Christopher Willey – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Huginn & Munin

“Huginn & Munin,” digital projection, 2012

Briefly describe the work you do.

I wear a couple hats: artists, lecturer, author, and sometimes curator. Concept is centrally important to my practice. I attempt to infuse meaning into my work by material, process, and form. I try to follow the work, rather than force it into a specific methodology. I am currently researching the intersection of innocence and disaster.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I grew up in Kansas and was constantly playing by creek beds as a child.  I am so fond of the beautiful elements found from this time in my life that I often rely on these natural forms today in the studio.  During graduate school I started thinking about cosmology much more; I find the audacity of humanity to cut up space with our mythologies fascinating.  I find our simultaneous preciousness and insignificance simply awe inspiring.

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

Look, I love ‘being in the studio,’ (as in the brick and mortar sense), but my artistic practice is so much more than just making.  As a lecturer, the artist-instructor continuum is a part of my practice.  The reason I am here, as in on planet Earth, is to help people share their visual stories.  No matter the level (I have taught children and grandmas.  Scholarship hopefuls, and graduates on full scholarship) – I want to share in their creativity.  I bring all of that into the studio with me.

I should say that pretty much everything I do, on some level is mediated through technology.   To that end my studio has been my conch and collectivo coffee!


“plateaus,” graphite, ash, 7’ x 28’, 2012

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

Lately, I’ve been writing a text book and last year I co-curated an exhibition with Nirmal Raja (  I consider both of those as non-traditional notions of creativity, but honestly never saw myself as an author or curator.  Additionally, when I started making work I focused on earth-art materials, now I mix in a lot of technology.  Also, I never thought I would be the “tech” guy that I am.  I tell my students that I am 1/2 hippie.  1/2 geek.

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?

I find the best time to make art is during residencies.  A dedicated two-four week period of intense focus is awesome!  But let’s be realistic those art vacations are few and far between.  These days I have to carve out time in my schedule to be in the studio, and that happens whenever I can.   

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

In 2009 I was just finishing my graduate studies. While in graduate school I was looking closely at shifts in scale, bringing the human scale to the cosmos and vice versa. Think spirals of shells and the spirals of the Milky Way galaxy. My work still has a nod to larger stars, but is digging deeper into the idea of the dis-aster. “Ill omened stars.”

Today, I am focuses on the intersection of tragic events that I feel embarrassment and shame over. Occurrences senseless school shootings and public bombings that are happening on an almost weekly/daily basis. The stars fit in as dis-asters.

i.e.d. dreamcatcher

“i.e.d. dreamcatcher,” jute, staples, 10’ 8” x 14’ 9”, 2012

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

Where would I be without my lovely partner, Tonia Klein ( Everyday we make something together, and every experience we share impacts the way I see and think about the world. She is my muse.

There are so many people who inspire me, but recently of note are:

Nathaniel Stern ( continues to push boundaries technologically, and has taught me an incredible amount conceptually.

Shana McCaw and Brent Budsberg ( for their craft and self propelled mythologies.

Jon Horvath ( for his serious play with images.

There are dozens of contemporary and modern artists in my pantheon (No particular order.):

Ann Hamilton, William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, Maya Lin, Louise Bourgeois, Martin Puryear, Janine Antoni, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker, Kiki Smith, Leonardo Drew, Anselm Kiefer, Jim Campbell, and Sarah Sze.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

Cosmologist.  (But I would have to be much better at Physics and Math.)  Looking at the heavens is like going to church for me.  I am constantly fascinated at the unfathomable.  Being part of the search for life outside of what we know would be exciting.  Seriously, I watch the movie Contact at least once a year.

willey_headshot_webAbout Christopher Willey

Christopher Willey earned an MFA in New Genres at the San Francisco Art Institute, and his BFA in Drawing at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. During this time he studied abroad at the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy, and at the Burren College of Art, in County Clare, Ireland.

In 2013, he co-curated a national exhibition called Chasing Horizons at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, in Milwaukee, WI. Additionally he traveled to Wuhan, China to develop an articulation between the Hubei University of Technology and the Peck School of the Arts. In 2012, Willey participated in residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT, and at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, Interlochen, MI. In 2011, he was a lead artist on two temporary public art projects as part of In:Site’s “On and Off Capital,” campaign.

Willey has exhibited both nationally and internationally. His national solo shows include: “Exit Music,” at the Dow Center for the Arts Gallery, Interlochen, MI. “Beasts of Burden” at the Frank Juarez Gallery, Sheboygan, WI. “Frontier” at the Prairie Street Gallery, Rockford IL. “Community” at the Northern Clay Center, Minneapolis, MN. Willey has been awarded two Mary Nohl Export Suitcase Grants to install work in Zurich, Switzerland, and Rockford, IL.

Selected national group shows include: To Here Knows When, at Untitled Gallery in Sausalito, CA; BULK with Tony Labat at Queens Nails Annex in San Francisco, CA, and the 25th National Print Exhibition at the Silvermine Arts Guild in New Canaan, CT. His work can also be seen in New American Paintings, issue #65.

Willey is a Lecturer at University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, and a Visiting Lecturer at the Hubei University of Technology, in Wuhan, China. He lives and works in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

This entry was posted in Installation, mixed media, Video and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Christopher Willey – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

  1. Nice interview Chris. Compelling work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s