JFAIII: What brought you to re-introducing and re-inventing the stories of Br'er Rabbit? And please for those here who are not familiar with Br'er Rabbit please explain its roots into your new incarnation of this narrative.
CB: It was about seven years ago that I began to draw theses figures I named "Folk Blood Water Babies," which were these twisted clown like figures that referenced Francisco Goya, black face caricatures, The Cheshire Cat, and a slew of art historical figures. At the time I was reading a lot of stories about High John the Conquer and the Devils Daughter, Charles Mingus' auto biography "Beneath the Underdog," Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" (being completely taken back by the trickster figure Rinehart), Franz Fanon and Avery Gordon. So this narrative about power, mythology, inheritance, coded language, and a sort of mysticism was stirring around in my thoughts. The "Folk Blood Water Babies," were sort of vessels for this internal dialogue I was working out- they acted as a sort of symbolic langue for what (at the time) I was unable to articulate. Then one night, about three years ago, I sort of re-remembered the Br'er Rabbit stories (it sort of fell out of my head and into my drawings) and began to read and research them. I began to not only rediscover these stories but also their origins that led me on a journey into not only United States history but Senegalese history as well.
You see there Br'er Rabbit stories are actually from Senegal, which is really interesting when you think about Carl Jung's ideas about the collective sub consciousness and mythological archetypes, and have been told for hundreds of generations prior to ever existing in the United States. In the past, I imagine, that these stories were solely concerned with human observations of the natural world -hierarchies that existed in nature and relationships that existed between human beings (tales of morality and the dangers of hubris). It wasn't until the slave trades and the institution of chattel slavery in the United States that these stories took on politically subversive qualities. Once in the United States, as you can image, folks experiences began to change so naturally the stories began to change, adapting too a more hostile environment. New characters were invented, older characters were re-named, and the symbolism shifted in order to speak about (without speaking directly about) structures of power and the dangers of this new world. This is the shift occurred. Prior to the slave trades these stories challenged structures of the natural world, the elemental gods and goddesses, in order to subvert the normative. Now, because of, the institution of slavery, these stories have become politically subversive- forever shifting how they are interpreted. It isn't until the late 18th century that Joel Chandler Harris, published "Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings," that the United States is sort of formally introduced to these stories. Fast forward a few decades and you see several versions of Br'er Rabbit in our pop culture lexicon Disney's "Songs of the South," and the most famous being Bugs Bunny. The thing about these versions (and the proliferation a of countless others) is that they flatten the complexities of the hare - sterilizing the histories, experiences and knowledge base contained within these stories. I was drawn to the underbelly of what was presented- the shadow- and found something that deeply resonated with my own perspective.
What captivates me, about theses stories are the levels on which they operate. On one hand they operate on a universal level but on the other they speak (or don't speak) to a very specific reality as well, a reality that is at the crossroads, Robert Johnson and the Devil shaking hands.
JFAIII: As long as I have known you music has been one of your biggest sources of fuel, specifically Blues. Who are some of your favorite blues musicians? Lets see...
CB: I'm will just ramble of a list of artist that come to mind as I type this.. Little Walter, Ma Rainey, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Peaty Wheatstraw, Blind Boys of Alabama, Lightning Hopkins, Sunnyland Slim, Charles Bradley, Black Magic Sam, Sun House, Skip James, Big Momma Thornton, Nina Simon, Etta James, Howling Wolf, Olu Dara, Tina Turner, Blind Willie McTell, Valerie June, Diana Washington...
JFAIII: Your personal aesthetic is based on a sort of re-mixing, not only the materials you work with but also various histories, literary genres, political ideas...etc. How did you come to this particular way of "mashing" forms and ideas together?
CB: My ideas come together through a lot of trial and error, reading a lot, listening to music and spending a crazy amount of time in my sketchbooks. I'm drawing constantly - it's my way of thinking and working out problems. Most of my insights and personal aesthetics come from me drawing. I am equally attracted to the grotesque and the beautiful so a lot of my personal aesthetics are reconciliations between the two. In terms of the materials I use I would have to say that I look for the best way to get my point across. As I said earlier I'm not into the idea of purity. Rather it's the remix that draws me -how the various materials I choose interact with each other and create meaning. The sensual also play a heavy role in my work as well. In working with patterns and surfaces I feel that they are a sort of language in themselves and how you arrange one pattern with another can create a new way to speak about reality or at least my own perspective on things. All in all my sensibilities grew organically, over time, experimenting with different literary and visual forms, taking ideas from various writers, visual artists, historical periods and contemporary movements and molding them to my personal experiences.
Christopher Burch is an artist, events organizer, and educator based in San Francisco CA and St. Louis MO. He received the Painting Fellowship for his graduate studies at the San Francisco Art Institute (MFA 2008) and is a graduate of Columbia College with a BFA in 2002. He worked with The St. Louis Freedom Schools as a program coordinator and arts instructor from 2000 to 2002. From 2004 to 2006 he worked as curriculum developer for the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) in St. Louis Mo creating several yearlong educational/residence programs within four St. Louis public schools. In 2008 to 2009 he worked for the East Oakland School of the Arts (EOSA).