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Chris Schanck – The story of the artist, designer and Dallas native

Iare they furniture or art? Chris Schanck a lot is asked, and the answer is a little of both. “In my heart, I’m an artist: designing furniture is the way I found my way,” she says.

Schanck, 47, works in the underworld where art and design converge, his works assembled from found materials and covered in glittering resin and aluminum foil. Born in Dallas and now living in Detroit, Schanck studied painting and sculpture in the 1990s at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which he attributes to a sanctuary for art in an addictive family life. and instability. Now an international star in the world of contemporary design, the artist’s furniture is highly sought after, ranging from $ 30,000 to $ 150,000.

Designer William Sofield furnished Tom Ford’s flagship on Madison Avenue with a chair and console and architect Peter Marine commissioned Schanck to create benches for a dozen Dior boutiques. Bottega Veneta has installed many of Schanck’s pieces in a Detroit pop-up shop, and his works are held in private and public collections across the country, including the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Dallas Museum of Art.

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York has staged a retrospective of his work, “Chris Schanck: Off-World” (until January 8, 2023), supported by Friedman Benda, the elite New York gallery which also represents work in the United States. “Chris is one of the most interesting artists working in the contemporary furniture industry today,” says the exhibition’s guest curator, Andrew Blauvelt, director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, which owns two of Schanck’s works. “As an artist, he takes a conceptually rich approach to his work and, as a designer, he pushes expectations about what furniture can be.”

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A retrospective of Chris Schanck’s works at MAD includes Mum, 2020, a chandelier he made in collaboration with his mother. (photo by Jenna Bascom)

There are twenty-four of its richly carved and colorful furniture forms, including Mom, a chandelier made in collaboration with his mother, with whom he had a tense relationship. “I wanted to make peace with her, reconnect somehow,” Schanck says. Her mother carved the chandelier out of twigs and sticks collected from vacant lots and the beach near her Florida home; Schanck arranged it with armor of steel tubes, applied color through layers of colored resin and turned it into a work lamp.

Shaking toilet – a tall chest of drawers that appears to be devoured by pink foam – has drawers and cabinets made of OSB (oriented strand board), an inexpensive plywood-like material found in poorer areas of Detroit, and often used to crowd for foreclosures or abandoned buildings, particularly in the immigrant neighborhood of Banglatown where Schanck lived and worked for a decade.

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Vicolo Vanità And Garden chair2020 (photo by Chiara Gatto)

Vicolo Vanità was inspired by the late 19th-century Martelé dressing table in the Dallas Museum of Art collection and debuted at the DMA in “Curbed Vanity” in 2021, his first solo exhibition in a museum. Made from objects found in his Detroit neighborhood, the dressing table is coated in resin and aluminum foil, a reference to the aluminum factory in the Dallas area where Schanck’s father worked. Chronically unemployed, his father moved the family a dozen times before finding a job at the factory, Schanck says. He and his brother also worked there for some time.

“Aluminum foil is more than just a material in the sense that it represents our family’s first taste of stability,” he says. The retrospective also includes the artist’s latest figurative creations, including Eye of the Little God, a bas-relief mirror inspired by Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mirror”. Schanck stumbled upon poetry – a meditation on aging and the end of life – as he researched the story of mirrors for the Vicolo Vanità piece.

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Shaking toilet2022 (photo by Jenna Bascom)

Art, design and avant-garde

H.These works may not be conventional, but Schanck can design and build furniture with the best of them: he has a Master of Fine Arts in design from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, which has produced legends Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia and Florence Knoll. Previously, he trained at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he earned a BFA in sculpture, an opportunity he nearly gave up while still at Booker T, when a recruiter offered him a full scholarship which he initially he refused.

“I was dealing with some extreme addictions and depression, flirting with suicide,” says Schanck. One day he put a gun to his head, not knowing if it was loaded or not. “What went through my mind at that moment was, ‘Well, you could get it over with, or you could give it all up to your work and see what happens,” he says. He put down the gun. “I dug up the recruiter’s card – the college deadline was already up – and begged him to give me another chance.” He did it, along with a full ride to college.

Subsequently to Cranbrook, Schanck thrived thanks to the school’s focus on “think through creation” on studio work and experimentation, where he was introduced to the institute’s legacy of avant-garde and radical furniture design. Rigorous group criticism taught him to think critically about his own work, and the inherent limitations that furniture design presented to him were liberating. “He gave me the freedom to dig as deep as I wanted within that space and explore it,” he says.

After Cranbrook, Schanck played with the idea of ​​becoming an industrial designer “who did useful things … But my natural instincts took hold and the sculptor in me came back”. However, he has never strayed from the practical, so making complex sculptures that are also mobile has advantages.

“It’s familiar and people can relate to work, which isn’t always the case in art,” he says. “I can take someone to Mom’s chandelier and say, ‘What are we looking at? Are we looking at a sofa? Are we looking at a mirror? ‘ Obviously we’re looking at a light, and everyone is on the same line no matter how weird it is or what I mean by the narrative. It’s an entry point that can make it easier for people to get in. “

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by Chris Schanck Banglatown, 2018, is part of his current retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design, NY. (photo by Michelle and Chris Gerard)

An artistic gift to Detroit

C.hris Schanck works in a studio in a converted 1920s mechanical workshop in Banglatown, employing artists, students and craftsmen from the neighborhood, populated mostly by immigrants. His art is expensive – the prices reflect intense production costs and a living wage paid for seven people, including himself – so he’s looking for ways to make other works of art affordable. It is in the early stages of a collaboration with a friend, Detroit artist Wesley Taylor, which could involve limited edition clothing and music, which will kick off a low-key underground show in New York City that bypasses the art world. commercial. Most recently, he has joined the roster of London’s prestigious David Gill Gallery – representing the Bell Brothers, the late Dame Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind – and is feverishly working apart for a one-man show in Autumn 2023.

The significance of making an important mark in the rarefied world of art and design is not lost on Schanck, who started with all the chips stacked against him. “I’m not the kind of person who should make it in this world,” he says. “Art is like love, it is an act of total faith. It can crumble under your feet or it can support you.

Keep up with Chris Schank on Instagram.

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