Chris Mortenson – Iowa City, Iowa

1.Dennis Dutton Pigmented Inkjet Print 16x20 2013

1. Dennis Dutton
Pigmented Inkjet Print

Briefly describe the work you do. 

My work is about the ways that we define our experiences with the natural world through the use of images and the methodologies we use to share these experiences with one another. 

At what point in your life did you want to become an artist?

My work with the landscape goes back to a long interest with natural spaces.  The first time I can remember being truly awestruck with being outdoors was a family trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota when I was around four years old.  The most powerful moment from this trip – and honestly the only thing I actually remember – was leaving.  I remember sitting in the back seat of the van crying because I wanted to stay and I watched out the back window until they completely vanished from view.  That was a turning point and as I grew I wanted to spend as much time as I could outside.  My love for the outdoors permeated my work from an early point in my career as an artist. 

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.”

My studio practice is in some ways very traditional and in other ways very untraditional.  I live in Iowa City and teach at two different colleges, which puts me on the road a lot.  One college is about 60 miles away and the other is 25 miles away, which has led to a necessity of being able to consider anyplace a studio.  I have a main studio set up in my basement, which is really a place I can make frames and hang work-in-progress to consider while I am at home.  I also use both of my offices, a design and digital photography classroom, a table in my living room, the couch, and my car to create and contemplate work. 

3.John Morrell Pigmented Inkjet Print 16x20 2013

3. John Morrell
Pigmented Inkjet Print

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?

I never saw myself using digital processes to create work when I began. I was very stubborn and reluctant to work digitally when I was in undergrad.  I learned digital when I was in graduate school and became known for the compositing that I do.  In fact, I used to get in arguments with my father about the merits of digital photography and digital media in general and he still gives me a hard time about how long it took me to start working digitally.

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 work best in the afternoon into the early morning.  Something about the rhythms of production seems to coincide with the day turning into night and beyond.  I have tried to be productive in the morning, and I can get some work made, but I like mornings as a time for reflection, walking, and coffee.  In fact, I recently had a conversation about how 6am to 7am is the best hour of the day.

2.John Engelbrecht Pigmented Inkjet Print 16x20 2013

2. John Engelbrecht
Pigmented Inkjet Print

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

Five years ago I was a graduate student working like mad to produce my thesis show, teaching, and applying for jobs and I was producing large quantities.  In the time since graduate school, I have worked less on my photographic work, but I have still been able to create work.  I have begun drawing more and worked on a series of drawings that are given away when finished, as they are a practice of staying productive more than work for consumption.  Photography is still an important part of my practice and it has recently started becoming the main medium I use once again, though I don’t really like to define my work in terms of mediums.  I have woven in and out of using different mediums and feel as though my work on a whole, while still maintaining the overall theme of landscape, has become more fluid.

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

Early in my studies of art, modernist photographers who showed the power and majesty of the landscape influenced me.  I wanted to photograph in this manner because I loved being in these settings, yet I was never happy with my results.  I realized that the landscape I was moving through wasn’t the landscape I was making work about.  I was living in and visiting a landscape full of tourism, recreation, mineral extraction, ranching, and many other things.  Places like Mt. Rushmore, Wall Drug, and The Six Ton Prairie Dog became influences to my work.  Artist that influence me today are the artists of the New Topographics and Joan Fontcuberta.

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

I actually have thought about becoming a glaciologist though it is literally a disappearing profession.  I love the cold and thoughts of climbing around on glaciers doing fieldwork are an exciting prospect.  I recently read the book Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.   


HeadshotI am interested in the ways that we define our experiences with the natural world through the use of images and the methodologies we use to share these experiences with one another.

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

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1 Response to Chris Mortenson – Iowa City, Iowa

  1. Mark Greeno says:

    Chris, thoroughly enjoyed the article regarding you as an artist and what you are creating. You have a natural eye regarding the landscape and all it has to offer … an innate gift that is indeed. Not being an artist myself I could sense way back when we worked together at GOS your love of the outdoors and how, through your artistry (and in your own personal gentle way), you possessed a special talent of expressing yourself which at the same time allowed those around you to appreciate the outdoors through your art even more. Keep up the good work … mark :o)

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