Chris Kanyusik’s Savage Planet

December 8th, 2009


Chris Kanyusik, "Head on Base (Pressed)," Earthenware, Encoustic Wax, 2008

This past weekend I attended the 4th Annual Jingletown Holiday ArtWalk in Oakland, CA. I never miss events there due to the high concentration of studios and artists I know and admire, including the likes of Jan Watten and Clint Imboden, who I have mentioned in previous blogs and newsletters. But every time I go to Jingletown I discover a new gem. The Institute of Mosaic Art. The scanned foliage of Jon Zax. And especially, this time, the sculpture of Chris Kanyusik.

His studio is tucked away at 2934 Ford Street #39, and it would have been so easy to overlook. But as you approach you find a hallway lined with altered images of the Mona Lisa, and arrows guiding the way. It’s like the Paris Metro stop transporting you to the Louvre. Or a wormhole that sucks you in and deposits you at Bergamot Station at the center of the Los Angeles art scene.

Sculpture feels like the most static of all artforms. The piece is literally “set in stone.” Or wax, or plaster, or…. Well, you get my point. Yet Kanyusik’s sculpture feels completely dynamic. Rodin’s Thinker took a comfortable seat, a position he has maintained for 120 years and counting. Not so Kanyusik’s subjects. His have just been rocked off the center of their base and crashed face-first into the invisible boundary at which their world ends. Their necks have been snapped and their heads loll. They are captured at a moment of maximum tension. How long can they hold that pose?


Han Solo, "The Empire Strikes Back," 1980

“Captured” is an apt description for Kanyusik’s subjects. Those not being crushed or cracked are trapped in their material. A face — perhaps only ears–protrudes from the block. Or they are nearly free, yet conjoined. They recall the revulsion and horror of seeing Han Solo entombed in a block of carbonite, and watching the credits roll with our hero still trapped. Is Kanyusik freeing them from the marble as Michaelangelo did, or has he made them his captives?

fan_planetKanyusik’s sculptures remind me first and foremost of animation, specifically the work of Bill Plympton and the 1973 French-Czech cult classic Fantastic Planet (La planète sauvage). Like “Plymptoons,” the characters are in flux. They rotate, mutate, and evolve. They look like us, in a decidedly unidealized rendering, but they are not us. They have an alien quality. They are the Draags inhabiting the Fantastic Planet: Humanoid, but no human could survive the abuses to which they are subjected.

Kanyusik gives his subjects a cruel choice: Remain trapped in a claustrophobic prison, or face the vulnerability inherent in being free. Yet despite being unnerved by these pieces, they inspire sheer delight. Is it the subtle references to those cherished bits of pop cultural heritage? The cleverness of the poses? Or perhaps it is because they are so unnerving. God forbid, is it a bit of schadenfreude? Better them than me?


Chris Kanyusik, "Female Torso (Bent Neck)," Earthenware, 2008

Many of his pieces have an unfinished feel to them, and this is by design, as is the artist’s ambiguous relationship to his subjects and concern for their fate. Kanyusik writes in his statement, “Art bears greater power and relevance through ambiguity.  It transcends commonality by remaining open, provocative, and to a certain degree unclear and unfinished, rather than presenting a banal package complete with an image and a corresponding narrative, leaving little or no room for viewer engagement.”

I’ll risk superficiality to admit that one element contributing to the pleasure of viewing Kanyusik’s work was the overall presentation. This was open studios, but he didn’t just put out snacks (In fact, he didn’t put out snacks at all. Note to Chris: Next time? Snacks.); He curated his show. He took his working studio and transformed it into a gallery.


There is one weekend left to see Kanyusik’s studio in its transformed state. The Jingletown ArtWalk concludes Saturday and Sunday, December 12 and 13, from 11-6 PM.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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2 responses to “Chris Kanyusik’s Savage Planet”

  1. Lori Singman says:

    Wow! What a blog! I always knew that you were an incredible writer, but this goes beyond almost anything you’ve written before. Wish I could get up there before the show closes. Call me.

  2. mary rstom says:

    Wish we were closer Chris–Scott could have made bread and you could have served it with my plum jam…great article and wonderful work…hope you are well and have a nice holiday Mary

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