Chris Moon is a British abstract figurative painter who has quietly built a formidable reputation over the last decade, being favourably compared to the illustrious likes of the late Francis Bacon. Originally hailing from East London, but driven by a wanderlust that has taken him all over the world, he counts the celebrity likes of Paul McCartney and Michael Fassbender among his collectors, which is something of a feat given his propensity to regularly destroy his works before they ever see the light of day. But that is perhaps the key to Chris Moon. He is an artist for whom the act of painting is a profound existential undertaking, the destruction and creation of work being an essential and somewhat Sisyphean process – brilliantly captured on film in the Jack Bond directed documentary The Artist’s Eyes, which followed Moon on the road in Spain pre-pandemic (notably, the only other artist Bond similarly documented was Salvador Dali in the 1960s). In this exclusive interview with Culture Collective, the artist takes us on an enlightening journey into the inner workings of his process, and tells us how riding the highs and lows of depression fuels his creativity.
I’m sure I’ve asked you this before, but can you recall the first thing that turned you on to art?
I can’t say there was ever a light-bulb moment for me, it’s just always been there. Art was something I was congratulated for from an early age, and it all started with constant line drawing – reproducing everything around me, from books and magazines to the characters in television shows, and my surroundings. I can actually remember selling drawings to classmates in primary school. I felt good at it, so you hold on, you know? It wasn’t until secondary school that I started colouring the drawings in. My art teacher was a real discipline freak, which gave me structure, and I started to learn about art history from the library’s collection of Art Review magazines. I never once stepped inside a gallery as a child, to be honest – so, my main inspiration and influence came from music and film. I always remember a feeling that I wanted to create music and film on canvas. That’s even more relevant now.
When were you first struck by abstraction?
One memory that really stands out was when my mum was having a miscarriage. Me and my sister were shuffled into our neighbour's house – a very elderly lady – and I was sat in front of a painting she was working on of her back garden. It was a daubed, messy impression which just stayed with me – impressionism and abstraction stuck. I was also obsessed with a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book of his sketches and drawings at that time – surreal figurative weirdness; the human form in many distortions. In my own practice, I’ve always painted the figure – after all, they surround us – but I’m constantly trying to reinvent how they are shown and perceived. I’m more interested in the emotional impact of an image, and driven by tension to communicate a different visual language of chance and disorder – re-inventions, distractions and destruction fuel the work; pulling out things you didn’t know existed.
What would you say drives you as a painter?
I’ve always been a thief of other people’s nostalgia, maybe in an attempt to create my own? I need to be constantly engaged and stimulated to move work forward but this comes with many pitfalls – and it’s usually at the start that my head runs ahead of my hand, seeing multiple paths and ways to reinvent the piece, all of which I follow until I am suddenly surrounded by unfinished work. Indecision always rears its ugly head in the battle between head and hand. At its best, my painting becomes a natural activity in which I can tell my story in paint – portraying reality doesn’t concern me anymore; reality lets us down why try to chase it? I would rather turn observation into an experience in paint. I suppose I am an introvert that paints extrovert, if that makes sense?
Tell us about your latest series of works…
For the last five years I’ve been working on a huge figurative project called The Joy of Being Scene, which is the end product of hundreds of studies I have made of figures taken from many places – real life, social media, dating sites, books, magazines – in order to convey my inner world, which is dominated by daydream, and the side-effects of being a painter. I’ve always been a thief of nostalgia and that is easier than ever before now – images are everywhere. The Joy of Being Scene umbrella became a monster when I was working in London. I was working on multiple bodies of work in an old girls college – the main hall was filled with work, and then I lost the space. As I’ve said before reinvention fuels me and evolution is constant, so nothing was getting finished, and losing the space was a restart. I placed every piece in front of me and made a decision. Only a few paintings survived, and I cut the bits I liked away from the rest. With these cut-outs I now plan to reconfigure multiple stories colliding into different reimagined compositions, which I will then paint from – it will be the ultimate studio.
We’ve spoken before about your struggles with depression, how does that play into your work?
Painting itself can be a trigger for depression, and painting in isolation can breed neurosis – my work has a narrative that nods to the pitfalls and side effects of being a painter, but it's more I paint in it than about it obviously. It can invade, influence or destroy the work, but again in destruction comes reinvention. As I mentioned I lost my London studio recently, so I decided to head for the coast. I wanted to go back to basics – sometimes life pushes you into change. I changed my lifestyle and started swimming again. Now I feel like I'm painting for myself again, and if I can turn myself on with hope, then I can turn you on. I also stopped thinking about the viewer. I spent a few years in that trap. In honesty, painting is my obsession and addiction – it won't leave me, or me it – it’s my joy laced with pain; the best of friends and the worst of enemies.
All works from the series The Joy of Being Scene are untitled and supplied courtesy of the artist