Visual Arts » 2D

Artistic Twists & Turns

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Sometimes the best thing about art is its wonderful weirdness. Enthusiasts of drawings that talk back through their texture and hue can find this delightful otherness in Chris Pyle's fine art. The work twists and turns on the page, tentacles of hair wrapping around his figures' stoic expressions and pursed mouths. It's as though rough sections of carpet came to life and went on a psychedelic adventure with a color wheel, leaving the door ajar so the viewer could follow. It's wild and disturbing and the kind of art that haunts the memory in the best way possible.

Pyle found his way to fine art about 10 years ago. He came to prominence in Indianapolis and far beyond as an illustrator, drawing locally for clients such as NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly and Puccini's Pizza. (He also does the portraits of our bloggers here on Sky Blue Window, including Malina Simone and Jennifer Delgadillo.) Outside Indy, his work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, The Chicago Tribune, and in print for Coca-Cola. The longtime Circle City resident is represented in part by Chicago's Carl Hammer Gallery and exhibits around the world, most recently in Paris at the Halle Saint-Pierre Museum. Pyle will soon journey to the Windy City to drop off work to be shipped to Australia's Hughes Gallery for a show in 2015.

Pyle describes his style as "woven-knot technique," on display here in I Want To Talk About You. - CHRIS PYLE
  • Chris Pyle
  • Pyle describes his style as "woven-knot technique," on display here in I Want To Talk About You.

A self-taught artist, Pyle's talent was first noticed by his mother, who grew up in a creative household and had interests in art, literature, music and film. She "really pushed" him in an artistic direction, which resulted in Pyle taking some painting lessons at an art shop in his native Richmond, Indiana. As he moved into his teen years, he developed an interest in music and started playing drums, which led to professional gigs when he was 16. He was a road musician for 10 years and drew whenever he had the chance.

"I was possessed by it," Pyle says. It eventually led to a friend (and the then-art director at NUVO) offering him the opportunity to illustrate covers for the newspaper.

Pyle's graphically clean work had wide appeal and caught the eye of a nationally based illustration agent, who took him on as a client. In the pre-Internet days, Pyle explains, illustrators were promoted via direct mail campaigns. Biannually, he would submit two pieces to his agent who would print them on postcards and buy mailing lists of industry pros, including magazine publishers, design firms and newspapers. The cards would eventually reach art directors around the country who would go through the postcards and select artists for jobs based on what they saw. It didn't take long for Pyle to start getting work from big-name clients such as Time, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Times. "From 1995 to 2000," he says, "I was just kicking a--. I couldn't believe the people who were calling me up."

Mother May I exemplifies Pyle's twisting, knotted perspective, rendered in ink and pencil on the cover of a found book.  - CHRIS PYLE
  • Chris Pyle
  • Mother May I exemplifies Pyle's twisting, knotted perspective, rendered in ink and pencil on the cover of a found book.

Unfortunately, around 9/11 "something happened to illustration," as the economy tanked and print publications went out of business right and left. The Internet, Pyle explains, had started to really become a force, and he was suddenly in competition with illustrators all over the world.

"I wish I illustrated more," he laments, "but work just doesn't come in like it used to. My first agent said the illustration field is like fashion; artists go in and out of style. Some people manage to hang on, but the average lifespan of an illustrator is five years."

Pyle was able to sustain his career as an illustrator -- which is by no means over -- for 20 years. He was also able to "modify and change and go in a different direction" as the field changed, which resulted in his fine art journey. His personal work was so different from his illustrations -- not to mention being a different genre of art -- that he adopted the name CJ Pyle and began exhibiting all over the world.

Notable exhibits include the aforementioned show in Paris (a nearly yearlong run in celebration of Raw Vision's 25th anniversary), and "Saints and Sinners" at Carl Hammer, which ran from May to August.

Both the Carl Hammer Gallery and the Halle Saint-Pierre Museum showcase "outsider art," a blanket term that essentially defines any kind of unconventional work. Though there is certainly room for and appreciation of more standard art forms like landscapes, Pyle's self-described woven-knot technique takes ink, colored pencil and graphite and plops them into a new creative realm.

Intricate pieces such as Playmate are among the latest in Pyle's 20-year career. - CHRIS PYLE
  • Chris Pyle
  • Intricate pieces such as Playmate are among the latest in Pyle's 20-year career.

Currently, Pyle is busy finishing pieces for his show at the Hughes Gallery. There is considerable demand for his work, the creation of which he treats like a standard job. "I work several hours a day on each piece," he shares, thankful his mind is "constantly being pushed in a creative way." He continues, "If you're involved in the arts, it keeps you young. Mundane jobs beat people up and take their toll. Art leads to a more positive outlook."

Pyle also maintains his work as a musician, playing drums with The Late Show Band, and doing his best to balance fine art, illustration and music. The wonderful thing about being a musician and artist, he says, is that you don't retire; you're driven by it.

"The fact that I'm doing what I'm doing at this stage in my life is a gift."

Visit Pyle's website for a look at his fine art work dating back to 2006.

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