“Christopher Orr’s dark, diminutive oil paintings seem at first glance to have been salvaged from some alternate past. He conjures a dramatic lost world in which characters, scenes, and objects culled from popular midcentury print media seem to have strayed into the sublime landscape visions of a nineteenth-century Romantic.”
Christopher Orr was born in Helensburgh in 1967. After leaving school in 1984, Christopher joined a punk band. He played in clubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh for two years. He then decided that the musician’s life wasn’t for him and decided to move on and do something else.
Heavily influenced by the graphics of the album covers and posters of early punk bands from 1977–76, with their cut and paste aesthetics, letters cut from newspapers and placed on top of images, Christopher pursued a career in art. He set out as a comic artist, working in early nineties as a graphic artist in a small printing company, prior to the days of computer arts. All the artwork was completed in the darkroom using the cut and paste aesthetics.
A colleague recognised Christopher’s artistic potential and suggested that he enrol in an art school. He spent four years trying to get into the Glasgow School of Art, but eventually enrolled with Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art Dundee (1996 – 2000), where he completed his BA. He completed his formal training at the Royal College of Art, London (2001 – 2003).
His intriguing, meticulously painted pictures are derived entirely from existent media. Images from vintage magazines, Ladybird storybooks, science textbooks, Old Master paintings, newspaper articles and slides that the artist has found are all sources of inspiration.
Orr’s earlier works, his miniaturist dark paintings borrow the Romantic landscapes and painterly styles of Caspar David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner. His later works are larger and looser than their predecessors, and in many ways more confident in their handling of surreal subject matter. Orr has reduced and simplified his images, often removing the drama found in his source material, to create subjects that are at once banal and arcane. These works possess a painterly rather than narrative tension.
Orr continually explores the manipulation of images from one medium into another. He tests the objectivity of the scientific depictions, photographs, diagrams and paintings that he uses; their eclecticism of style and content saturate Orr’s works with the competing perspectives and mentalities of different eras, fostering an enchanted state.
His numerous group exhibitions include London in Zürich, curated by Gregor Muir at Hauser & Wirth Zürich (2005), Tate Triennial, curated by Beatrix Ruf at Tate Britain, London (2006), Very Abstract and Hyper Figurative, curated by Jens Hoffmann at Thomas Dane Gallery, London (2007) and Old School, Hauser & Wirth London (2007). Recent solo shows include ’Christopher Orr’ at Hauser & Wirth, Zurich (2007) and ’Paintings’ at Nyehaus, New York (2008). In June 2009 he participated in the show for The Front Room at Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis and during 2010 he held a residency at Artsway, Sway.
In 2014/15, Christopher held his first solo exhibition in Scotland. ‘The Beguiled Eye’ at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, drew inspiration from a range of source material and visual appropriation such as clips from National Geographic magazine, 50s photos and super 8 films. His sketchbooks were also shown for the first time, presenting a selection of drawings, paintings and collages.
The artist’s works can be found in collections including Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Christopher Orr has lived and worked in London since 2001.