by Kylie Knight
The wind howls through the hills of Indio and Cristopher Cichocki walks with a long stride, his sure steps aimed towards exploration. As a multi-media contemporary artist he seems to have found a balance living here in the Coachella Valley, never stagnant, Cichocki moves from one project to the next, he talks with ease and speaks graciously, laughs loud, and thinks quickly.
Cristopher Cichocki is an explorer, an artist who experiments in a wide array of mediums. He’s a photographer, painter, sculptor, musician, installation, video artist, and curator in case you’re wondering how you’ve heard of him before. Cichocki has been capturing the beauty and the growing industrial presence of the desert ever since he moved to the desert at the age of 10 in 1989. His extensive body of work is eerie as well as beautiful, but most of the time unsettling with enigma. One of the most common materials used in Cichocki’s work are dead fish he personally gathers from the Salton Sea that he later covers in neon paint. Throughout the past decade his signature neon palate has mutated within thousands of Cichocki’s artworks that has brought attention to this local artist on an international scale.
While looking at Cristopher’s work as a whole (which is often the way he intends to be viewed in an art installation environment) your senses are overwhelmed through the use of high contrast images, loud, sometimes piercing noises, bright acidic neon colors, looping video projections, bones, found desert debris and live creatures. His work transforms sites of ecological decay and embodies our ever-changing surroundings all while forcing us to question the relationship between science, progress, and nature. Cristopher recently took some time out to answer a few questions for us.
Kylie Knight: How would you describe your style of work? Do you feel comfortable categorizing it?
Cristopher Cichocki: I think the work is best described as being “Multi-Sensory” or “New Sensory Art” given that the installation environments I create take on elements of sight, sound, touch, smell, and some have even claimed taste that was in relationship to the smell. My work brings forth a stimulating relation on the senses where at times it creates an elevated sensory awareness.
KK: What type of message are you trying to portray through your work? Is the message for each piece different or do they all tie in together somehow?
CC: There’s definitely an environmental theme to what I do. I use industrial and construction materials in contrast to natural and decaying elements. I collaborate with universal forms of nature and transform them into a hybrid mutation. The work has a lot to do with evolution and where we’ve been in the past along with where we are heading to if we continue on the path of what obviously needs to be changed.
KK: When did you first start using the Coachella Valley desert as a backdrop for your work?
CC: The origin goes back to when I was attending Palm Desert High is the mid 90’s. I would go out to the desert find random objects and assemble them into temporary sculptures. I moved away to attend art school at CalArts in Los Angeles and hung out in the LA rat race for 8 years. When I moved back to the desert I jumped right back into the landscape and it felt so good to be back in the midst of my roots producing desert inspired work. I use different areas from the Coachella Valley to the Salton Sea as an extension of my studio. I’m always going on photo shoots, creating temporary sculptures at these beautifully abandoned sites where I also gathering materials for my future paintings, sculptures and installations.
KK: What fascinates you about juxtaposing natural elements with artificial colors and industrial materials?
CC: The open desert is a vast dried up landscape that provides my neon colors to glow in a surreal contrast. Sometimes people think I use photoshop or something digitally manipulated and it’s not. What I really like is the idea that people come across my work when least expected in the middle of nowhere. There’s an alienistic presence to the neon radiating in the desert.
KK: Much of your work is embodied through installation pieces, what’s one of your favorite installations?
CC: Tough question! I’d have to say the installations I did in Brazil last year were pretty exciting to create. I was part of 2 ROJO NOVA exhibitions that put me in the mix of some major museums in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janerio. Both installations were lit with black light and the Brazilian art crowd loved it! However I’d have to say that my solo exhibition a few years back at College of the Desert’s Marks Art Center was one of the most meaningful because it was such a massive installation in the context of my hometown. It was like my ideal high school reunion and art opening wrapped into on evening.
KK: How often do you create? What’s the creative process like for you?
CC: I make art everyday in some way shape or form. That’s been my New Year’s resolution for the past 10 years or so. I need multiple projects going on at one time so I can let each project have the proper time to breath and then come back at it with a fresh perspective.
KK: What projects are you currently working on?
CC: I was asked again to do some work with ROJO NOVA. I’ll be exhibiting some videos in Brazil again this month at the Museum of Image and Sound in Sao Paulo. I’m also working on a huge series of new paintings and sculptures at my studio. My studio is at The Coachella Valley Art Center where I’m an artist resident, educator and curator. I’ve been working hard on launching non-profit program called New Generation Arts. The concept of New Generation Arts is to expose a wide variety of contemporary art to High School students planning to pursue a career in the arts. It’s going to be a next level art program that will enable high school kids to land into a scholarship, apprenticeship or job placement in the arts. New Generation Arts is one of the many programs offered at the new Coachella Valley Art Center. I highly recommend your art loving readers to check out the CVAC website at: coachellavalleyartcenter.com
To see more of Cristopher Cichocki’s artwork visit: cristophersea.com