The Gay, Life-Affirming, Gun-Controlling Art of Christopher Buening

by Jen Graves • Jun 26, 2015

'HUNTER' The guy in this is probably six inches tall, and made of ceramic. He's just called "Hunter," but this dog won't hunt.

'HUNTER' The guy in this is probably six inches tall, and made of ceramic. He's just called "Hunter," but this dog won't hunt.

It's all about the verb tense and the cursive lettering.

It's all about the verb tense and the cursive lettering.

Seattle artist Christopher Buening's show at Gallery4Culture was called Hunter < Gatherer, as in hunter is less than gatherer, gatherer is greater than hunter. That's the opposite of what his father taught him when he was growing up in Northern Wisconsin. His father, who "rabidly supports the NRA and is a staunch conservative," initiated Buening into a super-masculine world of guns, woods, beer, and porn—but the son was gay. He liked his father's world, but not for the reasons his father hoped.

Back then, as now, Buening genuinely wanted to gather objects together. When he was supposed to be shooting and killing, he'd be picking up neat and pretty things instead, or building forts, or watching birds. He remembers a moment when a chickadee actually perched on the barrel of his gun (depicted in the sculpture above), "fluffed himself up, and just rested there for a long while." It was, he explains, "a defining moment in which I realized I was not really cut out to hunt and kill animals."

In It Was a Man's World, Buening used white-out to write those words in unmanly cursive on top of a found painting on a slice of wood. It was a man's world his father took him into all those years ago, so the piece is a nostalgic expression of a place from the past.

But I also read it as a wish for a time when that past tense will apply to the whole world. A time when the relationships between women, men, and other animals are governed more by love than by power and dominion.

I appreciate the way he pairs ink prints on wood depicting the men in the hunting cabin with etchings on mirrors that depict the innocence of his boy's world. They come into such close contact, it feels unsafe for the boys.

Now that Buening is older, he uses gathering to build bulwarks against sorrow. He filled a wall of shelves with rainbowy ceramic vessels painted in nail polish, spray-paint, and glitter. Each pot he threw was intended to be an urn for someone he loves who has died; they each felt so inadequate that he just kept trying, kept making more, pitting life against death.

In celebration of this morning's historic news from the Supreme Court that marriage is a right for all same-sex couples in all states—and as a remembrance of the violence visited on so many people by this "man's world" we live in—I offer Buening's message printed on found fabric.

You don't have to shoot. Even if you're being put up to it.

Cross-dressing the gendered gesture

By Amanda Manitach for City Arts – November 27, 2012

Fetish in the form of cloth cut from second-hand clothes is found in multiple pieces, including Chris Buening's It's All Drag, which conjures the primitive assemblage style of Surrealism and the fetishistic flourish of Louise Bourgeois. His sculpture is composed of cone-forms and blobby bottles that call to mind isolated body parts or oversize, sexualized chess pieces. They’re painted, powdered, dolled up, bound and draped in cloth cut from suits, baby blankets, party dresses, scarves and kerchiefs. He refers to them as "mannequin" sculptures in drag, since he’s put male garments on female forms and vice verse. Buening says he solicited the help of an actual drag queen—an expert seamstress—to help complete the piece.

By bringing drag into the mix, Buening approaches the subject of gender (and of being a male, hence conversationally “compromised” by privilege) in one of the only possible ways: he metaphorically tucks. Buening drapes his work (by extension, himself) in the fetishized trappings of the feminine and enters the conversation in a way that subverts the gender binary. "The artist, regardless of their sex, will create," he says. "It's a primal urge. But we drape examination, ritual, decoration and deeper meaning over that primitive framework like the clothes on our bodies. It helps us identify and categorize."

Four artists at Seattle's SOIL Gallery explore the world inside our mouths in "Teeth"

By Michael Upchurch for Seattle Times - October 14, 2012

Tin Foil Teeth by Chris Buening

Tin Foil Teeth by Chris Buening

Why is it that whole portions of the human experience are sometimes overlooked in art?

For instance: teeth.

These little sculptures in our mouth are both durable and perishable. They can be neatly aligned or a crooked mess. They give us pain when infected; give us bliss when we chomp into something good.

In a new show at SOIL Gallery, straightforwardly titled "Teeth," four local artists investigate what our gnashers are all about...

Christopher Buening's "Front Tooth Fail" is a comical multimedia shrine to a tooth that was never meant to be. (It kept getting knocked out, Buening explains, during various boyhood accidents.) Buening's nearby installation, "31 Tin Foil Teeth and One Gold One," is clearly indicative of the tooth obsessions triggered in Buening by his inability to keep that one tooth intact in his mouth.


Words and images by Amanda Manitach for  New American Paintings
September 27, 2012

Chris Buening’s (NAP #85) three large pieces at Prole Drift weave in and out of themselves, mesmerizing snarls of color and line and coiling worms. Illustration of Events Happening is the title of the show, as well as the name of a diagrammatic installation on one wall that consists of 29 resin and plaster discs connected by a network of brushstrokes. Embedded in each disc, like fossils trapped in translucent bands of sedimentary strata, are layers of correction fluid drawings, rainbow foil, glitter and Sharpie. To either side of the installation are two large paintings on paper. One of the paintings has been meticulously cut out to form a hydra-like lacework of earthworms (as colorful as Gummi Worms). Facing it is a prismatic, molecular abstraction pulsing with bright spots and worms. Worms are everywhere.

Chris Buening and  Illustration of Events Happening  (wall installation), 2012, wood, powder pigment, foil, epoxy resin, correction fluid, and watercolor, size varies.

Chris Buening and Illustration of Events Happening (wall installation), 2012, wood, powder pigment, foil, epoxy resin, correction fluid, and watercolor, size varies.

As the title suggests, Illustration of Events Happening sheds light on some recent events in Buening’s life. I met him at his studio to discuss it. – Amanda Manitach, Seattle Contributor

Buening’s studio is just like his work: oscillating between chaotic and orderly. A dozen rolls of artist tape are neatly hung on nails from a ceiling beam. Bulk packages of Wite Out pens are tidily stocked on a shelf. Yet the walls are graffitied with a confetti of paint drips and messages scrawled in pen. One portion of wall has been precisely cordoned off and threatens to burst its perimeters with a bricolage of dog tags, plastic dolls, scribbled notes, doodles, magazine scraps, matchbooks and splashes of neon paint.

Amanda Manitach: What is this wall about?

Chris Buening: It helps my OCD about being a pack rat. I just contain it to that wall. It’s things I find on walks, scraps and remnants in my studio that I can’t throw away.

Buening’s studio wall. Image courtesy of the artist

Buening’s studio wall. Image courtesy of the artist

Chris Buening |  Dolly’s Demise , 2009, spray paint, acrylic and correction fluid on cut paper, 46 x 41 inches.

Chris Buening | Dolly’s Demise, 2009, spray paint, acrylic and correction fluid on cut paper, 46 x 41 inches.

AM: It looks like a shrine! So what’s your process?

CB: I start out with a blank piece of paper and I start painting on it. Spray paint and acrylic usually. It gets my need to throw paint around out of the way. Sometimes I’ll see the suggestion of a thing in the paint, a random image will start appearing in it, it will spark an idea…Sometimes I just like the amalgamation of colors and then I’ll start drawing on it. Usually about halfway through the piece, when I’m starting to draw, a specific event or a person will come to mind and it revolves around exorcising that thing. It becomes a meditative process. This one [Dolly’s Demise] is about my friend Teda. In high school she was a severe drug addict, a gas huffer. She got pregnant and she was doing so many drugs she lost her baby and she later committed suicide.

AM: Wow, I wouldn’t have guessed that association was embedded in the image. Your work is so beautiful and bright. These lips could simply be a kiss.

CB: A lot of it is dark and extreme memories that I put away or white out (chuckles). I guess it’s a little therapeutic. I like the dichotomy of the loose, nothing-on-your-mind type of painting, splashing colors around, then switching to the detailed, disciplined over-drawing. It satisfies both of my impulses.

Chris Buening | Triangualation, spray paint and correction fluid on cut paper, 44 x 36 inches.

AM: The drawn portion has the look of chemical or geometrical structures. Does sacred geometry factor in?

CB: I’ve read a lot of Fritjof Capra (laughs) so yeah it’s definitely something I’m aware of but it’s not something I’m thinking of here. Although I would say that mathematics and string theory factor into this work, thinking of how the universe functions.

AM: Psychedelics….at all?

CB: Mmhmm. A lot of my work is definitely influenced by psychedelics. I certainly did enough of them. But I stopped taking all that stuff quite a few years ago. I’d taken so much of it and it wasn’t quite the revealing experience when you start. I don’t have a religion, so for a while psychedelics were my little window into the universe.

Chris Buening |  Wormhole  (detail), spray paint and correction fluid on cut paper, 49 x 43 inches

Chris Buening | Wormhole (detail), spray paint and correction fluid on cut paper, 49 x 43 inches

AM: The works at Prole Drift have to do with a hospitalization?

CB: I was in the hospital earlier this year with potentially life threatening pancreatic necrosis. It was most likely brought on by over-consumption of alcohol. The work at Prole Drift is a meditation on the interconnectedness of the decisions we make in life and their consequences lead us to certain experiences, which in turn present another set of options. Each decision and action, hundreds per day, influenced by and connected to the previous or present circumstance. Some lead to regeneration and spawn a whole new direction. Some just peter out and wither in importance. Others lead to sickness and death. I suppose they all lead to death in the end, don’t they?

AM: Artists and alcohol…it’s a complicated relationship to say the least. I love to drink.

CB: I used to professionally DJ too. Lord knows, I’m no stranger to the party scene. I have lost more than a few friends and family to addiction and overdose. More specifically, I lost an uncle and a best friend to pancreatic necrosis (due to alcohol) when I was in my late 20’s/early 30’s. Lying in the hospital, thinking I might die that way too was a serious wake-up call.

Buening’s studio (Illustration of Events Happening installation in progress) Image courtesy of the artist.

AM: You have this drawing of an earthworm on your wall that says “MASCOT OF MINE.” And the earthworm keeps making an appearance…

CB: Worms are a favorite for me. They are symbolic of both death and regeneration. Also, my first job (when I was a kid) was catching “nightcrawlers” in my yard and the surrounding fields in Ashwaubenon, WI. Huge, long, slimy worms that my sister and I would hunt at night with a flashlight and a bucket during the Summer. We sold them to an out-of-home bait shop that the neighbor was running for five cents a worm! We always spent the money on candy.

AM: What are you working on next?

CB: In November I’ll be showing with Joey Veltkamp at True Love Art Gallery and also at Cornish College of the Arts. That show will be a response to Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou that’s coming to Seattle Art Museum. I have some ideas about a new body of work…but it’s all still coming together in my mind. Some new work in clay and further foray into sculpture and installation….

Christopher Buening graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 1997 and currently lives and works in Seattle.  He is a member of SOIL Gallery and shows his work throughout the United States, most recently in the Northwest at Greg Kucera, Seattle/Tacoma Intl. Airport and Prole Drift. He was featured in New American Paintings #85. 

Amanda Manitach is a writer and artist based in Seattle.

Standing Tall

by Rebecca Teagarden with photos by Benjamin Benschneider  for  Northwest Living Magazine
July 10, 2011

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