Art & Culture / Art

Chris Moon is the artist turning a love of anonymity into splendid isolation

The celebrated painter on being captured on celluloid by legendary filmmaker Jack Bond and his enduring wanderlust for splendid isolation.

In his own words, Chris Moon is a painter that identifies as an outsider artist, and painting for him is certainly an obsession, via which a somewhat reclusive nature explodes communicatively upon the canvas. This internal paradox is what attracted legendary filmmaker Jack Bond to him as a documentary subject. Bond is himself an artist who has distinct parallels in character, carving an indelible mark upon the film industry with individualistic verve–the only other artist who has been the subject of the legendary 80-year-old director’s lens is, after all, none other than Salvador Dali. An Artist’s Eyes is testament to Bond’s simplicity of purpose as a documentarian, in that it is a non-judgemental snapshot of Moon’s life as he drifts from a temporary studio in Essex, to digs in New York, and finally the Spanish desert, armed only with his crayons and tattered denim jacket. Opening with an uncompromisingly brilliant ten-minute section in which we witness the painter attack and transform a blank canvas, the film leaves us in no doubt from the outset to the staggering depth of his talent. However, as the film subsequently unfolds it clearly becomes as much about the interplay between the subject and the cinematic form itself, and the construction of identity therein. The exhibition Me’n’Jack at Herrick Gallery explores this further, documenting not only work that was created during the filming process, but also training the lens of the artist back upon the director. Here, Chris Moon discusses the film and the exhibition, and tells us how stepping in front of a camera helped him overcome depression, and turn a love of anonymity into splendid isolation.

We’ve talked a lot in the past about your struggles with depression. How are you feeling on the eve of your new show?

I’m a lot better now, but I was haunted by my inner critic most of my adult life, so as soon as I would start a piece I would dismiss it within an hour and destroy it, and that is really how depression works in a cycle – going up and starting lots of work and then coming down and allowing it to stagnate and die before it’s even really begun. It used to be a real rollercoaster ride. It’s weird because it kind of fuels you, but it takes a lot to step back from it. I think all creative people have got that in them, to some degree. That is why I don’t like finishing work, because it kind of ends the excitement and joy of creating you have at the beginning.

How do you feel about the film?

I had a lot of anxiety initially. I haven’t seen it yet, and I feel uncomfortable about seeing myself, because the daydream of making a film and it actually happening are two different things. I have never really been comfortable with a camera and, in a way, I hide inside my paintings, so all my neuroses, thoughts and feelings are on the canvas, rather than out in the world… I feel like all of my intelligence is in paint. The film follows me trying to navigate myself as a painter and stay active, seeking that next spark to create another body of work–but the process, for me, was more about the way my relationship with Jack unfolded, I see it almost as if I am playing the part of a character, or an idea of an identity.

How did it come about that you would become the subject of Jack Bond?

It came about because I met him and just loved his company and the stories he told. It was a great friendship from the start, and I immediately wanted to paint his portrait. It was exciting to have him say that he wanted to make a film about me, and it made me face my fears to be more opened up in that way… I’ve got to live more, not just go deeper into reclusiveness and the studio, because the work will be richer if I am living, rather than getting lost in the internal or depression.

How does travel play into that?

There is a buzz you get from a new city, and because you are alone and moving through it, time slows down a bit and you can be filled with the apprehension and excitement of what is to come or what is to happen. I always try to form a relationship with a new city by just moving around making studies – and once you get past the coffees and the cafes, you start to find its human landscape, and find places you can pinpoint to create work from. When you put a mask on, you become anonymous, and that anonymity is one thing that I love about coming to a new city.

How does that relate to the piece in the show entitled ‘If You’re Going To Be A Narcissist, At Least Have Some Substance’?

Well, New York has quite an overpowering human landscape because it feels there like the people there are bigger than the city. So, I started to write down these pieces or snippets of overheard conversation, like ‘If You’re Going To Be A Narcissist, At Least Have Some Substance”–that actually came from overhearing this couple passing a mask shop, and the marriage of the phrase and the masks in my eye-line held my attention. In that moment, the masks kind of became about how we as human beings haunt ourselves all the time, and become entangled with depression and anxiety.

Does being in motion help you exorcize those kinds of demons?

I have always daydreamed about moving, creating bodies of work and then moving on again, but but as soon as I start really making the work, I tend to find myself trapped in the studio, so it’s a real paradox. To keep on moving is what I actually need to do to further my work, stay refreshed and keep the demons at bay–because if you stay in a studio for three years painting, it’s almost like you are just existing, not actually living as a painter. Travelling, for me, is a way to hide, slow down time and become inspired–it can definitely be a kind of splendid isolation.

Me’n’Jack opens at The Herrick Gallery today. An Artist’s Eyes is in cinemas now, for more details click here.

6 November 2018