Chris Dyer is a visionary artist on fire with ecstatic creativity, which he pours into all he does, from his exceptionally crafted paintings, to skateboard graphics, and huge mural works dotted throughout the world. Positive Creations, the monograph of Dyer’s work, is a rich summary of the multiple offerings he has made to the cultural community. Chris has a lot of that recorded in his recent coffee table book, but also has published these great sketchbook-journals of his journeys around the world. I also love catching the flavor of his projects and travels on his video series “The Artventures”.
As faculty at CoSM, the Art Church co-founded by Allyson Grey and I in New York, Chris has been a great inspiration to many artists. Sharing his deep spiritual enthusiasm with raw power, he channels brilliantly colored detailed beings and environments, work that harkens to artists like Keith Haring: graphically bold and iconic, for “the people in the streets” as well as the art world. The cheerful monsters that appear in Chris’s work remind me of Big Daddy Roth’s weird wonders but even more like the incredible 3500 year old psychedelic cave statuary in Peru, called “Chavín de Huantar”. Some of these invisible beings may have accompanied Chris when he made his way from Peru, land where he grew up, to his current beloved home in Montreal, Canada. I caught up with Chris in this recent conversation. —Alex Grey
Alex Grey: Hi Chris, how are you doing these days?
Chris Dyer: I’m good Alex, just spending some time in my Montreal studio, preparing some new works for a trip to Florida. I just came back from a long summer tour around your crazy country, which was pretty fun but also exhausting. I live painted many murals, taught workshops, exhibited and put a smiles on as many faces as I was able.
Sounds fun, we certainly enjoyed having you again at COSM for your Skate Art workshop.
Yeah, I was stoked to do that. COSM is such a chill place to have a workshop, cause of the awesome Hudson valley nature and all the art n good vibes on your land. Teaching workshops there the last few years has been a great chance for me to learn how to offer that service in a better way. Love all the peeps I meet there. Super rewarding experience and always fun!
It’s been great to observe you growing over the years, as a person and as an artist. These days it seems like you’re reached a real nice following of your canvas work in the visionary community, but you also seem to have a foot in other more urban art forms, right?
Well yeah, the first kind of fine art that I got into after school was skate art. I’ve been skating since 1986, so by the late 90s I had an abundance of old skateboards I had broken, yet didn’t have the heart to throw away. So I started to paint them and these pieces caught on pretty quick, giving me my first solo exhibitions. As I did some seasons of tree-planting, I came to understand that those broken planks where a sacrifice of trees, so painting them was a way to honour them with a new lifetime.
Eventually that led me to do skate graphic work for a bunch of different brands in the skate industry, but people mostly know me as the guy behind all them trippy graphics by Creation Skateboards. I eventually was promoted to art director of that rootsy California brand, for 3 years. It was a fun gig cause we made some real fun catalogs and also a very unique skate video called “Soul Harmonics”. But it eventually became too much work and stress, so I quit that role, to focus on my own brand.
That is an interesting evolution. Do you see skateboarding as a spot or an art form?
As with anything else, it boils down to your intention and perspective about things. I was never into competitive sports, so skateboarding had the potential to avoid its competiveness. I just do it for fun and the liberating feeling you get out of it. I am not a very athletic person, so I never got good at it, but I definitely have my own style and that gives me joy. I have also used skateboarding as a spiritual meditation of sorts, to focus my attention outside my busy mind, escape the problems of life and find a sense of freedom and peace at the end of the day!
Were you doing graffiti back in those early days, too?
Well, I only really did “graffiti” between 1993 and 1995 when I was living in Lima Peru, where I grew up. I was part of a street gang in my teens and a big part of what we’d do was spray paint the name of our gang (SepUlcro Crema) all over town. I got caught a few times, but police are real cheap down there so it was easy to escape punishment. Once I moved to Canada in 1996, I lost motivation to tag, since I didn’t have crew to rep anymore. My younger brother shortly after began to do North American style graffiti, so it gave me a reason to avoid that medium for many years. To avoid brotherly competitiveness I focused on skate art. It was a decade later when we became roommates in Montreal and our landlord gave us the thumbs up to paint the wall in our back yard, when I picked up that medium again (which had been massively improved since my teens!). So yeah, I got hooked on spray painting murals pretty fast and have been doing lots of them all around the world for the last 7 or 8 years.
People mostly know you for your canvases, maybe even your skate graphics, so why would you pick up a new medium from scratch, instead of continuing the investment of what was already working?
For me, each medium available is like having a Nintendo with a nice selection of games. You love each game for different reasons, and sometimes, the game you rule can become boring and the one you suck at can give you the most rewards, cause there is that greater room for improvement. So though I feel I’m decades behind gaffers that have impeccable can control, I have a blast every time I do a piece and manage to let style carry the piece. It’s so great to be able to do huge beautiful things so fast and then be able to leave it behind for the local communities to enjoy. I feel street art or muralism has huge potential to help heal the tarnished vibes of many dark corners of our planet. These original art pieces become part of people’s environment and lives, who are then elevated by having such beauty surrounding them, and ideally also receiving a positive spiritual message. That is why I’d like to see more street art with spiritual messages and views into new positive dimentions. It’s happening more n more and it makes me happy.
I really love seeing murals multiplying on such a worldly scale. So what else is cooking in your kitchen these days?
Other than painting/drawing commissions and for myself, I am always developing new fun products for my brand “Positive Creations”. So stoked that the technology got to the point where my detailed colourful art could be transformed into a number of fun products that people can incorporate into their lives and activate it to the next level. Then I also have an adult coloring book scheduled to get printed this spring, by “Last Gasp” from San Francisco. Super stoked to have that out interacting with people soon enough!
I look forward to that! The coffee table book that Schiffer published a few years back was so fun. You could really see a diverse range of expression, while at the same time it was unified in your very unique flavour of doing things.
Thanks Alex, such an honor coming from you. I feel I have a lot of different things to say and ways of saying it, but at the end of the day I’m still me. It’s like the cultures in our planet, so radically different one from the next, but the end of the day we are one beautiful humanity. If there is any message I’d like to convey with my work in general, it would be “Oneness”. Acceptance of our differences and creating more harmonious unity. I stay an optimism about the outcome of our human narrative, and I feel that well intentioned art has a powerful role in that transformation.