Chris Dean is a Detroit-based contemporary artist whose work explores transformation and illusion through the rare practice of lenticular image creation. His multi-layered, hypercolour pieces create an appearance of movement and three-dimensional depth that allows the image to almost jump out at the viewer.
Dean’s interest in lenticular sprung from his experiments in stereoscopic imagery while studying at San Jose State University in the 1990s. Since debuting his unique style in2006, Dean has exhibited widely across the US and Canada, and this year made his international debut with a solo show, ‘Trannsylvania’, at Mauger Modern Art in London. His work has also been featured in a global marketing campaign for 1800 Tequila.
Q. What was the idea behind your most recent solo exhibit, Transylvania?
A. I was throwing away a bunch of papers my son had left in my studio and noticed Star Wars sticker book with all of the stickers removed. I liked the simple but recognizable outlines for the characters and the negative space that was left and decided to use a similar idea on a larger scale. That was the beginning. From there the other themes clicked into place leading to a fairly cohesive series of images that deal with concepts of transformation and acceptance personally and also in the attitudes people have towards the changing face of Detroit.
Q. Do you have a favourite piece in the show?
A. Not really. Perhaps some work better than others but I don’t think I could honestly narrow it down to one piece.
Q. Your work tends to focus on creating the appearance of movement within an image. What is it about visual illusions that fascinate you so much as a concept?
A. I have always worked with optical trickery in one form or another. Some of my first works in college were shadow boxes with layered plexiglass pieces and sculpted foam enclosures that used day-glow paint and ultraviolet lights. I like the magic of it, I suppose, the expanded palette of possibilities and people’s reactions to the work.
Q. There seems also to be a strong sense of place in this new collection. How do you think living in Detroit has influenced the progression of your work as an artist?
A. People that live in the area have big feelings about Detroit; it is unavoidable. I was born in the city but my parents left soon after in a movement that has been called “the great white fight.” There was tremendous racial unrest and hordes of white people fled Detroit leaving significant holes in many parts of its social, economic and physical structure. It is the reason palatial mansions lay in ruins across the city. It is complex, but one of the things I like about Detroit is the accessibility. The fact that someone of moderate means can own a mansion or a 40,000 square foot warehouse is completely unique to the city. There is a sense of openness and potential that has brought droves of creative people back and these are the people I see making some of the biggest changes. It is a mess, don’t get me wrong, but it is an exciting, curious mess and it fires the imaginations of a great many people.
Q. Your work has previously featured in a campaign for 1800 Tequila. How different is the process when you’re creating art for commercial purposes?
A. Well for that project they chose an existing piece so it was very straight forward. Historically I have not enjoyed the process of creating art for others, as commissions or commercially. That says nothing about the quality of the final product, only my state of mind while working. I tend to over think things and loose a sense of flow that happens organically when the work doesn’t serve a secondary purpose.
Q. Lenticular images are somewhat of a rarity on the photography scene currently. Can you tell us a bit more about the methods you use to create these images?
A. A lenticular print consists of an image and a plastic overlay. The image, if you were to see it without the plastic covering, looks like fantastic mess of vertical stripes. It is the result of a process called “interlacing” where many images are carefully dovetailed into a single image that contains the essential qualities of the whole set. This image is produced with the particular qualities of the plastic overlay in mind, so when the two are combined the overlay can make sense of the striped image. The overlay, or lenticular lens as it is called, is an array of thin vertical lenses designed for various optical qualities. In most cases the printed interlaced image is face mounted to the back of the lenticular lens using a clear adhesive. The Transylvania series was all shot using a special vertical rig and 3 synchronized cameras. I walked around my subjects and took a dozen or more shots and then used specialized software to create 3D models from the photographs. It was the first time I had tried this approach and it gave me a great amount of flexibility as I worked.
Q. Are you working on any new projects currently?
A. I began a project called “Wish You Were Here” earlier this year that is concerned with the quality of being present and the role of catastrophe in getting a person there. It features scenes of every day life where something horrible goes wrong and people are snatched from their routines into a world of vivid clarity and purpose.
Q. Who or what inspires you when you’re creating?
A. I am not sure. I do know there is a point at which things seem to flow but it is not a quantifiable thing.
Q. Do you have any expectations with your work? What do you actively try to express?
A. I see two things in this. The first is some concept or idea that is explored with the intention of creating dialogue with the audience. It is the artist expressing ideas that have an intentional objective reference and the desire to share this with the viewer. The other is more personal and has to do with process. It gets to the idea of being in the moment of creation and in the space of flow I was mentioning earlier. In this case the product is only the documentation, like a work of Fluxus art. It is certainly possible for both to happen and in the best cases both probably do.
Q. What do you hope to achieve for the rest of 2010 and how might Pelime help facilitate this?
A. I am mostly tending to the exhibition of Transylvania at the moment and finding new venues for the work. To that end I am open to all positive conversations members of the Pelime community might want to have about exhibition spaces. I also like the idea of collaboration and the energy that comes out of well formed alliances. Those are good conversations too. Thanks.