Chris Bors: American Jesus

Installation view, 2018, Chris Bors, Art During the Occupation Gallery, Bushwick Brooklyn.

By NOAH BECKER May, 2018

Chris Bors is an artist, writer and curator I met through the art writing world a number of years ago. He brings political messages and a punk sensibility to colorful paintings. Chris was an editor and freelance writer, or at least that’s how I knew of him at the time but I was also aware of his paintings. Chris wrote for my art magazine, Whitehot Magazine in addition to many other publications and later on curated my paintings in his booth at Spring Break Art Fair. As things go in New York City, people keep popping up at shows and exchanging ideas or working together. Chris Bors is one of those like-minded highly intelligent people (this means I'm highly intelligent too), who make art and consider art and the art system very deeply. So it was with great excitement that I went to Christopher Stout’s, Art During the Occupation gallery in Bushwick Brooklyn, to meet with Chris Bors and view a solo show of his paintings entitled American Jesus. I arrived at the gallery two hours early after taking the L train from Broadway Junction station, can't recall why I ended up that far out on the train? There was a certain connect that happened in my brain after looking at the stained glass windows at Broadway Junction. That's kind of a vague thing to talk about but the majesty and mystery of color always draws me in right away. Upon my arrival, Christopher Stout gave me a glass of white wine and I sat there studying the art in Chris Bors American Jesus for two hours before the artist walked in. The following conversation took place in the gallery...

Noah Becker: Your paintings feature a lot of logos and branding that comes from punk bands and hardcore bands - would that be the right way to put it?

Bors: Yeah, definitely. Primarily, I would say, I grew up with hardcore punk starting with Suicidal Tendencies. This was pretty much the first band that I sort of ever heard when I was in high school that kind of changed the way I looked at music. Because I had never heard anything so extreme - and I specifically like their first album, which had a lot of unintelligible lyrics that got me into it right away.

Becker: Right. And how do you think the vibe or the mood of these logos and this music imagery relates to paintings?

Bors: That's a good question. I sort of use it as a way to tie the work together as a series. I think that a lot of times, the imagery matches the logo in some way. Sometimes it's not always overt or people may not understand the connection. But for example, Circle Jerks is a term of course. It has a sexual connotation, a homoerotic connotation, and in the painting itself, there's this Simpson's character, Ralph Wiggum, saying, "I'm a proud boy," which is basically making fun of the alt-right group founded by Gavin McInnes, formerly of VICE, so it's just kind of dissing that group of people, but also still paying homage to the original intent of the band who is a very political band.

Becker: Have you had any direct interaction with Gavin McInnes? - like punching him in the face?

Bors: I have not, although years and years ago, I submitted a writing sample, an interview with Phoebe Legere, which they seemed to like, but they didn't publish.

Becker: At VICE Magazine?

Bors: Yeah.

Becker: Right. and with the punk rock logos in the paintings, it ties the series together, and then over here, you have Easy-E, kind of like a drawing of Easy-E. What is this painting about?

Bors: This painting uses the logo from a hardcore band called Death Threat who is, I would say, sort of second or third generation, so they're a newer band really. But all of the imagery comes from people that have passed away. The Easy-E is a doodle that I did, like a mouse doodle that I did one day, and I sort of just repeated it and flipped it in photo shop. And then there's also an image that I got online of Dimebag Darrell, from Pantera who was killed onstage by a fan who shot him in the head. And then the final sort of group of imagery is the father and son DC snipers who were terrorizing the Baltimore Washington area about 15 years ago or so, and the father was executed. Basically all of the people involved have passed away. They're all basically dead, except the younger boy in the DC sniper piece, John Lee Malvo.

Chris Bors, Death Threat, 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 46" x 72"

Becker: Right. And then here we have a painting that says, "Please don't let your fucking dog piss in front of my fucking door. Thank you." But the “fucking” part of it is censored.

Bors: This comes from a sign that I saw in Williamsburg, where I used to live, and I just ripped it off the person's door, because I thought it was so hilarious and I sort of embellished it for this painting. It's just been in my flat file for the past 15 years or so gathering dust, and I thought it was a good time to make a series with this. I basically gather any material, whether it's from online, my own doodles, or things that I find in old magazines or scraps of paper. I'm very fond of finding things in public toilets as well.

Becker: I see. That reminds me of your term. What did you call it? What was the term that you coined?

Bors: Virtual dumpster diving.

Becker: Yes, Virtual dumpster diving. Is there also a bit of virtual dumpster diving? I think the term that you coined had something to do with finding imagery online?

Bors: Yeah, I mean, I think now it's much more common, but when I created that term, I did an exhibition about 10 years ago that was solely of JPEGs that I found online. It used to be much different before Google Images became so ubiquitous. It used to be a lot more interesting to sort of scour the web and go to the dark parts of the web to find weird images. Now it seems like it's a totally different practice and it's much more common. But I do think that there's still so much great content to be found and so much inspiration to be found just by looking at anonymous photos of people that post on their blogs or Instagram, or what have you.

Chris Bors, Antidote/Urban Waste, 2018 Acrylic on canvas, 43.5" x 68"

Becker: Right, and without going into a whole conversation about the internet, things have changed probably since the time that you first started virtual dumpster diving.

Bors: The quality of images has increased a lot, so you'll get much larger JPEGs. People will put high-res photos online. It used to be these crappy little photos that you would find online. Also, I think, like I said, I believe it was almost more fun to sort of go through people's personal blogs and websites before to find niche interests, whereas now-

Chris Bors, Bad Religion, 2018 Acrylic on canvas, 72" x 56"

Becker: It was almost kind of like a voyeurism.

Bors: Yeah, I felt like before, it was more about a personal scrapbook aesthetic, whereas now, people, I think, are more clued into what they're publishing, and they purposely will want to publish something on Instagram that gets a lot of likes, whereas before, I think it seemed to me to be much more anonymous and people seemed to maybe think that nobody would really see them other than a few hundred or a few thousand people.

Becker: Right. And then we have this other painting of yours to look at. It looks like Run DMC and Jesus Christ inverted on a black background?

Bors: Yeah. It could be Run DMC, but it's actually Urkel from Family Matters. And I did a painting maybe five years ago that was similar on a white background, and this one is basically the inverted version with different color ways, a different color scheme. I really feel like it sort of sums up American society where we're much more sort of interested in pop culture and what have you, other than religion, but it's also just a commentary. It’s about what's going on right now where people are clinging to religion and different things where they're not really focusing on being a human. There's just such a divide in this country, and I think the Trump supporters and some of the religious extremists all over the world are making it very difficult for people to sort of just live a normal life. WM

Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


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