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Technique Talk: Painter Chris Tennant

Posted by Jackie Mantey | January 03, 2013 12:33 PM

Technique Talk is a weekly online Alive feature that spotlights the process of a Columbus artist. Know someone we should talk to? Send tips to


Chris Tennant

If there’s one thing you can expect from painter Chris Tennant’s texture-rich realism, it’s that it will have a healthy back slap of humor. If this interview is any indication, you can probably regularly expect that from Chris Tennant, as well. Tennant, who also makes jewelry (find some at What the Rock?!), is preparing for his show at Image Optical in the Short North this April. That’s, of course, when he’s not at his day job making mascots. (The challenges there seem endless. He once had to make a giant butt plug mascot.) Read on to see who in Columbus Tennant would challenge to a duel, what he’d feed Lucian Freud and why he likes things that are a bit broken.
What kind of art do you make and why?
I make paintings that I want to look at. Textural surfaces with realism painted on them, I want them to look new and old all at the same time. Nothing prefabricated. My imagery is mostly of concocted still life, although I’ll be doing more portrait and figurative work this season. 
When do you make art and why?
Sometimes it feels like I can’t stop making things; however, I mostly work in the evening. There is something about painting at night that gives me focus and energy. Maybe it’s less distraction, but any free time I can scrape together, you can find me putting time in at the studio.

“Weebol Woobul (Self Portrait),” by Chris Tennant. Fabric, foam and sand.

How often do you make art?
Everyday. I believe making art is just like breathing and eating, I gotta do it to sustain life. If I’m not at my studio building, breaking, or painting, I’m making mascot heads for a central Ohio company (that’s my day job). Yeah, everything from college mascots to your favorite childhood cartoon characters. 
Where do you make art and why?
I work out of 400 West Rich studios now. I have been a studio rat since school. It lets me have all my toys (a.k.a. tools.... and toys) in one place. I create a lot of dust while I’m painting and it is nice to have space to get messy in. 

“Cause & Effect,” by Chris Tennant. Oil on mixed media.

 “My right hand, man!” by Chris Tennant. Oil on mixed media.

What has been inspiring your work lately?
Food, toys, comic books, grizzlies, naps, broken concrete. Really I have a fascination with tattered stuff, the way nature and time decay my surrounds. New shiny things don’t have soul. 
What advice would you give a new artist that you’ve found invaluable?
First I’d challenge them to a duel; I got to protect my crown. Hahaha. No really, I would tell them to work, show and love what they do as much as they can. 
What do you do while you work?
Realism takes a lot of focus, but there is usually background noise when I’m working on stuff. When I am deep in concentration, I listen to High on Fire, Slayer, Mastodon, Action Bronson, The Sword, Melvins, Lair of the Minotaur, Pelican and Queens of the Stone Age. Just to name a few. As far as TV goes, “Dr. Who” has been my go-to, but there for a while I had “Game of Thrones” on repeat. Dragons are awesome. 

 “Cherry Bomb,” by Chris Tennant. No. 2 watercolor on paper

 “Sour Apple,” by Chris Tennant. Oil on mixed media.

Do you ever experience artists’ block?
I welcome it; my brain needs time to relax. For me, block comes from overworking or no inspiration. So I just sit back, live a little, and new ideas come. Usually, the first one or two can be horrible, but it gets me working again.
Three artists, living or dead, that you would invite to a dinner party:
Alberto Burri. (Italian Abstract Expressionist.)
Pablo Picasso. (Mostly so I could pick a fight with him.)
Lucian Freud. (That dude is awesome.)
Cheeseburgers and cokes all around. 

 “O’ Captain! My Captain!” by Chris Tennant. Oil on mixed media.