Interview with contemporary artist Chris Panatier

Chris Panatier likes listening to music. Specifically extreme metal. He credits his love of music for bringing his art to where it is today. As his interest in music deepened over the last five years or so, so did Chris’s commitment to forcing himself to broaden his imagination, creativity and technical skill. The effort put forth by some of Chris’s favorite bands stood as an example for him with his art.  While he has painted and exhibited his figurative art extensively in oil, most of his current work is watercolor and ink on board—almost exclusively for unsigned metal bands throughout the world.

Hello dear Chris, please, tell us how did you find the artist inside you? How long have you been doing art? Is art something that you always wanted to do?
I think most artists probably give the same answer to this one: I’ve been doing art since childhood. I have always enjoyed it but only recently (last 6-7 years) got really serious about perfecting my techniques and putting forth 100% effort to get it exactly right. My parents were always very enabling and supportive of my love of art—I actually wish they had pushed me harder earlier on instead of trying to get me to enjoy soccer—which I still hate to this day.

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?
Major influences cross several media for me. Musically it’s bands like like Mastodon, Borknagar, Kvelertak, Destrage, The Ocean and Pig Destroyer among many others. Artistically it’s other artists like Michael Borremans, Jenny Saville, Alfonse Mucha, Francis Bacon, John Baizley and Jeremy Geddes. I do a lot of reading and there’s not a uniform theme to what I read in terms of genre. I read fiction, non-fiction: I’ll usually read fantasy novels like A Song of Ice and Fire for a few weeks and then pick up Moby Dick or Blood and Thunder –a historical account of the American-Indian Wars as told through the life of Kit Carson. What I guess these books have in common is they deal in extremes. Whether imagined or real, what draws me to stories like these is they occur in the periphery of the bell curve of human experience. Those extremes are what inspire me in my work.

How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?
Haha I go to my day job! Before that I get up very early with my six-month old little girl and help my wife get the day going. Then I go to work as an attorney. I get most of my art drawn each evening and on weekends. It’s been really hard to find time with the new baby but I’ve been able to meet my obligations to folks for whom I’m doing art work.

What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art? Do you think an art education is important or imperitive for anybody wishing to be an artist? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that you have encountered throughout your career with/without the formal training of the Art Academy?
Well as I mentioned, I followed a pretty traditional path for regular employment, college, law school...but on art I didn’t go to school. For art, my school was repetition. There’s no substitute for that. I have historically been a pretty impatient person so trying to become a better artist also forced me to learn patience and really appreciate the process of learning. If you see my stuff from 5 years ago you’d think it was a different artist. Nothing changed other than my skill in *seeing* better in terms of composition, color, contrast and execution of shape and each of those contributed to art that I’m pretty proud of now. But I can always improve and get better. That’s what I’m trying to do.
What fascinates you the most about (pop) surrealism, contemporary art and lowbrow art? How would you describe your style? What themes do you pursue, what surrealism mean to you and what do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?
I suppose what I like the most about those genres would be the lack of boundaries. I don’t think you have to be a dyed-in-the-wool surrealist to paint/draw without boundaries, it’s just that surrealism is defined that way. Once an artist truly understands that they can put anything down on paper with any number of layers or perspectives, the sky’s the limit. It may sound simple but truly understanding that is a big part, for me at least, in executing a successful surreal or low-brow style piece. Personally I think my art straddles Art Nouveau, Storybook and Comic styles. It wasn’t intended, that’s just what it ended up looking like. I was complaining to another artist that I was having trouble trying to get my work to look a certain way and he pointed out that if my style had a consistent look despite my efforts to change it, well then I’d probably found my style. Interesting way to look at it but I think he was right.

What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?
The freedom, obviously, but my favorite part is watching an image start to come off the paper from pencil to pen to watercolor. I love walking in to look at a work in progress and be taken aback when I’ve done a good job. Being creative means being inventive—which is hard since any idea you have today has probably been had by 1000 other artists. So we have to work hard to create outside of what everyone’s already seen a thousand times. My themes are not unconventional but I’m trying to create a style and look that are distinct without forcing it.
Can you describe your typical workflow when you’re working on your art? What are your tools of trade? What medium do you most often use and why?
My pieces take upward of 100 hours each all in. Probably the hardest part is the creativity part-haha. The part when i‘m starring at a blank page trying to figure out what to draw. Since I feature women in most of my pieces, I’ll usually start there, finding a good reference image and put her in. From there I sketch-erase, sketch-erase, repeat. Until some imagery or movement strikes me as unique and well composed. Sketching is the hardest part. Some artists sketch away and then move to their actual canvas or paper for execution. I do it all on the one piece of paper because once I have something I like that was created organically it only looses its feel if I have to recreate it. When I’m happy with the composition in pencil I ink it with Rapidographs and Microns. Both are waterproof with the Rapidographs being more durable for erasing over. After that I get hi-res scans of the B&W image and then come back and watercolor using Grumbachers. I watercolor right on the original B&W, not a print as some artists do. I want one piece of art in one place. Not a B&W here, color there. If I screw up the color I just have to deal with it. Sort of scorched earth I know, but I’m a purist haha.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
Tell us more about your workspace. What was the most funny or weird thing that happened to you in your studio? What is / was the most strange thing hiding in your studio?
I have a beautiful studio on the second floor of our house surrounded by beautiufl trees. I haven’t worked in it for six months because I need to be closer to our little girl so I can help my wife out. So I set up whereever I can! As for things hiding in my studio? Wasps. Luckily they are usually dead when I find them.
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
The toughest thing is when you realize an error after you’ve laid ink down. Sometimes you get so far into the detail of a piece you don’t remember to back up and take a forest-for-the-trees approach to make sure everything looks correct as a whole. So I have had to learn to do that, take a break and then look at the piece with fresh eyes while it’s pencil to make sure everything is laid out correctly. But you’re always going to notice little things you regret once you’re done with ink and color. That’s just part of the process and I’m still learning to accept that no piece of art is perfect and the correct response isn’t to light it on fire. haha
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?
Best advice: if you sell your work, price it lower than you think it deserves.
Worst advice: if you sell your work, price it high. You can always increase your prices over time. Much harder to lower them. Looks bad and upsets people who have purchased your work. I started doing album covers for free and still only charge a very low amount: 1. Because i’m mainly doing work for small bands that can’t afford an expensive fee and 2. Because I benefit as well from having my work out in the world for people to see.
What do you dislike about the art world? What is the hardest thing on being an artist? Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
I show my work in galleries and have for 7 years or so. That world is mostly awful. I have started showing my work in smaller more off-the-beaten-path galleries because the large established ones mainly make me want to throw up. There are a few gallerists who get it, but that doesn’t mean patrons aren’t going to ask for something that matches the drapes.  I find doing art to be therapeutic and calming, not lonely. It’s important to do other things so you don’t have burnout. Any successful artist (I don’t really put myself there yet) has a structured day where they take breaks and do other things.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?
My goal isn’t tangible really. I would like to get better and better until I’m dead, all the while enjoying the process. We do it because we enjoy it. So right now I’m very happy.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?
Sure- draw and paint what you see, not what you think you see. What that means is very basic: we all think we know what a nose looks like, what color skin is, what eyes look like and more often than not we are totally wrong about those things. If you want to draw a nose, find a picture and draw it without thinking about what you think a nose looks like. Same with color or anything else. Draw and paint what is actually in front of you, not your preconceived notion of what that thing should look like.
Your favorite art or life quote is ...
 “Prevail and Ride.“ -Mastodon
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?
Uhg. I drive myself crazy because I want to do everything. I garden, mountain bike, road bike, woodwork, play rugby, draw shitty sports related ms-paint cartoons, play drums and run.

Do you have an online portfolio or a blog where we can view your work?
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there any project you are working on right now or any ongoing event or exhibition you would like to share with our readers?
I think I’ve used enough words. Thank you for asking for this interview! I’m very flattered to be asked!

By contributor Linda. September 2014. Find Oh, So Surreal on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google + or RSS.