Briefly describe the work you do.
I work largely with acrylic paint and utilize a wide range of colors. Pop culture is a common theme throughout my work. Personal abstractions of design touchstones from punk, hip hop and skate culture shape a large portion of my catalog. Original drawings have been a recent obsession. My favorite pieces strike a balance somewhere between contemporary and nostalgic.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I was born in Indiana, grew up in Virginia and have lived in Jersey for about fifteen years. I feel my travels have impacted my artwork in the sense that my influences are far-reaching. When I was younger I resented having moved so much but I think it has helped me be expansive in my practice.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I have a very open studio that I share with my wife Jamie. When it comes time to do the work there are many times where I am “in the studio” mentally and focused on completing a new piece. However, a big part of the action that happens in the studio are the conceptual discussions regarding the art I have with Jamie. She is an excellent curator and I am fortunate for her council. She hasn’t steered me wrong and some of my favorite pieces make me even happier than normal because I can see how we worked on it together.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
One of the roles I least envisioned when I started off was the role of the explainer. I was just so excited to get my work into galleries at first that I totally didn’t think about the presentation of the work from the perspective of sharing the thinking process behind a piece. However, over time I have gotten more comfortable as the explainer and I have had some great conversations with people that have furthered my art.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
My two favorite times to work are right around dusk when I am home from work or getting up super early on a weekend morning. I work to deadlines, whether it is for a juried show with a formal deadline or an informal deadline I have created for myself. As a result, my efforts in the studio may ramp up and I look to a weekend morning for a killer session or spend a little longer at night during the week.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I think my level of detail has advanced, my colors have gotten increasingly bright and neon and my lines have improved significantly. Original drawings have influenced a larger number of my paintings over the past five years. Within the past year I have begun using acrylic markers for the black lines in my paintings and I am not sure I will ever go back to brushes for my lines again. Despite these changes I am still mining some of the same pop culture themes I have always explored.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Jamie is my best confidant. My mom has been my biggest fan throughout the years but really my whole family has been supportive. It takes a village to raise an artist, I am fortunate to have such a great village. My grandfathers were both craftsmen and early influences. Roy Lichtenstein is probably my biggest technical influence but Andy Warhol is a conceptual inspiration as well.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Yes, I am currently in advertising and have my MBA. I enjoy the work and I think it blends naturally with my art background. I am a huge music fan and always looking for new tunes. Fall is my favorite time of year. I am an avid runner and enjoy snowboarding and surfing.
Chris Ernst is a largely self-taught pop artist from New Brunswick, NJ. He lives and develops his art with his wife Jamie. He loves the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Jersey Shore. Sometimes he feels more like a kid at Halloween than at Christmas. He loves trip hop and he’ll never say no to good southern comfort food.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.