By ROCCO THOMPSON
Gruesomely baroque. Deliciously queer. Transcendently macabre. The breathtaking art of Albuquerque based, Greek/Mexican-American sculptor/photographer Chris P. Andres almost defies description. A graduate of New Mexico State and The University of Notre Dame, Andres calls himself an “artist entrepreneur” who is fascinated by the idea of perversion, and desires to create a moon-lit world of monsters and martyrs so that freaks (and he uses that term with affection) like himself can find peace. Rue Morgue spoke with the erudite artist to discover why horror appeals to him as a gay person of color, where he draws inspiration for his wickedly fantastical creations, and what it means to be a Satanist in the 21st century,
What first drew you to horror?
For me, it’s always been about the monsters. I had a great librarian, Mrs. Carpenter, who very theatrically read us tales from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark around Halloween during 3rd and 4th grade. She would even turn off the lights to set a creepier, yet cozier, mood. To my child’s mind, that book was like the Necronomicon or a grimoire that seemed to possess a dark, forbidden magic. I used to challenge myself to turn the pages, terrified and captivated by the wraithlike illustrations by the great Stephen Gammell. Also, as a poor kid with more imagination than I could handle, Halloween provided not just candy, but a chance for me to become any creature I wished to be and rejoice in the surreal and creepy world that I always felt at home in.
But, I’d have credit my mother most of all. She delighted me with ghost stories of La Llorona (a wailing mother spirit), The Cu-Cuy (the Mexican boogeyman) and occult mysteries of Curanderas and Brujas (medicine women and witches). These stories turned the dark nights of rural New Mexico into a supernatural playground for me. Unlike many people, I associate a profound sense of comfort with certain aspects of horror.
What’s your artistic background?
I have always made art! My childhood was filled with repurposed plastic bags, trash ties, pipe cleaners, and thread that I would craft into mermaids, faeries, and other mythical creatures. I drew constantly and would only come alive at school when we did art projects! Over the years I developed a talent for transforming humble materials into fantastic objects, costumes, haunted houses, and interior installations.
Due to self-denial and closeted-ness, when I began college, I ignored my creative nature and studied music instead. Dissatisfied and conflicted, I was encouraged by my bassoon coach—who could see that my heart was not in classical music and that the show-stopping costumes I’d make for our Halloween concerts pointed to a secret passion—to pursue art.
So, I took the plunge! The scales of ignorance and self-doubt began to fall away from my eyes during my artistic education. My BFA thesis show was an installation which filled an entire house! Using photography, paintings, and sculpture, I created a theatrical, haunted house-like environment complete with music, smells, lighting, dead fish, a goat fetus, soil, and deer skulls. Following that, my MFA thesis show was an ambitious exhibition of large-scale Baroque portraits of perverse saints in fashion editorials, dripping with hellish glamour and queer cosmetics. Though the university censored my work (pulling six pieces in all from the exhibition) I won a scholastic prize and knew without a doubt that art was my future!
What makes horror integral to your art?
When I was younger, closeted, and very religious, horror was this subversive thing that seemed both frightening and tantalizing. Now, I view horror as an essential element in the human condition, which is itself both terrible and beautiful. Horror is natural. I use horror in my art as reminder of the oft-ignored knowledge that we are made from jizz, ovum, blood, shit, bile, and an invisible universe of microorganisms. Horror shocks us awake to the problematic nature of what it means to be human. Selfish and needful of love, animalistic in instinct and neurologically divine – we are all gods! Gods with anuses. I love and create art that celebrates this condition of existing between the sacred and the profane.
Can you tell us a bit about your creative process?
I keep a sketch book that I fill with ideas and concepts. I am constantly imagining beings and operatic vignettes that start as a feeling and then crystalize in my mind until suddenly I know how to bring them life. Or, I simply start experimenting with materials—adding, subtracting, editing, re-editing—until a form emerges and opens a new realm of possibilities. Sometimes, I’ll have a flash of an image that seems to emerge from nowhere that will plague me until I let it out!
What’s your greatest challenge as a maker?
My greatest challenge is my self-saboteur that depletes my grit, fills my thoughts with worry, and tells me that my art isn’t worthy to be shared. But, I battle against it. Like many creative individuals, it takes perseverance, putting long hours in, and inner fortitude to shine through the murk of self-sabotage
Which piece are you most proud of?
I am proud of any sculpture that gets me a little bit closer to that “imagination land” I’ve always worked towards existing in, where things are a bit more magical, beautiful or wondrous. The piece that stands alone for me is that one that has had the most impact on myself because it had the most impact of my father. He was Greek immigrant suffering from the melancholia of pursuing the American status-quo. Though he envied rich, white, Evangelical Christians, he began a relationship with my Mexican-American mother who had two sons from a previous marriage. When suddenly, she became pregnant with me, they married, and he felt trapped. He was un-loving and racist towards my brothers. He thought my queerness was a psychological illness and that art making was un-manly vocation. Gradually, he started to change for the better. His Christianity (once Greek Orthodox) transformed into a more peaceful, Eastern practice. Through this evolution, he starting to become more accepting of me as an artist and gay person.
In my BFA show there was a room featuring a six-foot tall crucifix with a castrated Christ suspended from the ceiling. From the wound, two arteries of blood-colored ribbons flowed to the suspended skulls of two deers—one a healthy buck with symmetrical antlers, the other a Cactus Buck whose antlers grew into queer forms resembling coral. This intense installation was back-lit with a scrim behind it with a Latin phrase Psallit in aure dei (The sweet ear of our Lord) graffitied on it—The song of the same name by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy played. The song is a mournful orison accompanied by a cheerless church organ. It was quite the spectacle.
My father was keenly aware that I was doing what he never managed to accomplish, namely, pursuing my passion. When I was in grad-school, he uncharacteristically opened up to me about how he felt ashamed for being cruel to my brothers and for being so scared and unprepared for being a father. He admitted regret for spending so much of his life trying to conform to the status-quo and the belief that Christianity is the only path to happiness and fulfillment. He never became the person he wanted to be. He told me that when he saw my castrated Christ, it reflected everything he felt about himself as a man made impotent by his own fear. Four months after my MFA thesis show, he died from a horrible struggle with cancer. I returned for the funeral. I arrived at my parent’s noiseless home and walked around his now empty room, recently cleared of the hospice equipment. By his deathbed I found that he had kept a gold coin that I had given to him. It was the coin that that Notre Dame had given to me on the day of my graduation.
What’s your favorite horror movie?
NIGHTBREED(1990)–though that question is difficult to answer—NIGHTBREED is the formative horror film from my childhood. To me, that film has always been about queer people struggling against heteronormative gate-keepers. It’s ironic that so many beloved horror films seem subversive to mainstream culture, but in reality reinforce social conservatism. For example, as a kid I loved THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987), but now it’s not so fun for me. The homophobia of that time is an obvious reason, as evidenced by the club of kids who love monsters, but must destroy them. There’s no room for freaks, outsiders, or queers in the hetero-centric world which that film depicts, and even the sympathetic Frankenstein’s Monster must get sucked back into the hellish void from whence it came.
Though I can still enjoy THE EXORCIST (1973), it has become a film that is quite antithetical to my ontology as a reaction to the courageous 1960’s, where marginalized people suffered great violence for wanting equality. The film is a call to action asking society to return to the Christian faith to make sense of it all. No thanks William Peter Blatty, I prefer Clive Barker’s fantasy land of Midian, where Baphomet reigns and crusading priests are not welcome!
Do you consider yourself a Satanist?
Yes, I am a Satanist. But I’m more philosophically in line with Milton’s literary Satan, who he reinvented as a humanistic romantic and a life-loving, persistently rebellious character. I’m a big proponent of cherry-picking religions, myths, and philosophies for the truths that an individual may find helpful and making obsolete those bad ideas that hurt progress, scientific examination, evolution, creativity, and human wellbeing. In short, I’d rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
What’s your next big project?
I’m currently work hard complete all standing commissions. I addition to this, I’m working on producing merch, and a puppet project for The Satanic Temple. I’m also producing tutorial/conceptual content for my fledgling YouTube channel, and planning a video performance art piece that will scratch the itch I have for experimental theater and video pieces. Lastly, I’m developing a conversational podcast about occulture called (what else?) HAIL SATAN!
When you’re not creating, how do you like to spend your time?
I love going to the movies, watching THE GOLDEN GIRLS, reading about art history and occult stuff, and collecting and refurbishing vintage 80’s toys.
Are you currently exhibiting your work?
Social Media is changing the art world game. I am thrilled about it! Gallery representation is great, but the internet has allowed more people to connect with my work than I ever thought possible. However, I am definitely going to expand into to more gallery exhibitions and installations—experiencing my work in person is more stunning. To borrow a musical analogy: I sound better live than on the recording! My work is part of a major collection of Latino Art and Pinhole Photography in The New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors. I also have a permanent photographic/sculptural installation at the Satanic Temple Headquarters in Salem.
What’s the best horror movie you saw recently?
When THE WITCH (2016) ended in the exact way I’d always wanted a story like that to end, I almost cried in elation! Also, GET OUT (2017) was incredible. To say that America is still haunted by the specter of racism is a vast understatement. The wound is old, smells of rot, and does not to seem to ever begin to scab. Both of those films have the same resolution for me: liberation from oppressors. ANNIHILATION (2018) was another standout film for me. I’m one of those horror fans that rarely feels dread when watching these movies, but with ANNIHILATION, I felt that rare sinking in the stomach that we all crave. The alien in the film was a Luciferian god indeed—a trans-dimensional being that could create anagrams of humans both within their DNA and their souls, with no consideration for any ordered physics from the chemical to the quantum levels. I was haunted and I loved it!
What would you like people to take away from your work?
I want my work to take people away to a world of nightmares and dreams—to Midian, where the monsters go.