On December 7, 20012, Christopher Ulrich’s The Reckoning opened at La Luz de Jesus Gallery. This exhibition is a milestone for both the artist and the gallery. Ulrich filled both Gallery I and II with the twelve large and detailed oil-on-wood-under-resin masterworks which Ulrich worked on for two years, logging in endless sixteen plus hour a day sessions.
Christopher Ulrich’s passion for mythology, alchemy, mysticism, and all of the fantastic images that he has accumulated and filed away in cluttered corners of his mind, are evident in every painting. He dances dangerously with his estrangement from the controlling force of Catholicism, which was key to his upbringing, challenging established notions of the Christ story.
Each painting was rendered in oil paint on wood panel and then covered with resin. The high-gloss resin coating gives the work a luminous, vibrant quality as though each piece was painted on a star. Though he uses non-traditional techniques, the effects he achieves are reminiscent of the masters of the Renaissance, the Late Gothic period and the Baroque period and the icons he draws from are obviously much older.
– Dahlia Jane from her Upon a Midnight Dreary blog.
Ulrich kindly answered these questions in detail for BeinArt, via email; we hope you enjoy the insight into his process for this truly amazing show.
Did you follow a planned path f0r your Demoneater series or did your ideas change and evolve as you created each piece?
The process for me is akin to the shape of a spiral. At the outer edge is the “plan” and as I descend into the work, the process itself evolves and changes. This Plan is more of a flash of the whole body of works, which I call the series. I have a vision of myself there in the exhibition or the gallery amongst them completed. Now I do not see all the details, perhaps some strong elements will percolate through the etheric void, which my mind’s eye penetrates. Once I absorb the feeling and energy of the completed journey, an empathic future thought-feel, I am thrust back to the present state. There I wonder how am I going to manifest that which is already completed deep down inside me. The work must be both summoned forth and experienced through.
Your sketchbooks are fascinating and detailed; they are like art books in themselves. Though some of your drawings appear in the Demoneater book, would you ever consider publishing one of your sketchbooks as is from front to back? It would give art fans quite a visual journey.
I would love too. Do you know someone who would like to take that journey with me? I have many friends and colleagues who may not be able to buy the paintings but would purchase the opportunity to view the process. Like any captain sailing into the primordial waters of the subconscious I try and keep a log of my experiences. I have had to sell many of these pages just to pay my bills between series. This is a shame since the notes themselves are more valuable to me. It would be great not to have to lose the originals, but instead have a record of them in a book. I am willing to give everything just to take the next project on. This does not have to be, if more people had the opportunity to show their support for the process itself.
Are all of your pieces derived from the works and ideas in your sketchbooks?
No, the sketchbooks are not a brainstorming source unto themselves. I use them as a diary, and as a short hand record of the fury of images and codes bubbling up through the concentric circuitous walls of the descending spiraling experience; which is induced by the driving need to return to the future manifested point of completion.
At what point of the process do you apply resin (how long after you are finished laying down the oils)? Considering that resin has a toxic nature, do you work in a studio with open windows and doors? What types of precautions do you take when using the resin? Do the colors change once the resin is applied and if so do you take any special steps when painting to compensate? Does the temperature and weather effect and if it does how do you compensate?
The Resin in the last series was unknown to me until I had reached deep into the near completion of the Christ Chronocrator series. I did not know this detail beforehand. I had no idea that I would be pouring toxic hot resin over my oil paintings, nor could I have imagined taking a blowtorch to them. They say the devil is in the details and boy that is the truth. He loves to hide at the almost point where the unsuspecting traveler, or artist, who has braved the tough climb, is about to reach the zenith point of the future dream element which is forming into a reality. The furthest point between you and your goal is Almost. This is the birthplace of tragedy and the devil jumps out and bites you on the ass. I found myself at this point and was not understanding as to what was missing. The paintings were done and all I had to do was apply a traditional varnish, photograph them, and sit back till the hour of the opening. The work had something else in mind. The real question is, had I known what I do now, would I have done it. The answer is yes. Indeed the process was dangerous, daring, and painful. The alchemy of it was far more complicated than advertised, and was a whole new part of the puzzle. Like a fool I rushed in, and truly, it nearly ruined me. I thought I had destroyed the show. Forget the cost of it, and how expensive a single mistake is, or the fact that humidity, hair, a bug, or any multitude of monkey wrenches can kill the work. Imagine only the damage, which causes havoc and madness to one who is being crushed by a deadline. One must face this fear, and it is hard work to do so. The process itself if you are able to apply it with minimal mistakes does ultimately cover the hand of the artist, which was a huge sacrifice for the mirrored effect. However with these paintings the resin worked because once I “mastered” the process they resonated the energetic vibration of the completed work, which I had only envisioned as a future potential. Remember that by mastering this new technique for me I mean only that I faithfully followed what my process dictated despite the bone crushing doubt generated by the overwhelming lack of experience needed to produce a satisfactory effect. I made a mess of myself, my home, and everything else in order to achieve the singularity of the final works. At the same time I got to fall back in love with the paintings only after I had “lost” the originals to the resin finish. It then became evident why these works had called out to me to be painted on wood. For me the third and first series are connected as the head and the tail of the self-swallowing snake are. Yes I did experiment on a Demoneater painting before I applied it on the current series. I had to. Yet nothing can prepare you for the real thing until you jump in and gamble all. I started this saga by gazing into a mirror, which shattered. I ended it by creating mirrors of revelations. The worst truth I had to face was the one that my persona, or reflected portrait painted in the Last Supper was Judas. I had felt at one point that I had murdered my “children” through the resin process. Imagine that…
What and who has inspired your deep and beautiful colors, crisp and detailed figures, and the depth of each of your scenes?
Thank you for saying so, but the answer is a mystery. You ask ‘what’ if not the art spirit than what other force? Could it be that we are guided by something else? As far as ‘whom’ every series calls upon different influences. In my notes I detail and document the names and works I pay homage too and whose voices I’ve heard.
Do you do any sort of meditation or ritual before you start painting? I imagine that your entire being – mental, physical and spiritual goes into each one of these pieces and wonder what you do to prepare yourself for painting each day.
No-thing can prepare you once you start, although meditation and ritual can strengthen your nerve. Of course the left hand way would be drugs, intoxicates, or other extreme methods. I feel that these distractions are a necessary part of the process but not part of the real work. I for one do not need these things as access points. I may use them as shields to temporarily stop the process. Perhaps I need to recover or I am not ready to handle a new obstacle, or remember a new truth? In the end you must realize to simply let go.
The Monday after the opening, La Luz de Jesus hosted a book signing featuring Chet Zar and KRK Ryden. Present at the signing were both Christopher Ulrich and Mark Ryden. Though both were included in the La Luz de Jesus 25 exhibition last November, this was the first time the two maestros actually met. Ryden remarked that Ulrich’s exhibition was “Incredible and Impressive,” as he admired the sixteen-feet-wide “Last Supper” painting.
Christopher Ulrich with “The Last Supper”
“Baptism” Resin on oil on wood, 37.5″ x 73.5″ in 47.5″ x 83.5″ frame (from La Luz de Jesus show preview page)
Crowd at opening reception mesmerized by “The Last Supper”
“The Last Supper” detail far right
View a photo album of the show with detail shots
View a photo album of the show opening
Photo album and interview post photography by Lee Joseph
The Christ Chronocrater Series III: The Reckoning
Remains open through December 30
La Luz de Jesus Gallery
4633 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90027