Artist Q&A: Christian Palmer

by Lee Steer, May 25, 2019

Cover Artwork: Christian Palmer, People Are Strange

Get to know the people behind the art.

In our series of Q&As on Artmarketspace, we will be speaking with some of the artists whose work appears on our platform as well as the passionate buyers adding these pieces to their collection.

We spoke to Byron Bay-based urban contemporary artist Christian Palmer about the importance of inspiration, why he paints animals, and his process when beginning a new work.

Artist Christian Palmer in his studio

When did you feel the first urge to create art? How did that make you feel?

I have early memories of drawing and painting and throughout my childhood it was always a happy place. In my adolescence it became a refuge, somewhere I could go for hours and no matter where I was it always felt like home. As an adult and a working artist, it feels kind of like a meditation which distorts time and quiets the mind.

What medium and materials do you work with? How did you decide on this medium? 

When I’m painting, I work with oil and acrylic paints on the same canvas. It took me some time to really understand oils fully. I build in layers and washes and then cut, scrape and rub back. My use of two mediums on the one canvas is an evolution born from experimentation.

How would you describe your style? How has your style evolved over time, and what has influenced its development? 

I would describe my style as sketchy, messy, grafted, unfinished and stylised with a certain naive quality. My style has evolved and is a coming together of distinct bodies of work, including abstract landscape and figurative. My biggest turning point would be working with children bringing my focus back to innocent creativity and the outcomes that freedom brings.

What themes do you explore in your work? Where does your desire to work with those themes come from? 

My subjects are usually animals and the work often includes lyrics or text on the canvas so music plays a big part with the mood of the piece. But in terms of common threads and what drives the work, its most common theme would be introspection, expressing things I find difficult to verbalise and a search for answers to questions that trouble my mind.

Most of the subjects in your works are animals – What is the inspiration/motivation behind that? How do you choose which animals to portray?

When my dog got cancer I had the hard task of euthanising him. I was filled with guilt and remorse. I didn’t know what to do with the grief so I painted. I painted my dog and my best friend and it helped. It helped heal and it helped me remember and, in that process, I realised what place pets have in our lives as companions and family members and how well-positioned they are to observe human nature and behaviour. This process was the catalyst for a body of work that has evolved and grown to encompass domestic, agricultural and wild animals. Initially it was just dogs and they still are my favourites, but I found each series with a different species tweaked the perspective just a little.

Christian Palmer,
We don't need no education

You also use include a play on words in your work – What is the inspiration/motivation behind that? How do you select which words and phrases to use? 

As I mentioned, music plays a big part in the process. I always paint with music on in my studio. It is emotive, nostalgic and playful. It gives form to thoughts maybe I don’t have the words for or can’t express as I would like and certain songs resonate so strongly with the things I feel and that’s not just me so using lyrics can be a bridge to common ground with whoever views the paintings. The choice of words for a painting is quite random and synchronistic. There is no formal order leading me to the final decision and the words may change during the process. I began writing on the paintings around the time my dog died, when my daughter was in preschool and seeing a child form those early letters and words led me to mimic a child’s script because I feel it is disarming and sometimes harsh truths are more palatable with this aesthetic.

What does inspiration mean to you and how much do you rely on it in your work?

Inspiration is not a lightning bolt for me and rarely is it even a light bulb. The hardest part is always to begin. Once in the process I can lose myself. That is when I feel inspired. I have experienced creative block recently and it is not a great space to be in. I missed that feeling and longed to get lost in it again. Inspiration is a precious gift.

What does your creative process look like? How does inspiration come for a piece, and how do you then make a start creating it?

When I’m in full flow I could be working on two, three, even four canvases at a time in different stages of development. I go straight to canvas with charcoal, something that resembles a five minute life drawing sketch. I make mistakes, lots. Then I prime the canvas, texture the work and refine the framework. I paint the background in acrylic, let the paint flow and drip and run off the canvas. Make more mistakes. I use sand paper to flatten the texture and make adjustments. I work on the figure with washes in oil paints and I use oil sticks and let the paint run and merge and see what happens and get lost in the process and see where it takes me. One thing leads to another and another painting and hours are lost and I feel inspired. I worked like this for the last decade producing 2 shows a year most years until I did my New York exhibition and then I was exhausted and needed to step back. Take a break.

Where do you create your work? Does your workspace and environment influence your process? 

I converted a shed / workshop into my studio about 8 years ago when we moved back to Byron Bay from Sydney. Prior to that I worked out of a car port or garage or any space I could make a mess. I am doing a huge clear out of my studio. 8 years of stuff has accumulated to the stage it is looking like a junk yard and is not a great space to work. I love organised chaos but it has just got out of hand and a complete clear out is needed to start fresh because the studio is my favourite place to be and I am itching to make it a functional space once more. 

Christian Palmer, I've been talking less...

Does living in Byron Bay influence your creative process or provide inspiration in another way? Are there any other places that inspire you? 

Not consciously. Maybe I take it for granted. I feel very blessed and there is nowhere I would rather live. I am surrounded by natural beauty and live in a semi-rural area but the urban vibe still energises me having grown up in London and having lived in Melbourne and Sydney. They are all places I enjoyed living and London certainly has that harder cutting edge that influenced my street art and urban contemporary work which spills over into the fine art side of things.

Are there fellow artists who inspire you, who either work with the same media as you, or in other fields? 

I have learnt a lot from friends and contemporaries over the years and each one has influenced me at pivotal moments along the way. More so than renowned artists. Having said that the explosion of urban contemporary art owes a lot to the Banksy phenomenon. I like the low brow nature of what he does, the satirical social commentary and the way he mocks the art world itself. My work is more self-exploratory and introspective but It does offer some social commentary on a different level which I think is central to all the work I do. 

What have you been working on recently?

Apart from private commissions I have not been working on a collection since New York and have not booked in any shows. I have used the time to redirect my creative urges to upcycle furniture, renovate areas of our home that were overdue and on the list and create beautiful spaces as opposed to paintings. Once my studio is back in order this month I am going to unleash. What comes out of it, I’m not quite sure yet but I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings.

You can view more works from Christian Palmer available to purchase on Artmarketspace here.