Interview by Kazeem Kuteyi, Photography by Kahlil Hernandez
When we meet Christophe in his Brooklyn Studio, he mentions that we caught him at a pivotal point in his career. We’re not surprised. His larger than life animal sculptures made out of sneaker boxes has gained him much notoriety. A few weeks before this interview, he exhibited his sculptures at Nike Air Max’s Con. Christophe has been able to push his creativity into different mediums such as painting, 3D, illustration and graphic design, so calling him a multi-disciplinary artist wouldn’t be an error.
In our conversation that spanned over 40 minutes with Dilla beats playing in background, we talked about everything, from his early beginnings to the importance of education for the young artist coming up today.
Is art something you feel you were born with?
My mom lived around really strong black women. My dad bounced when I was really young and my mom was a school teacher and I had an aunt who ran art programs for inner city youth so I often got to go to those summer camps for free. So yeah, this is the only thing I have done my whole life. From drawing, to painting, sculpting, being a designer; I direct films, it has been an evolving thing and I have not stopped.
Is your mom an artist as well?
She is not an artist but she makes jewellery for herself, but she is an artist in the way she has lived her life, the way she decorates her home, the way she dresses herself— she is a very stoic, fashionable woman.
How did you learn your craft? I know you went to school for art.
Well, school fine tuned it.
Oh okay, so how did you develop your style?
It literally comes down to my Bahamian roots and going to the Bahamas with my parents. When my parents split, my dad was over there. I used to spend the summers with my dad and I attended this thing called the Junkanoo and it was this parade where they would make their head pieces from cardboard. That had an influence on me.
I was always into cartoons, superheroes and Kung Fu. What I used to do is draw over comics over and over and that really developed my drawing skills. I started sculpting when I was in high school and was pretty forward thinking in my creativeness. I was writing plays and performing in rap groups in school. It is a long story on how everything came together, but to pinpoint it— it is just a gumbo of different experiences that contributed to my style and creativity.
Before we started this conversation, you mentioned the anger that is in your work. Does that stem from a specific experience?
Yeah, it naturally comes up from inner emotions. My family does not function perfectly well so I think a lot that comes from how I grew up. Even though I love my mom to death, we are just two opposite people. I just harness a lot of anger inside and it is built up overtime; not understanding things and just the ups and downs trying to make it as a creative all round has been intense. I just find making art as a way to really express my emotions. When I make art, I escape all the bullshit. It lets me release it in a positive way.
At what point did you figure out you can pursue this full time. You never started saying, “Oh I’m going to make money off of this”. It started as you just making things.
You know what’s funny? In college I was hustling my art outside campus to a lot of those drug dealers I used to associate myself with. They just had so much money and they were friends of mine. I did see it being monetized based off of the fact that I saw my peers do it; I saw my aunt do it for a living, I was always around creatives doing it for a living.
There was a point I almost did not finish high school. I just got attached to Hip-Hop and music and all that and I started focusing on that like 300% and then my teachers convinced me to go check out Portfolio Day in Chicago. My teachers really felt I was talented and that I should go show my work there before I considered not going to college. So I went and I got an admission and scholarship on the spot when they saw my portfolio. When I got to college, I fucked around and then I went to Europe and did a year there. When I graduated, I just could not see myself being behind a desk or working for someone so I started doing club flyers, and CD covers for friends who wanted to be rappers and that grew to underground art shows at Cafes. I did not start popping until I moved back to Chicago because lived in Seattle for 8 years.
You mention that you went to college and ‘fucked’ around for a year.
No I fucked up a couple times. I went to college and it was my first time having my own apartment so I was in some other things that had nothing to do with college. I was running around with my boys, hustling a bit of weed and felt like I was the man. It was just feeling the need to live life to refocus on what my inner passion was.
And how did you bring the focus back to what you were supposed to do?
Well it was art related. I had a music studio in Seattle and I was recording artists by the hour and selling beats. I have never not done art but I figured that I was a multi-disciplinary artist. I knew how to use so many different things that it was so hard for me to pick what my thing was because I figured out a way of how to make money off anything I touched creatively. I don’t know, it kind of naturally fell back into place and I focused more when I came back to Chicago. I think that had to deal with getting a little bit older and just having to figure out where I wanted to go in life, what I wanted to do and how I could do it— what I was looking up to and what I liked being around. It was about making that serious. It was a long journey because the creative journey I went through in Seattle is just as important as when I went to Europe to study at Oxford for a year. I got to study the Baroque period and the renaissance period, see Da Vinci’s sketch book, and these beautiful sculptures at the Louvre. Everything that happened out there was really poignant too— it was an up close and personal look at contemporary art.
What are your influences?
Euan Uglow is an influence. He was this life painter. He painted life drawings of nude models but they were very cuban. Seeing the art of Picasso in Chicago and those kind of abstract forms. Jacob Lawrence, he was a black artist from the Harlem renaissance. His way of building out shapes and flatforms kind of rubbed off on me in terms of blocking out shapes. For some reason, I think music has one of the strongest influences on me as well. Just abstract shit like MF Doom, Dilla, and Wu-Tang Clan.
Sort of the textures in music?
Yeah. The textures, the edginess, and the darkness of it really influences my work. I am attracted to dope shit with dark undertones that can be positive.
Like the Yeezus album?
Yeah haha. Pump some Yeezus when you are on the train. You have to be careful when you listen to that, you do not wanna go beat someone up! But yeah, shit like that is powerful. There’s a lot of imagery you can pick from that.
Is school still important in this day and age considering you have YouTube Tutorials and websites like Skillshare?
Yeah. It does not have to be the traditional form of school but I think one of the coolest things about school is not necessarily what happens in the classroom, it is what creatives you are incubating with through the process of learning. Everybody is gonna do something different. What happens is that you can be stubborn and pigeonholed like I was in terms of how I want to do something, how I see it, and how it should be sketched and painted. Then at the corner of my eye, there is this other kid who is doing dope shit and flipping something a whole other way. All that stuff rubs off on you. You still find your own path but if I was not around certain creatives, it would not have made me a better artist.
From the people we have interviewed, the general consensus is that when you are in your 20s you still have room to learn and enjoy that process but by the time you hit your 30s, you should have had everything figured out. Is that something you can agree with?
When you get around my age there is no more fucking around. You just kind of fall in line with what you are doing. Times have changed. I would have been an A student if I had the tools you guys had. I had to really pick up a book, I had to go to the library and actually do the research. Google search was not popping back then. Being able to see the process was different. You had to go find the artist or go be around them. You had to go the studio, or the art show, or the concert. If you wanted to get into graffiti, you had to be around graffiti writers. To make beats and get them heard, you had to bring them in a room of people in person. You could not get self taught from videos. I really had to pop in a VHS to learn about culture— that time period is gone. Now you can sit in you lair and be a super nerd. Being a supernerd is appreciated now. You can be in lair with six computers, be a mutant, come out and everyone wants to sign you. You do not have to develop those skills as hard. That is why this generation is so different.
I think it’s more difficult now.
Yeah because everything is so saturated. Who is actually good at what they do or who just knows what programs, apps, and filters to use at the right time.
How does one stand out then?
Do something different. That is the hardest thing for this generation to do. But you gotta hit the brakes and try something new.
And I think what is so interesting about your art is that you’re making things out of stuff we discard of everyday. I am like, “He makes art with sneaker boxes”?! How did you come to that idea?
Thanks man. It was a dark time in my life. It is a very simple story where I had like a wall of sneakers and I was just cleaning it up, I was tired of going into the box and trying to figure out what style or what kick was in there. So I started breaking down the boxes and started putting my kicks into clear containers and when I looked over and I saw them kind of piled up, I saw shape and form in all these different colours, details and textures. That kind of spawned the idea of using sneaker boxes in my art work. The first idea was to take it and glue into a canvas and paint on top of it and when I got into the studio and put them on a board and it was all bunched up, I kind of saw a forehead in the pile— I was like, oh shit I should build a sculpture. I was addicted when I started building sculptures. I put my first one in a show and it was history after that. I love that I can build a sculpture anywhere with these boxes. All I need is a knife and hot glue.
How do you defeat failure?
That is easy. You can not be scared to fail. You have to embrace it because failure is going to come and go. The question is, what do you take away from failure? That is what life is about. What did I take away from when I had to eat Ramen for 2 weeks and all my bills were piled up. That type of failure makes you stronger. It keeps you working. I had these bad moments where it felt everything was a wrap. The people who do not embrace failure never succeed because they are all in, they think that is it. For example, if I let that gallery that dropped me get to me because they thought my art was wack, then something is wrong with me. You can not let those situations guide your destiny. If you know how to use failure to your advantage, that is when you win.