A Conversation with Chintan Bolliger

Q: Your work in the past seemed to have a strong narrative component. Where have all the figures gone?     

CB: I noticed that I lost interest in the internal, psychological aspects of the figure in my paintings. They gradually became an exercise in shape or form and then they just vanished or at least morphed into something less literal.

Q: The earlier work had a feeling of something very ancient, which seems to have changed.                      

CB: I’ve always been interested in time and deep roots. The figurative work was almost archeological in construct, a search for something long lost. Now I’m attracted by more ephemeral phenomena, things which rise, transform and move on; unbound by the constraints of time.

Q: So, would you consider this new work abstract?                                                                                                

CB: I would call it non-figurative rather than abstract. It is still tethered to the idea of imaginary objects.

Q: Are these objects specific in nature? Where do they come from?                                                                      

CB: This new series is a consideration of my relationship to the natural world and what it means to be alive. Awareness lies somewhere on the boundary between the landscape we walk through daily and the alternative environment of the imagination.

Q: Although the idea behind the images seems quite abstract, I find them very relatable. Did you intend them to feel like something tied to our human existence?                                                                                      

CB: All of the images I’ve created look to be a part of the natural world. They could be microscopic specks or complete ecosystems. What was important to me was the perception of life evolving into tangible form. The idea is not tied to the metabolic. Water, wind, the rock beneath our feet, all seem full of life. Underlying the texture in most of the paintings is a structure of faint horizontal lines. To me, they help to anchor the work within a human context, implying a linear organization along the lines of a musical score or a typewritten message.

Q: Does your process evolve from the concept? Is the idea primary?                                                                 

CB: Being a very tactile person, most of my work starts with me messing with materials, looking for clues. The idea takes hold out of the process and then I pursue that concept in subsequent paintings. These new images exist in the space between the geological and the biological and are a consideration of where the spark of animation might happen.

Q: I saw some of your work which was featured in a retrospective, in Zurich, of the 70’s art scene. There were no paintings at all. Why the change?                                                                                                                

CB: My art school days were at the height of the conceptual art movement and my work at that time was mainly installation or photo based. Eventually I realized that the moving of paint upon a canvas was where I felt most at home. It allowed me to work from a more intuitive, natural place.

Q: Visiting your studio I noticed you were using many nontraditional tools to work on your paintings. Could you say something about technique.                                                                                                               

CB: In this series I’m exploring a different way of working. First I lay down the textural foundation of the composition using thick acrylic medium manipulated by various tools I have been fabricating and experimenting with. Then I build up the structure of the painting, layer by layer, moving paints across the surface. Further applications of colour and glazes finally bring the painting to the place I’ve been looking for.

Q: Could you tell us more about the upcoming show?                                                                                              

CB: The show is called Life.Forms and is taking place on the Showcase Stage at Mahon Hall on Salt Spring Island from July 29th until August 24th. There will be an opening reception on Friday July 29th from 6 until 8pm. In addition, I’ll be giving an artist talk on Sunday August 7th at 2pm.

It’s exciting that Donna Cochrane, who does beautiful three dimensional work from natural materials, will be responding to my paintings. She is creating a sculptural, central orb around which the show will revolve. I think our two approaches will work really well together.