Sunday, March 8, 2015


Chad Wys, 31

Peoria, Illinois

Instagram: @chadwys

Nocturne 110 on the cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray

What is your job title?

I suppose at some point I became an artist.

Do you work for a company or organization — if so, what?

No, I consider myself either freelance or self-employed.

How long have you been doing this work?

In various degrees for the length of my life, to an earnest degree for about a decade.

Sight Line

Where are you from?

Born, raised, and stuck in Peoria, Illinois.

What other lines of work have you had?

I can’t say that I’ve been a professional at anything else.  But I’ve had numerous odd jobs in my youth—the most significant of which has been my role as a student (but I generally paid the schools, not the other way around).  I’ve worked in a bookstore, in a department store, and at video store (back when we used our VCRs).

What does your work consist of?

It’s always challenging and unsavory to define who I am or what I do—because in the arts, and in my mind, definitions vary—but it’s easiest to refer to myself broadly as a visual artist, specifically as a conceptual artist, and secondarily as a graphic designer.

Judging a book by its cover

What training does someone have to have to be qualified for this line of work?

Theoretically, none, apart from the experience of life.  Technically, some academic experience in studio art and design can’t hurt; there are many artistic skills available for the sharpening.  Most of my training, however, has come from time spent studying art history, criticism, critical theory, and philosophy.  My work and my methodology is situated less in the realm of the technical and more in the realm of the conceptual.  Studying ideas over tradecraft has served me well in this regard.

Have you won any awards for your work? If so, what?

Nothing of any great mention.  It would help if I positioned myself in a way that sought out such accolades, or ingratiated myself into systems where my work would receive significant affection and notice, but I tend to exist very much outside such a framework.  I feel stronger the farther away I am from a predictable industry.  I’d say I’m an outsider artist in many ways.

Arresting imagery to illustrate global press

What personal attributes must someone have in order to be able to do this line of work?

I think good taste is important.  Knowing—instinctively?—which colors and which forms complement each other and possessing some nuanced sense of the atmosphere and meaning such combinations create is a knowledge base not shared by everyone.  I think that particular set of skills can be referred to, simplistically, as good taste, or it’s the artist’s eye, or the creative’s knack.  One learns a great deal by simply observing the world and deciding, on one’s own or through the cultivation of research, what good art and design looks like and how best it delivers ideas and meaning to a receiver (an observer, a viewer).  People seem to have a predilection for this ability, or they don’t.  How “good” one is at expressing oneself, of course, varies, and the degree of one’s skill contributes significantly to one’s success or failure in the long-run.  The acquisition of technical skills begins to play a significant role in fleshing out those with a future in creative expression and those without.

To make matters more complex, bad taste can sometimes be intentionally wielded in effective ways.  I think I do this in my work to a degree, and I’m by no means unique in this regard.  There’s a certain sense of aesthetic and conceptual irony that, in a way, becomes very sincere the more one finesses and arranges unconventional/uncomplimentary data.  I think this is why I gravitate to collage: the arrangement of disparate pieces of information holds a lot of allure for me, like a puzzle built from familiar and unfamiliar fragments, capable of evoking sensations as a whole that are not inherent in each single piece.  Some think my work is ugly, others find beauty in its unconventional disorder.

Is there a class in school that you can look back on and say was essential to have taken for what you do?

Yes.  It came in grad school, fairly late in the game, but it was the important jolt I needed to fine-tune my voice.  It was a contemporary art history course taught by Dr. Elisabeth Friedman at Illinois State University.  In retrospect, a veil was lifted in that class; I could see more explicitly the world around me and the role of art (and to some degree myself) in it.

“I think connoisseurs are in some ways the preservers of our creative histories and in other ways the enemies of creation.”

What lesson was the hardest to learn about doing this work?

That I possessed the tools to be an artist all along.  Everything I needed was banging around in my head and rather than search for some extrinsic magic ingredient or perfect recipe, I had to set my sights inward and cease caring what anyone else said, did, or thought.

When you were a child, did you conceive of doing this sort of thing when you grew up? What did you want to be?

No, not at all.  Despite always being creative, as a kid I desired a more conventional and immediately prestigious profession.  I wanted to be a medical doctor of some sort.  It took a little while for me to realize how much I despise blood and, well, touching other people.

Pillow covers by UK-based store Mineheart   

How many hours are in your working week?

168, just like every other week.  (I can’t begin to parse the hours I devote to “work.”  When you live and breathe what you do, and when it’s entirely self-contained and not directly dependent on another living soul, the hours are indistinguishable.)

Do you do this work year-round? Do you get time off? Is it seasonal? Do you have a second job?

I think of being an artist like being a human being: it’s not a state that’s easily put aside or avoided.  I’m always on call, as it were.

Would you consider this a job, a vocation, or a sideline?

I’d call it a vocation that has sidelined me from getting a “real job.”  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Where is your work located? One place or various locations?

Primarily in my home studio: a dark, dingy, chaotic hellscape not the least bit romantic or endearing to look at, but it’s my hellscape.

The artist in his studio

Do you have to travel as part of this work?

No I don’t, but If I did venture out into the world I have a feeling I’d be a much more traditionally successful version of myself.  (I’d define traditional success in the arts as attaining fame and riches, neither of which I personally pursue.)

Do you work alone or as part of a team?

Alone.  100% forever and always alone.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

Yes, absolutely.  Often classical works, often contemporary film scores.  Alexandre Desplat is my favorite composer and I tend to gravitate to his work from period films like Lust, Caution.  Dario Marianelli, Adrian Johnston, and old-world greats like Chopin and Brahms are personal favorites as well.

Chad Wys artwork on the cover of a single

If you could change one thing about your work environment, what would it be?

Well, I would love a pristine white studio space with everything immaculately stored away.  But then I’d lose the benefit of chaos and the happy accidents that messes accrue.

What do you typically wear to work?

I’ve got a fleece robe and nylon basketball shorts on right now.  That seems about right.

What raw materials do you work with?

Is glitter a raw material?  Is acrylic paint?  I’ve used a number of geological specimens in my work in the past.  Those seem fairly raw.  A lot of the found objects I use in my readymade sculptures/collages are caked with dust... does that count?

How does technology impact your work?

Enormously.  Computers influence most aspects of my work.  I think of my PC as my number one tool, even when I’m creating analog as opposed to digital work.  I’m constantly experimenting with color palettes and ideas on my computer prior to applying paint or glue to a surface.  Sometimes I operate on impulse, but often I like to flesh out ideas on my computer before I proceed in the real world.

Do you use any particular tools specific to this work?

I’d say my most unique set of tools are the objects and the images I find in my semi-urban environment and incorporate into my assemblages.  I travel to a lot of thrift and antique stores and source objects that I find interesting and that I believe can be subversive in another context.  The materials I appropriate are key to the work I create.

Poster for the Bavarian State Opera

Have you received any injuries connected to your work? If so, what?

How many welts and blisters have I received from a hot glue gun?  How many cuts from a razor blade or scissors?  Entirely too many to count, but I think all in all I don’t have a very hazardous occupation and I’ve fared very well!

Are there any words or terms used in your line of work that you could share and explain?

Art history, criticism, and theory has gifted us with seemingly endless terms that can apply to various methodologies, styles, periods, movements, ideas, etc.  One of the most loaded terms that I confronted in grad school is the notion of connoisseur.  A word I still can’t spell without the assistance of a computer.

I think connoisseurs are in some ways the preservers of our creative histories and in other ways the enemies of creation.  Throughout the past couple centuries a select group of highly trained, highly knowledgeable people have been the keepers of an artistic cannon, in which many artworks and many artists are not easily, or ever, admitted.  This has meant that, historically, women and people of color have been excluded—for a number of reasons, often due to social oppression—but also in some respects because those in positions of academic and economic power have determined their work to be unimportant or inconvenient.  So, art history is a white-wash, masculine, Eurocentric, Judeo-Christian love letter, and to a large extent so is our contemporary art market, thanks to specialists, professors, and critics—the connoisseur class—who have fashioned it that way, often in their own image.

Connoisseurs are problematic, but to some degree necessary.  We just really need to produce better ones, and we are.

“Is glitter a raw material?  Is acrylic paint?”

Please tell us about what you are working on right now.

I’m gearing up for my first art show in New York City (March 12-28 at Joseph Gross Gallery).  I don’t often exhibit my work; I favor a low profile, I don’t seek attention.  But lately I’ve decided to embrace display and the sharing of my work with a wider, receptive audience.  It will be a departure, but it should be fun.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about what you do?

That anyone can do it.  This is where, although I hate to say it, connoisseurs become important.  Because, to the layperson, a child’s scribble might look as “pretty” as a Picasso oil painting, but the differences can be quite vast.  Sometimes a refined eye is useful for noticing the details and the important nuances of a work of art’s technical and intellectual aspects, other times people are just comfortable in their stupidity and they think anyone can paint a picture (or slop paint on a found object, in my case).  The process of creation is more complicated than that, the ideas are bigger than that, and being ignorant of those processes or ideas can sometimes give way to a false sense that art is easy and worthless.

A Painting of Flowers with Color Bars

What is the hardest part of your work?

Convincing people that my art is not easy or worthless.  And also overcoming my own insecurities and doubts to produce work that is honest and insightful.

What is the most mundane part of your work?

I find art business to be different parts exciting and mundane.  Selling one’s work is sometimes a dreary aspect of life as an artist that holds the power to distract one and one’s audience from the importance of the work at hand.  Other times, it’s a great way to share work and to find camaraderie and understanding in complex and beautiful ideas, not to mention earning a living.

Composition 496 as iPhone case

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

I get to think and feel openly, hopefully causing others to think, to feel, and to challenge the world around them.

What is it you love about what you do?

I get to work alone and significantly on impulse.  It’s a very satisfying and self indulgent lifestyle.  I express myself for a living and I do so entirely on my own terms.  What’s not to love?

People would be surprised to know that:

I’m a recluse who seldom leaves the house.  I communicate largely by email, avoiding phones and face-to-face communication almost entirely.  I’ve always been a fairly anxious person and I’ve never relished the limelight or, well, speaking to people.  Sharing art is an intensely social form of communication, but the creation process can be a totally solitary exercise.  I find it to be a nice balance for my personality, sharing only the work I choose to share.

Visible, actually: book cover

What advice would you give someone interested in doing this work?

Take those nursing classes instead.  But seriously, only be an artist if you can’t stand the thought of being anything else.  It’s a labor of love, a passion choice, and the rewards are often “just” intellectual and emotional.

Can you please share an anecdote about your work?

An aspect of sharing my work online has been the ability to inspire, as well as be inspired by, other artists.  I find that sharing my work openly on the Web is most rewarding when I receive enthusiastic messages of appreciation and the confession that I’ve helped set off a spark of creativity in the mind of someone who had been facing a creative block.  Honestly, that’s the best part of my “job.” 

Sometimes, however, the inspiration turns sinister.  Once in a while I receive messages from concerned citizens, or I’ll stumble upon an example myself, alerting me of entities who have transcended inspiration and simply endeavored to reproduce my work and my ideas.  That’s particularly interesting since I’m an appropriation artist who confronts reproduction in my work; to be “appropriated” myself is a curious feeling.  It can be enormously flattering and/or it can be alarming.  It’s most alarming when the infringement is commercial in nature, and it almost always is about making money with people who substantially mimic or copy the work of others; it’s usually little more than a cash grab absent the effort of developing an idea or a style of one’s own.  I’ve confronted a number of folks over the years when the infringement is extremely obvious and deceitful, but mostly I’ll keep my distance.  It’s hard to prove intellectual theft in the arts, and frequently pointless to do so.  All artists borrow ideas and motifs from other artist—me among them—but good artists adapt, modify, and offer a fresh mixture.  There are some bad apples out there, but the (art) world has a way of spitting them out in time.

Is there anything else you would like to share with Forte readers?

Try keeping an open mind about thoughtful appropriation.

A Grecian Bust With Color Tests

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