Interview with Chris Agnew

I saw Chris’s work a while back at  an east end space  off Vyner Street called the Wayward Gallery. It was the 16th Feb 2011. I was intrigued by his  paintings barely visible from the dimly lit room. I decided I would like to find out more.

I was interested in your inspiration. Is it true that you make work from ancient stories in Chile, then create images which could describe these accounts?  Are the stories merely a starting point in order to give you some kind of direction of what to depict?


The story behind my current works is essentially used as an over-arching metaphor for what my practice as a whole is concerned with.

‘In 1996 a Canadian explorer located a 150-foot megalithic monument on Robinson Crusoe Island (formerly known as Más a Tierra), over 600km off the coast of Chile. This monument is believed to have been carved by the Ancient Mayan civilization and research has concluded that this designates the only vantage point in the Western hemisphere where one can witness both the transit of Venus across the Sun, and a total solar eclipse 160 days later on November 13th 2012, signalling the end of the Great Mayan Calendar which has popularly been interpreted as the end of the world as we know it.’

In July 2010 I was invited by the explorer to join him on an expedition out to the island to witness a partial solar eclipse from this monument in preparation for the final total solar eclipse occurring next year. The purpose of this project (and my practise) is to illustrate how we can locate and manipulate evidence that supports any theory regardless of its seeming infeasibility – even the end of the world.”

  My work forms an extension of Kierkegaard’s idea that belief is insufficient, we have to believe that we believe. I have always played with various slippages between fact and fiction – for example some of my earlier work was based around the various interpretations of the Titanic story.

The landscapes appear religious or tribal because of two things. They feature an upright stone which reminds me of ancient stone circles or totem poles and then they appear to be highlighted, by bright geometric patterns which reference a human presence or a human intervention.

The ‘tribal’ iconography that you saw in the works are based on Mayan carvings found on particular temples. The works ‘Syzygy I & II’ for example, feature a cross motif that can be found on temples built by the Mayan King Chan Balum – who is believed to have built the monument on Robinson Crusoe Island – and these crosses may also be clues that point towards the location of the island. A ‘syzygy’ is an alignment of three or more celestial bodies, for example a total solar eclipse.

 Are you interested in shifts in translation, such as verbal or historic, cultural or traditional into pure (unrelated) images or how it translates from culture to culture? How much of the original source is important to you?

  With regards to your question about the ‘shifts in translation’ and how much of the original source material is still important; naturally the original source is always important however in my practise it is by no means as important as what it produces, like when looking at a plant we rarely consider the seed from which it grew but instead only survey the slightly differing fruits that it yields.

 The paintings create strong contrasts, such as natural forms contrasting withloose mark making and also etched surfaces alongside  tight and raised edges of  bold colours. I wanted to ask more about this. Why you have nature confronting what appears to me as flooring, or wallpaper?

This point also relates to your question about the ‘natural’ elements being juxtaposed with the artificiality of the geometric tiling; every natural element and process is underlined by a pattern, a system through which it has come into existence and operates in relation to other elements it comes into contact with. The deciphering of these patterns – eg. the golden ratio – has been one of our main obsessions for thousands of years. The inclusion of the geometric areas beside the natural forms within the works points towards this relationship.

 Chris Agnew exhibited in the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2010

Chris Agnew’s website: