Christopher Orr is a Scottish painter based in London, known for his atmospheric oil paintings of figures and animals based on collages, archived photographs, researched drawings, and watercolour studies.Read More
In his studio he likes to be inspired by found images, and frames from projected film.
Orr received a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee (1996—2000), and completed a Master's in Painting at the Royal College of Art, London (2001—2003).
This artist likes to explore his collection of natural and social history books, children's encyclopaedias, science publications, and assorted National Geographic magazines to seek out stimulating illustrations. They assist his rendering of chosen subjects or backgrounds, while his use of collage to make working studies comes from his passion for the work of Jamie Reid, the legendary punk designer.
Paradoxically Orr is a traditional painter, a lover of the Romantic sublime. Using deliberately murky and soft earth colours in his narrative images, he avoids harsher industrial or synthetic saturated hues, preferring 'muddy' tertiaries to 'clean' primaries in his palette. He is much fascinated by glowing light surrounded by dripping foliage, misty hazes, and shimmering water.
Orr's peopled images have a subtly quirky or oddball humour, hinting at narratives that might, over time, slowly unfold. Sometimes they depict khaki-clad anthropologists, surveyors, or explorers in caves or in bush. These figures can be found puzzling over recently discovered mysterious items in The Beneficent Lights Dim (2012), measuring space in The Balloon (2005), or enthralling over some steep, misty sublime vista in No Sound was Uttered (2020) and The Weight of Water (2006).
There is a hint of satire: a touch perhaps of Rider Haggard or Boys' Own. As amusing illustrations, these figures-in-landscape oil paintings are closer to Glen Baxter than Mark Tansey, their type of drollness not being particularly preoccupied with postmodern or postcolonial theory.
His images are hard to locate chronologically because of the drab clothing of the people depicted; in Where Shadows Crept (2020) his figures rest in a landscape setting, in Geometry (2005), inside a dwelling. Often, figures are represented thinking. Indeed, the paintings seem to be about the actual act of contemplation or calculation, and also about the artist's own valuing of nature, possibly espousing a form of mysticism embedded with spirituality.
Others are more active, showing groups of figures walking through pastoral settings, as in Not Stir of the Air Was There (2019). Other times, Orr will leave out people altogether, and instead focus on close-ups of branches of apples, as seen in The Dark Light Years (2010), or ornithological specimens, as in Half Glimpsed (2019), their titles hinting at metaphors for time.
The figure/landscape works collectively compare lone or pairs of explorers with groups, setting out degrees of gregariousness and social interaction. Some works reference compositionally earlier works from art history, and exploit looser scumbled translucent paint, like The Silence Afterwards (2010).
Orr's paintings celebrate nature as experienced in the uncurbable wilderness, promoting the luminous properties of light, while at the same time discreetly mocking the endeavours of scientists to explain, or unknowingly destroy, it.
Christopher Orr has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions. Solo exhibitions include The Beguiled Eye, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh (2015); Light Shining Darkly, Kunsthaus Baselland, Basel (2013); Christopher Orr, Hauser & Wirth, Zurich (2010); Before and After Science, Arndt and Partner, Berlin (2004); and Future Natural, Cohan Leslie and Browne, New York (2003).
Selected group exhibitions include Adam, Eve and the Devil, Marres House for Contemporary Culture, Maastricht (2015); Tree House Down, ibid., Los Angeles (2015); 54th Venice Biennale, Venice (2011); Memories of the Future, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York (2010); Old School, Hauser & Wirth, Colnaghi, London (2007); Tate Triennial 2006, Tate Britain (2006); Girlpower and Boyhood, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh (2006); Don Quijote, Kunstinstituut Melly (formally known as Witte de With), Rotterdam (2006).
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021