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Jul
15
2024
Arts

Yellow Springs-based artist and resident Chris Glaser stood in his Cemetery Street studio. Pictured with Glaser are his paintings of local residents including Mayor Pam Conine and members of the World House Choir. (Photo by Cheryl Durgans)

Chris Glaser’s artistic realms

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“In nature, everything is connected, the great circle of life and death. Similarly, in creating art, ideas I begin with go full circle with the final strokes eventually joining the first strokes. With practice, memory becomes a powerful source of inspiration.” — Excerpted from Chris Glaser’s artist statement

Community, nature, connection, heart, people, memory, energy, healing — all words that may come to mind when viewing local artist Chris Glaser’s art. And yet the word “pain,” and all that it encompasses in the spiritual, emotional and physical realms of the human experience, is also part of Glaser’s artistic journey — which, as he told the News in a recent interview, began when he started taking painting more seriously about 25 years ago after a back surgery.

“That’s when I started being able to understand that I could paint. And, you know, all of a sudden, I had a lot of time,” he said.

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Greeting visitors at the entrance of Glaser’s studio is a small sticker with a likeness of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo on it. Kahlo’s own story of making art as part of her healing process while in recovery from a back injury that left her partially paralyzed in the early 20th century is well-documented.

“Big inspiration,” said Glaser, who has undergone several spinal fusion surgeries. Making art continues to be a part of his healing process. According to Glaser, he painted a lot of spines before each surgery — “so I could visualize a good outcome.”

“The spiritual aspect of doing art is really important. You know, I’ve had, like four fusions on my back. So, every time I have this surgery to work through pain and whatnot, it can keep me focused in a way that that pain becomes something different,” he said, adding that, for him, painting is a way of refocusing.

“If I don’t have somewhere to put it, I’m consumed with everything else that’s going on in my body,” Glaser said. “There’s a surprise that happens when I’m working on a painting, and I kind of let go of the realistic aspect of it, and let the details take on their own life.”

Glaser, who is self-taught, said he always “dabbled” in art here and there, but his profession for many years was another creative function: He got his start as a builder, working alongside and learning from a local contractor, constructing houses from “start to finish.”

“Then, I went out on my own and have built houses and additions since then. I kind of stayed small, just so that I could concentrate on one or two jobs at a time — it gave me sort of a way to make a living in a creative outlet because you can visualize, especially knowing how it’s going to go together — from start to finish,” Glaser said.

As Glaser’s back issues became more acute, he decided to retire from the construction business. But he continues to find a type of synergy in his experience as a builder and with his painting.

“I knew I was creative enough and I knew how to problem-solve, especially with building. And then the painting became a similar type of process,” he said.

People became familiar with Glaser’s art during the pre-COVID YS Open Studios events, in which artists opened their doors to the public; those events, previously sponsored by the YS Arts Council and Chamber of Commerce, were a regular part of village life, though they have yet to resume. Glaser has also exhibited art at both Wheat Penny and Meadowlark restaurants in Dayton, resulting in purchased art and commissioned work.

Glaser, who grew up in nearby Springfield, has lived in Yellow Springs for “45-plus years,” raising five kids in the home that now houses his studio space. He settled in Yellow Springs after a stint of hitchhiking around the United States. Fortunately for Glaser, he missed being drafted into the Vietnam war by days.

“I was about to be drafted, and one week before I was going to get shipped out, Nixon called the draft off,” he said.

With Glaser’s five children grown and moved on, his cat Elon — as in the Ute Indian name meaning “friendly,” and not the well-known billionaire with the same first name — offers a sweet welcome to visitors to his studio, situated near woods along a creek. It’s filled with interesting objects, including rocks and arrowheads that Glaser found in local fields — all of which inform his work. Covering the walls of his studio are portraits of people from the community, settings from dreams he’s recounted visually on canvas, and paintings depicting birds and trees and other elements found in nature.

“It was funny, my grandson came in one time, and he said, ‘Mom, he’s allowed to have rocks in the house!’” Glaser said with a laugh.

Despite Glaser’s Springfield upbringing, he often visited the Glen as a teenager, and read about different forms of spiritual practices, including Buddhism and shamanism.

“I learned the flowers and the birds, and I started walking cornfields for artifacts. All of that kind of plays into my process, and while I’m working on a painting, sometimes I’ll cut loose the focus and just kind of see what comes about from memory of natural things,” Glaser said.

Another aspect to Glaser’s work is portraiture, some commissioned, often of various people in the community. Hanging on Glaser’s walls  are familiar faces, painted with the vibrant palette choices of his favorite medium — oil paint. Currently, he’s interested in fluorescent colors. The latest works include a portrait of his friend, Yellow Springs Mayor Pam Conine, and members of the World House Choir. Others are of beloved village residents and family members who’ve died, including his sister, who passed away after battling Parkinson’s disease.

“We were very close. And so that [painting] was really cathartic,” Glaser said. “It’s quite a big deal in this town to see people every day for decades, and then they’re gone, you know? I’d done portraits before, and faces are very difficult, but when you’re emotionally attached to somebody, the focus becomes real and you can process grieving.”

All in all, it’s making the connections to the spirit through the cosmos, with the plants and animals and other human beings that seemingly energizes Glaser’s work.

“You can put emotions and deeper truths in art that you wouldn’t normally reveal to people personally,” Glaser wrote in a follow-up email. “Sometimes the art encompasses putting your heart out there for other people to connect with.”

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