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Chris Kienke | Artist Statement


Images broadcast on social media, film and television shape our values both individually and collectively as a society. My research explores iconic visual imagery, which influences the formation of American cultural identities. The considerations that fuel my artworks are not limited to one discipline. For example, ideas about patriotism, citizenship and freedom – are represented by images, which are themselves reflective of class, race, and gender. They shape our beliefs about what American values are and who gets to share in those values. The continuing discussions of social, political, historical and economic issues filtered through nationalistic and patriotic ideals found in social media, film and television in the United States is a dialogue that demands visual rendering. My responsibility as an artist is to contribute to these larger conversations by using the medium of visual language as a departure point for discussions about these topics.


Since 2008, I have been inventing new ways to create paintings by utilizing digital imaging technology in combination with traditional painting materials. To this end I photograph images directly from the television screen and then print these images on to canvas or paper where I paint directly onto the digital photographs to create individual paintings. Since I am merging traditional and digital technologies such as oil painting, acrylic painting, laser cutting and large format digital printing to invent new methods of painting, my explorations have led me to a place where I am layering certain materials onto canvas and paper that have no historical reference point. By this, I mean that a good portion of my current work is purely experimental from a material standpoint. The materials I am combing have never been used together before and I am unsure of the archival nature of the results. This blurring of digital and traditional boundaries allows me to create parallels between the techniques I am developing to create these new pieces and the viewers’ difficulty in determining the printed image from the painted image. These formal parallels also mirror a typical persons difficulty in distinguishing between the “filmed” and the “real”. Collectively this allows me to use both the materials and the images as visual metaphors for today’s digitally informed and media saturated society. 


In my current series titled: Hotrods and Handguns, I am interested in using images that represent ideas about patriotism and nationalism, which we see broadcast through daily, mediated experiences on social media, television news programs and films. I seek to use a critical eye to examine images of patriotism and to celebrate American strengths, while at the same time asking what it means to be American, how we end up with the images we use to define ourselves as Americans, and what are the consequences of an overdeveloped sense of nationalism .The Hotrods and Handguns project co-opts the shiny veneer of American patriotism and Hollywood action films: the flag, fireworks, stars and stripes, red, white and blue, explosions, hot rods and handguns in a very literal manner. The “over the top” nature of this Hotrods and Handguns project is both a celebration of this great nation and a critique of nationalistic attitudes about patriotism, which influences current debates ranging from ideas about freedom and citizenship to how we as a society respond to gun violence.

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