Layers upon layers

Meet the artist: Chris Welker

By Eva Buttacavoli

Photo: Chris Welker, Oh Hi!, 2014, acrylic and paper on canvas

For the past year or so I’d been wanting to know who the heck this guy was, taking pop and retro imagery (I see this a lot; very trendy) but then obliterating it in a few broad, gob-sopping, brushstrokes. What nerve! Did he even know he was referencing 1980s New European Painting (the fuse of post-World War II “archive” art and American abstraction and figuration)? And how did he get the confidence to take the new media imagery of his generation – photography and digital design – and just EXORCISE it with a hard smear or an aggressive pull with a squeegee?

Well, “this guy” is Dayton born and bred Chris Welker. And yes, he did know. He knows the work and influence of German painter/photographer Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) and considers him his number one influence. And he got that confidence from working as a graphic designer and from his dad, veteran artist and architect, Terry Welker.

I caught up with Chris after an exhibition at Ron Rollins and Terry Welkers’ Kettering studio/show space in January, where we set up a time to discuss his recent work.

Tell me about your art training.

Chris Welker: I have a B.S. in industrial design from Ohio State. While in college, along with my design courses, I took lot of art history, drawing and photography. My father was always an influence in building creativity, and we still we seek, share and love art with a very similar passion. I’ve been a professional graphic designer for eight years, but I have always created art in some form or another. My current style of painting, which I have only been doing for about a year and a half, has been mostly self-taught – learned through observation and experimentation.

Tell me about your workspace.

CW: My studio is currently a spare bedroom in my home. My wife has awesomely supported my work through the destruction of our carpet. I have a fair amount of daylight and enough space to accomplish most of what I’m doing. The space attaches to a 6’ x 30’ walk-in attic, where I hang drying or finished pieces and store my paint. This is also where I can get real messy with my painting when necessary. There are always stacks of books around that will probably become part of a work one day.

Tell me about your typical art-making day

CW: As I am a full-time graphic designer, I tend to paint mostly in the evening, which tends to be a constant struggle for good light. On weekends, I usually assess my work in daytime light. I am always listing to music pretty loud. Music can get me going where I want to be emotionally to start, maintain or finish different pieces. The music always varies. I can be anywhere from classic Johnny Cash to bass-hitting lectronica or trip-hop/down tempo to chill out to. After adjusting lighting and tables to accommodate whichever piece I am working on I mix my colors and gather tools, papers or books if necessary. My paintings are a lot about texture, so I am constantly planning for the next layer, keeping in mind that other than what is on the surface, you may not see any of what I am painting in that moment once the painting is complete. To create the under-images, I copy images from old magazines or create my own designs and manipulate them digitally.

Tell me about your career goals.

CW: To be a full-time artist. I have experienced my professional career as a designer first, a fine artist second. I am gradually working towards reversing this. I believe the first step is to move into a larger studio, have more one-person shows and spend more time in front of the canvas. I want to make larger pieces and potentially, public art.

How do you choose what to make?

CW: Inspiration usually comes from something tactile. Photographs, old magazines and books bring something like nostalgia into my brain that gets me thinking. The older the book, the better; I actually think history is interesting now that I haven’t been in a history class for a decade. Bright color combinations that I see in life or that I create by playing in the studio start the process on canvas and the painting just kind of keeps on happening until it’s “done.” Sometimes “done” can be just a few layers with dry times in between and others it can take a month with 10 or 20 layers.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

CW: Printed paper. Really old printed paper.

How many years as an artist?

CW: One and a half, but I feel like 27 is an appropriate answer as well.

What do you collect?

CW: Other than books and magazines that I make art with, I collect playing cards. There’s just something about the fine line print and the aerofoil texture. There are some pretty fantastic playing card designers out there.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

CW: Andy Warhol, Eggs, 1982.

How is social media changing the art world?

CW: Unless your work has something about it that when seeing it in person evokes a physical sensation, it can easily get lost. There are a lot of creators out there, and now with social media we are all, to some degree, seen on the same level, with access to the same viewers, and where we can communicate and most importantly, share.

Chris’s work will be featured as an “Artist to Watch” at the Dayton Visual Arts Center, a seven-artist showcase April 15-24, 2015. You can also see more at Facebook/Art by C. Welker.

Eva Buttacavoli is the Executive Director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. You can reach her at

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