and the photographs I show are really just the secondary outcome of this activity of looking.  In this sense my photographs are performances.

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Acrylic on Paper II, 2020
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 52 in (108 x 132.1 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
​Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

I made the first work in the Paper series about eight years ago.  At the time I wanted to move away from landscapes, which I had done entirely for about four years.  The first Paper piece was itself a landscape photograph that I didn’t want to look at anymore, so in my studio I flipped it around and pinned it to the wall.  After a while I started to like the way the paper looked.  I sculpted it, built a frame, and hung it on the wall surrounding the paper.  I photographed the whole thing and put the resulting photograph back inside the frame. 

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I made the first work in the Paper series about eight years ago.  At the time I wanted to move away from landscapes, which I had done entirely for about four years.  The first Paper piece was itself a landscape photograph that I didn’t want to look at anymore, so in my studio I flipped it around and pinned it to the wall.  After a while I started to like the way the paper looked.  I sculpted it, built a frame, and hung it on the wall surrounding the paper.  I photographed the whole thing and put the resulting photograph back inside the frame. 

When you see these in real life—say you’re standing in the gallery looking at one of these hanging on the wall—you see an image of frame but also, next to it, a frame.  You see an image of wall and next to it an actual wall.  You see images of fixed shadows next to real shadows, created fleetingly by the light in the space where you are standing.  And you see photographic paper represented on- and by- photographic paper.  There is this doubling that I find very intriguing.

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"I’m not trying to fool anyone.  I’m most excited about what happens when you’ve studied what you’re seeing, and you know exactly what happened, but the effect remains, and you become aware of the difference between how things look and how our eyes expect things to look."

The effect is to blur the lines between image and object.  I want the viewer to be seduced by the illusion, but even more so I want to make illusions that are comprehensible.  I’m not trying to fool anyone.  I’m most excited about what happens when you’ve studied what you’re seeing, and you know exactly what happened, but the effect remains, and you become aware of the difference between how things look and how our eyes expect things to look.

 

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Paper VI, 2020
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 48 in (108 x 121.9 cm) including graphite line
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP
 

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The more difficult the task I set for myself, the harder I have to look to achieve the task.  The circle drawn with graphite, for example, is only a circle from the vantage point of the camera that made the image.  To make it, I set up a live feed from my camera to a large monitor.  Looking at the monitor, I made a series of small pencil marks about ¼ inch apart in a pattern that looked to the camera like a circle. Then I removed the paper from the wall in order to draw the heavy graphite line against a flat surface, then painstakingly returned the paper to the wall exactly where it was. 

All of this, in general if not in particular, is there on the page and available for the viewer to see.  My photographs are records of my actions.  With the inclusion of the shapes the viewer has to look harder, even after what happened is clear, because the distance between how things look and how our eyes expect things to look is greater. 

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Paper VII, 2020
Digital pigment print
41.5 x 41.5 in (105.4 x 105.4 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Chris_Engman_PAPER_install-5b_largeFULLIMAGE

Acrylic on Paper III, 2020 
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed 
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

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I recently revisited Roland Barthes’ The Rhetoric of the Image.  Barthes describes photographs as “messages without a code.”  Unlike with other mediums of communication, it requires no work to decode the denoted messages in a photograph, and we therefore receive photographs with an immediacy that makes them seductive.  It’s easy to accept not only what is depicted but also what is implied or symbolized without even being conscious of doing it.  What I’m trying to do is make images that disrupt the immediacy of photographs in order to make conscious the process of decoding them.

"A trompe l’oeil photograph may seem like an oxymoron — photographs are constantly fooling the eye with their verisimilitude. Yet Chris Engman has managed to create photographic images that evoke this playful artistic tradition while examining the mechanisms of their own presentation. They engage in a kind of generative navel-gazing: Photography has caught itself looking."

- Sharon Mizota, The Los Angeles Times

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Acrylic on Paper I, 2020  
Digital pigment print 42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

my very earliest...

My very earliest work documented actions taken in the landscape in black and white.  I switched to color because I wanted to close the distance between the images and the way we experience the world with our eyes—in color.  I started using paint in the paper series because I had some sitting in a drawer, and because it feels good to hold a paint brush in my hand and turn something very gradually from white to yellow.  But also, I think the impulse was very much the same as it was with those early landscapes—to add vibrancy, and feeling, and to bring the images closer to the world. 

These Paper works have always had this energy where they try to extend beyond themselves and blur the boundary between themselves and the space they are in, be that a gallery or museum or a home.  The walls surrounding the image, the shadow beneath the frame—they are directly referenced in the image and they become an extension of the image, a part of the piece.  The photograph incorporates the space within itself and in doing so it seems to grow. 

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Paper V, 2019
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
AP 1 of 2

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Paper VI is an extension of this logic. The line of graphite that runs through the image and over the frame becomes a line drawn on the wall behind the artwork, further blurring the distinction between image and object, artwork and space.  This is also the case, and even more so, in Acrylic on Paper II.  In this piece, a near perfect blue rectangle floats on and through image and object, wall and frame, artwork and space. The paint has added physical weight to the paper, necessitating strings that hold up and tug the rectangle back into shape.

With the lockdown, like most people I’m pretty much always at home now. I’m anxious about what’s happening, I’m saddened by the suffering and I’m outraged by the injustices in our society that are making things worse for so many people.  I’m appreciative of what I have.  I’m with my family and I have a studio and garden behind my house.  That world has become my whole world for now and I’m learning to see it as enough.  I’m realizing I don’t need so many of the things I thought I needed.  I’m stocked up on paper and I have some paint.  From my garden I can listen to the birds.  It feels good to hold still, and it feels good to look.

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Chris Engman received his MFA from USC Roski School of Fine Arts in 2013 and BFA from the University of Washington in 2003. In 2021, Engman will present a solo exhibition at the Museum of Art and History, Lancaster, CA. Recent exhibitions include the FotoFocus Biennial 2018: Open Archive, Cincinnati, OH; Prospect and Refuge at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Second Sight, New Representations in Photography, Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA; The Claim, High Desert Test Sites, Joshua Tree, CA; Staking Claim: A California Invitational at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA; and NextNewCA at the Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA. Engman’s work is held in collections internationally, including Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; Houston Fine Arts Museum, Houston, TX; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; Sir Elton John Collection, Atlanta, GA; Microsoft Collection, Seattle, WA; and the Cleveland Clinic Collection.

 

For inquiries, please click on selected works below.

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Acrylic on Paper II, 2020
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 52 in (108 x 132.1 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
​Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Inquire

Paper VI, 2020
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 48 in (108 x 121.9 cm) including graphite line
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Inquire

Paper VII, 2020
Digital pigment print
41.5 x 41.5 in (105.4 x 105.4 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Inquire

Acrylic on Paper III, 2020 
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed 
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Inquire

Acrylic on Paper I, 2020  
Digital pigment print 42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Inquire

Paper V, 2019
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
AP 1 of 2

Inquire

Acrylic on Paper II, 2020
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 52 in (108 x 132.1 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
​Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Paper VI, 2020
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 48 in (108 x 121.9 cm) including graphite line
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Paper VII, 2020
Digital pigment print
41.5 x 41.5 in (105.4 x 105.4 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Acrylic on Paper III, 2020 
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm)
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed 
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Acrylic on Paper I, 2020  
Digital pigment print 42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
Edition 1 of 6 + 2 AP

Paper V, 2019
Digital pigment print
42.5 x 42.5 in (108 x 108 cm) framed
AP 1 of 2