Chris Rush’s art: then and now

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Artist Chris Rush has had a lifetime of stories that teeter on fantasy. His recent memoir, The Light Years, covers the first two decades of his life from a young church-going boy to a drug mule for a hippie prophet. You can read more about that memoir and my conversation with him over at the Millions (eventually), but I wanted to give you a taste of the artist behind the memoir.

Here is a tiny part of our conversation that focused on his art as a child and what he is working on now.


After you discovered art nouveau and realized anything goes, what sort of art were you making during your preteen years before leaving New Jersey?

I was influenced by Tolkien. I started to do a lot of fantasy building and landscapes. Part of me understood, and not in a clear way, that the woods were calling me. I was living in New Jersey where there were deep woods by my house. I knew there were hills, mountains, and caves. They all interested me. I understood that there was some sublime notion of nature that I needed to understand.

When I started to take psychedelics, I was instructed with the most sensible piece of information to be out in nature when I took them. It became this quest of peace, enlightenment, and beauty. My art was headed into the woods very early on.

How has your art shifted throughout the years? What period would you say your work is in right now?

Deeply distracted in that I haven’t been able to make any large pieces of art in a couple of years. I’m still working a bit.

What happened in the big middle of my life was that I realized I could draw people. I always thought I couldn’t. When I set my mind to it, I realized it was like drawing anything. I became a portrait painter of sorts. I did that for about twenty years.

About that time, I was writing the book, and I started making anything that pleased me because I did continue to have exhibitions during the course of writing.

Now it seems every idea I didn’t act on during the decade of writing the book is in the room with me saying it’s time. I’m entering a period where I am probably going to Roscoe-influenced still life.

Even though your work has shifted throughout the decade, is there a common thread that has followed your art?

Possibly. Having been in Arizona for thirty years, I am very concerned with the transmission of light. I am very concerned with how light bounces around inside a picture frame. Anything serious that I do is about the transaction of light.

It’s the one condition in Arizona that you can almost always count out. It’s that the light is going to do something very interesting today. I’m constantly in a state of excitement here. There are so many curious things going on in the sky. I feel like I am an artist/astronomer. It’s the light in Arizona that has made my art what it is.

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