Often associated with the visionary art movement, Chris Dyer continues to churn out his “Positive Creations,” covering murals, sidewalks, skateboards, clothes, and canvases. He spreads his message by making his work accessible and visible to all, sidestepping the art establishment’s rigid notions of value. As we learned from speaking with Chris, it’s difficult to peg an entrepreneur by his appearance (some of them have dreadlocks and ride a skateboard to “work”).
Chris was born in Born in Ottawa, Canada, but grew up in Lima, Peru. When Chris isn’t traveling, skateboarding, or making art, he and his cat Leon surround themselves with a collection of vinyl records and 80’s action figures. Standing before one of Dyer’s vibrant works, it is easy to see the influence of both Siddhartha and The Alchemist, two of his favorite books, on his spiritual creations.
Juan: Chris, thanks for joining us today. From soccer oriented gang-banging to visionary art, your life has been as transformative as your work. In an interview with The Creators Project MX, you said that instead of fighting physically one can be a warrior and fight in a spiritual way, remaining mindful that every day is a battle between good and evil. How has your past and your youth played into the mission you strive to promote through your positive art?
Chris: I’d say I’ve been around the block, always learning who I am in relation to this world. The inner war never ends, no matter how many battles I may conquer. I’ve learned about good and evil by being both good and evil. Then I choose what feels best and hope others can also benefit from the choices I make.
Juan: Your art career began by painting broken skateboards. How do the disenfranchised and the abandoned feed into your art? I ask because you’ve mentioned art as the antidote, or at least as an alleviation, to the strife and suffering faced by people around the world.
Chris: Since I was seven, skateboarding has always been there for me. It’s given me freedom, even in the days it wasn’t so damn cool to be a skater. Skateboarding can be medicine just like art is medicine. We are souls who need to express this essence. If we have these things, we can deal with the pain of being human a little bit better.
“We are all cells of the same endless body. It’s all one, just in different clothing.”
Juan: You promote a “spiritual oneness” within diversity. What steps would you like to see the world take toward accepting individual eccentricity, even if that of some may clash with that of others?
Chris: I think it’s just about accepting each other and respecting each other, without letting our own ways annoy others. To each their own, but we also have to make sure that our own trip doesn’t disrupt others’ trips— cause we are all so different.
Juan: You’re commonly associated with the North American Visionary Art scene. What, to you, does this scene encompass? What attracts you to it, and what impels you to continue proliferating its message?
Chris: It’s funny that I fit into it so perfectly and became one of its poster boys. I myself feel like a bit of an alien in the mix, seeing as I’m a bit rougher around the edges (what with my skater Peruvian punk street artists vibes, and all). But spirituality is spirituality, no matter what you dress it in. I guess people are feeling that, so I’ve been doing well for myself before an audience that looks for positive spirituality as a path to surpass all the bullshit of the world. Though it’s not perfect —nothing is— I feel this scene has good intentions, which is more than most other art movements based on the ego and money. I’m stoked to support it, and I’m glad it supports me.
Juan: You “… act as a bridge between that spiritual movement and [the] less typically “conscious” art scenes [you’re] part of like street art… and skate art.” And yet, you’ve mentioned that you paint murals as a conscious reflexion of life, to bring more unity to our planet. Do you believe street art and skate art to be as “conscious” as any other art form? Does labeling them as “urban,” thereby relegating them to a “less serious” form, constrict their capacity for growth?
Chris: As everything is a reflection of the soul, anything can be spiritual. But we like to make things real “cool”, real “ego,” so as to feel special and separate ourselves from those we deem to be inferior. Street art and skate art have a lot of that “I’m so fucking cool” bullshit, but when we penetrate the essence of it, it’s all beauty, it’s all art, soul, expression, and dancing. Everything’s just been dressed up for the mainstream, which is materialist. Same goes for urban. There’s nothing unspiritual about the city. Sure, we can see easily see God reflected in Nature, but that’s cause humanity is so strongly reflected in the city. But we can’t forget that humanity is also God. We are all cells of the same endless body. It’s all one, just in different clothing.
“Spirituality is spirituality, no matter what you dress it in.”
Juan: Although you “… [appreciate] the scenes [you’re] associated with, [you] want to break boxes and manifest the “Oneness” [you believe] is there beneath it all.” At AVANT/GARDE we strive to bring visual art to a readership that might not have stumbled upon it otherwise, thereby making all art “conscious,” or at least making our readers conscious of it. You’re bringing art to scenes where traditionally it might not have been found— can you tell us about your experience live-painting in music festivals, and how you hope to “shatter the boxes” that keep a larger audience away from something they might feel to be “highbrow” or “not meant for them?”
Chris: I’m grateful I’ve become this bridge. I feel there are better things past this bridge, but my role as connector is crucial, too. The “live painting” role is a newer one for me. Because I’m quite shy and a slow painter, I had to break into it. But when this opportunity came my way and I went with it, I learned to swim by jumping in the water. Now it’s a blessing cause I get to make so many people happy, all while traveling the world and getting paid.
I feel “visionary art” is not even acknowledged by the mainstream art establishment. Geniuses like Alex Grey should be in big museums, but instead they have to throw Kickstarters to create their own. True spirit isn’t recognized or supported in this age, but I hope that will change. Until then, we’ll keep it underground for those awakened enough to “get it”. Spray painting murals under the hot sun for a whole weekend, speakers blasting right next to my ears, is a hard job, and it’s very uncomfortable at times. As much as people give me props, I don’t really get my happiness that way, so it’s not as glamorous of a position as some may think. I feel like I’m as big-a-deal as a janitor, which is perfect, cause no job should be put on a pedestal above others. I work hard for the people who might appreciate it. I feel I am changing lives and giving hope, and this allows me to fight the urge to give up. Instead, I move forward.
“I learned to swim by jumping in the water. Now it’s a blessing cause I get to make some many people happy.”
I hate ego. People who are full of themselves make me puke, especially when they boast spirituality. We are just artists— there’s no point in thinking we’re superior. It’s just another role.
We all have something to teach and something to learn, no doubt. I have some traumas that still linger and I’m working through them, and that means that while trying to find my confidence I also have to remember to be patient with myself. We all hurt in some way, and I think that’s a good thing. It reminds us to be empathic and to love each other, instead of going around looking for reasons to feel entitled. And talk is cheap. I rather you be a jerk but be real than talk as if you’re enlightened and then be a selfish prick.
Juan: You’ve talked about avoiding overt competition, stating that this is one of the reasons you were drawn to skateboarding. Skateboarding is often referred to as a sport where you compete with yourself. As a skateboarder, how does this inner competition link back to your art? Many other artists grow through the external pressure of competition— besides seeing yourself as the only adversary by which to measure your own growth, how do you find the motivation to continue to improve?
Chris: I would be lying if I said I wasn’t competitive. I think it’s human nature to observe what your peers are doing and strive to do better. To a degree this is healthy, just so long as there’s no bad feelings when one defeats or is defeated (if that’s even possible in art). Because of this, I avoid situations that stimulate competitiveness, such as “Art Battles”. Skateboarding, of course, can be competitive, but we just gotta take it back and do it for the right reasons: to feel good, to feel free, to learn that we can improve if we practice stuff over and over. That is the motivation in itself. Landing that kickflip, completing that mega-painting. The journey is the reward, but the goal is yummy, too.
“I feel like I’m as big-a-deal as a janitor, which is perfect, cause no job should be put on a pedestal above others.”
Juan: For several years you worked as the art director for Creation Skateboards before leaving to focus on your personal brand, Positive Creations. The artist can no longer be a hermit— he needs to network, travel, and expose his own work. How do you find the balance between creating and hustling? How does your fanbase’s feedback influence the work you continue to create, both in terms of your art and your clothing brand?
Chris: I started Positive Creations in 2003, before Creations Skateboards was a gig for me. But they were always the bigger brand, so I did get absorbed into them for some years, and that was a great experience. It’s hard to be both the hermit and the art rockstar. It trips me out, and, many times, I’m neither prepared for nor want the latter.
I definitely listen to my audience. I will always do what I do for myself, but when something has an obvious response, I can see I’ve struck a cord, and then I dig deeper into it.
“The journey is the reward, but the goal is yummy, too.”
Juan: You recently posted about being turned back at the US border, thereby having to reschedule your skate art workshop. Can you tell us more about what happened? Are there plans to continue teaching workshops in the US?
Chris: Yeah. That sucked. They got real picky on me. What I do is so specific that I’m certainly not robbing any American jobs, but I guess these people need to keep things square. Don’t tell anybody, but I did end up teaching that workshop. And don’t worry, no American kids were hurt. People just learned some skills and had a blast. I certainly plan to keep teaching my workshops at COSM. I just might have to pay for a working visa.
Juan: As well as expanding into commercial ventures, you often find time to give back to the community. Can you tell us a bit about your workshops, your travels, and your work at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors?
Chris: Well, as you know, the Chapel of the Sacred Mirrors is Alex And Allyson Greys’ project in upstate New York. They have a super nice spiritual artsy community, and they’re working hard to build these temples to house their epic art and also the visionary community’s art. They will eventually die, but those temples will hopefully be there for centuries, feeding people’s souls.
So I just pitch in my grain of sand into that beach of niceness. It might be a workshop, painting the mushroom cafe, donating original art to their kickstarter, or spray painting my installations in their meadow. It’s just little things to add magic to their spot and to show them my support. It’s always a pleasure because they have become good friends and I would love to see them retire into full-time art-making instead of fund raising.