With his grizzled good looks and khaki coloured clothes Mr. Stones cuts an image worthy of Hemingway, intimating a Cuban landscape and otherworldly experiences. His art seems born of that same frame; exotic yet familiar, stoic, deep and well worn. His show, Now and Then, of sculptural wall hangings, drawings and sculptures are featured at the elegant Resto-Bar, In Common, at 40 Cumberland Street South. Smaller pieces on ledges within the foyer behind glass also deserve equal attention. The crannies are a bit difficult to get into, but the effort worthwhile. Born and raised in Thunder Bay with a number of jaunts to explore the country and better his practice with study, both at Lakehead University and the University of Waterloo, Chris Stones is a inveterate explorer of sites within nature and industrial landscapes. With a unique pursuit to peak his interest in the relationship of man-made objects to nature Chris creates his own thoughtful adventures and memories that are collected by retaining objects from his journeys, reworking the found pieces to make personal statements that are playful and well ruminated upon.
In his university studies he settled on wood and stone sculpture as his focus, but was expected to push the boundaries. This resulted in creating installation art. He continued with these interests while obtaining the bulk of his income from commercial work as designer for screen printing companies, namely sportswear and later as a self-employed sign painter. He also created artwork for local businesses.
More proficient today his art has become, as he says, more solid, secure, and substantive, taking on much more of a commanding physical presence with specific and expanding ideas that are highly individual. The majority of works in this show are interconnected with the use of materials and related themes. His personal stamp is made through a variety of subtleties that take time to ascertain. Chris’ work here covers a ten year span of thoughtful creativity. Especially thoughtful is the sculptural wall-hanging, Everything Beautiful is Transient.This piece is a brilliant work of art that reflects on manmade objects losing their functions to the natural entropy of time and friction. Rather than be recycled with a functional role, the wooden wheel has been left to rot, sinking gently with a companion, a bit of steal, into the sandy bottom of a river. The river bottom is suggested with the use of the grey/brown colour of the paint. Stained and mottled effects in the canvas suggest light reflections and refractions upon the sand, along with the weight of the water which would be pressing down on the objects. The dead little bird in the wheel-hole might suggest how our man-made objects often cost nature dearly or it could be a secure little burial site for something that once flew above the waves.Chris cleverly gives the viewer the best clue of all with the cutout canvas fish happily swimming above the refuse, somewhere between the bottom and the surface of the water, lively and clearly enjoying a moving living stream. Over the death and rot are the living, that balance in nature of renewal that Chris is able to suggest with a minimal use of information. Especially brilliant is to suggest the existence of the most present substance of all within this work of art, the one most present, but which can’t be seen by the viewer and only understood to exist in this piece; the water. Your mind is taken into a space beneath the waves in a way that is an incredible little virtual reality trip.
When asked about his work, Chris reveals what makes him an artist’s artist, reminding the rest of us artists how most of us should think about our process, without expectation. “I’m just revelling in the selfishness of it. I don’t care if anyone is paying attention to it. I’m not making it for Joe citizen to enjoy. It’s a gift and a talent I keep exploring it.” Inspired by literature, (the large window sculpture is called, Don Quixote) and more so by nature, Chris states, “I’m a water person; under the water, top of the water, shore lines, water in industrial sites, scrapyards even.” He’ll observe the repetition of shapes and lines of bird’s flight or the beauty in their longs necks, as seen in one of his most beautiful sculptures. Many of his works make a statement with the simple application of subtleties, such as changing the natural size of an object. This can result in a cartoonish rendering of an idea, as in the comical drawing of fishing lures. With his drawings he downplays his interest in the subject matter saying, “Drawings are just a way for me to make time disappear.” Clearly the drawings are more than that; Chris is celebrating the beauty of nature
while lamenting its destruction. But he’s an optimist who sees regeneration as a fight against the entropy sped up by human beings’ destructive influences. He even conjures up the idea of an ancient fish, the sturgeon, having become hyper-intelligent, turning themselves into missiles. This is an idea he has for a future series of work, which he discusses with a playful smile, shrugging at how the idea appears silly when described. These “sturgeon torpedoes” are part large living sturgeons and part metallic torpedoes. “If nature could fight back and self-determine genetically, what would they become? How would that manifest if they decided they didn’t want to be buried in the muck, part of industrial waste? How would they survive? They would become faster, deadlier.”. Entropy, synergy, dealing with form, finding subjects with lots of texture, Chris has a keen interest in many aspects of his subject matter, which he says is inexorably linked to his own character, explaining that ideas come as much from his own character as much as external sources. Nevertheless, he explains that he is always “taking his eyes for a walk.”
“I’ll keep a memory of where things are in the environment and boxfuls of notes. I started using a GPS to document a spot in the bush, so I don’t have to think much about getting back there, to a particular spot in the environment that I thought was stimulating. The sculptures are indicative of where I’ve been.” Chris can look at an old work and recall where he was and what he was doing at the time. This is a side benefit of employing found objects and recycling them into new works. “You don’t have to buy lumber to sand it and render it down to a piece of non-dimensional wood. And it represents a history of where it was found. There is a memory attached to a beach or an island or a lake.”
As humble as he is and claiming to be “retired,” he’s nowhere near done exploring or ruminating about his relationship with nature and he has a clear mission to express what he loves. He is more likely more “tired” by the art world and what it takes to be an artist. Wondering why he does it, produce art, he still appreciates the kick he gets, the shot of support he gets from people admiring his work.