In the Studio: A visit with Chris Buening

Chris Buening’s (NAP #85) three large pieces at Prole Drift weave in and out of themselves, mesmerizing snarls of color and line and coiling worms. Illustration of Events Happening is the title of the show, as well as the name of a diagrammatic installation on one wall that consists of 29 resin and plaster discs connected by a network of brushstrokes. Embedded in each disc, like fossils trapped in translucent bands of sedimentary strata, are layers of correction fluid drawings, rainbow foil, glitter and Sharpie. To either side of the installation are two large paintings on paper. One of the paintings has been meticulously cut out to form a hydra-like lacework of earthworms (as colorful as Gummi Worms). Facing it is a prismatic, molecular abstraction pulsing with bright spots and worms. Worms are everywhere.

Chris Buening and Illustration of Events Happening (wall installation), 2012, wood, powder pigment, foil, epoxy resin, correction fluid, and watercolor, size varies.

As the title suggests, Illustration of Events Happening sheds light on some recent events in Buening’s life. I met him at his studio to discuss it. - Amanda Manitach, Seattle Contributor

Buening’s studio is just like his work: oscillating between chaotic and orderly. A dozen rolls of artist tape are neatly hung on nails from a ceiling beam. Bulk packages of Wite Out pens are tidily stocked on a shelf. Yet the walls are graffitied with a confetti of paint drips and messages scrawled in pen. One portion of wall has been precisely cordoned off and threatens to burst its perimeters with a bricolage of dog tags, plastic dolls, scribbled notes, doodles, magazine scraps, matchbooks and splashes of neon paint.

Amanda Manitach: What is this wall about?

Chris Buening: It helps my OCD about being a pack rat. I just contain it to that wall. It’s things I find on walks, scraps and remnants in my studio that I can’t throw away.

Buening’s studio wall. Image courtesy of the artist.

Chris Buening | Dolly’s Demise, 2009, spray paint, acrylic and correction fluid on cut paper, 46 x 41 inches.

AM: It looks like a shrine! So what’s your process?

CB: I start out with a blank piece of paper and I start painting on it. Spray paint and acrylic usually. It gets my need to throw paint around out of the way. Sometimes I’ll see the suggestion of a thing in the paint, a random image will start appearing in it, it will spark an idea...Sometimes I just like the amalgamation of colors and then I’ll start drawing on it. Usually about halfway through the piece, when I’m starting to draw, a specific event or a person will come to mind and it revolves around exorcising that thing. It becomes a meditative process. This one [Dolly’s Demise] is about my friend Teda. In high school she was a severe drug addict, a gas huffer. She got pregnant and she was doing so many drugs she lost her baby and she later committed suicide.

AM: Wow, I wouldn’t have guessed that association was embedded in the image. Your work is so beautiful and bright. These lips could simply be a kiss.

CB: A lot of it is dark and extreme memories that I put away or white out (chuckles). I guess it’s a little therapeutic. I like the dichotomy of the loose, nothing-on-your-mind type of painting, splashing colors around, then switching to the detailed, disciplined over-drawing. It satisfies both of my impulses.

Chris Buening | Triangualation, spray paint and correction fluid on cut paper, 44 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Chris Buening | Triangualation, spray paint and correction fluid on cut paper, 44 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

AM: The drawn portion has the look of chemical or geometrical structures. Does sacred geometry factor in?

CB: I’ve read a lot of Fritjof Capra (laughs) so yeah it’s definitely something I’m aware of but it’s not something I’m thinking of here. Although I would say that mathematics and string theory factor into this work, thinking of how the universe functions.

AM: all?

CB: Mmhmm. A lot of my work is definitely influenced by psychedelics. I certainly did enough of them. But I stopped taking all that stuff quite a few years ago. I’d taken so much of it and it wasn’t quite the revealing experience when you start. I don’t have a religion, so for a while psychedelics were my little window into the universe.

Chris Buening | Wormhole (detail), spray paint and correction fluid on cut paper, 49 x 43 inches

AM: The works at Prole Drift have to do with a hospitalization?

CB: I was in the hospital earlier this year with potentially life threatening pancreatic necrosis. It was most likely brought on by over-consumption of alcohol. The work at Prole Drift is a meditation on the interconnectedness of the decisions we make in life and their consequences lead us to certain experiences, which in turn present another set of options. Each decision and action, hundreds per day, influenced by and connected to the previous or present circumstance. Some lead to regeneration and spawn a whole new direction. Some just peter out and wither in importance. Others lead to sickness and death. I suppose they all lead to death in the end, don’t they?

AM: Artists and’s a complicated relationship to say the least. I love to drink.

CB: I used to professionally DJ too. Lord knows, I’m no stranger to the party scene. I have lost more than a few friends and family to addiction and overdose. More specifically, I lost an uncle and a best friend to pancreatic necrosis (due to alcohol) when I was in my late 20’s/early 30’s. Lying in the hospital, thinking I might die that way too was a serious wake-up call.

Buening’s studio (Illustration of Events Happening installation in progress) Image courtesy of the artist.

Buening’s studio (Illustration of Events Happening installation in progress) Image courtesy of the artist.

AM: You have this drawing of an earthworm on your wall that says “MASCOT OF MINE.” And the earthworm keeps making an appearance...

CB: Worms are a favorite for me. They are symbolic of both death and regeneration. Also, my first job (when I was a kid) was catching “nightcrawlers” in my yard and the surrounding fields in Ashwaubenon, WI. Huge, long, slimy worms that my sister and I would hunt at night with a flashlight and a bucket during the Summer. We sold them to an out-of-home bait shop that the neighbor was running for five cents a worm! We always spent the money on candy.

AM: What are you working on next?

CB: In November I’ll be showing with Joey Veltkamp at True Love Art Gallery and also at Cornish College of the Arts. That show will be a response to Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou that’s coming to Seattle Art Museum. I have some ideas about a new body of work...but it's all still coming together in my mind. Some new work in clay and further foray into sculpture and installation....


Illustration of Events Happening is on view at Prole Drift through October 14, 2012.

Christopher Buening graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 1997 and currently lives and works in Seattle.  He is a member of SOIL Gallery and shows his work throughout the United States, most recently in the Northwest at Greg Kucera, Seattle/Tacoma Intl. Airport and Prole Drift. He was featured in New American Paintings #85. 

Amanda Manitach is a writer and artist based in Seattle.


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