Chris Austin is a self-taught painter and illustrator working out of Toronto, he specializes in using gouache to create his distinctive art style. Great White sharks and Orcas float and drift through richly detailed and lifelike dense woodland and urban environments. Austin seems to be greatly inspired by the environments of North America, namely the Pacific Northwest. Towering pine forests exude rich, deep verdant colors ranging to more oppressive greys and browns in the gloom of the thicker forest. Soft warming light penetrates through the tree lines creating heavenly beams that really capture the viewer and draw them into the painting. These environments are a true showing of Chris Austin's talent with brush and paint. Meticulous attention to detail is clear in all his paintings, this fine brushwork mixes with incredible knowledge and understanding of light and shadow to create vivid and highly realistic settings.
However, this is all missing the elephant in the room or more accurately the Great White shark. This magnificent creature is the main feature of a great number of Austin's paintings, his interest for the creature stems from a fascination with the vast and elusiveness of the oceans and what animal could sum that up better than this apex predator. Like many observers of these paintings, you could be forgiven for a natural reaction of fear and dread when seeing this deadly predator, lurking through forests and bustling city streets. This is a perception that has generally been elaborated upon by media across the decades. Sharks are mindless killing machines that roam the oceans looking for everything and anything to consume. In reality, they are powerful animals that sit at the top of their food chain but they are not mindless killers.
This is a perception that Chris Austin is trying to break down in his paintings, they are not something to fear but something to admire with a reverence for nature and the evolution of such honed predators. While having these massive sharks placed into the forest and urban environments produce a sense of surrealism and fantasy it also drastically alters subconscious perceptions. When you see pictures or videos of Great Whites in the open ocean they are in their natural habitat, a habitat that they have evolved in and dominate the food chain. It is also an environment in which humans are perhaps the most out of their natural habitat. When out of our comfort zone of dry land these creatures seem all the more menacing, when you place them in a setting where humans are comfortable the threat perceived is fundamentally changed. There is still the sense of danger and intimidation from such a large predator but in these serene and calming situations, they can be observed with the same majesty as a grizzly bear or a tiger in its natural habitat.
Another prevalent feature of the artist's paintings is the inclusion of the child in a raincoat, mostly seen facing away it gives a genderless image allowing the viewer to place themselves into the position. The inclusion of this child further adds to the atmosphere of breaking down the perceptions of this animal as a killer. Although it looms above the child there is still a feeling of serenity, the shark almost seems to be in the position of an imaginary friend. It accompanies the child into these wild settings as a would-be protector. Or perhaps the child is also acting as a protector, in our world of climate change and destruction of the natural environments these apex predators are being driven out of their natural way of life with the loss of prey and habitat. We need to be protecting these animals so that they are still around for our children in the future. Austins paintings do give an eerie impression of a child's imagination, they are walking the still wild areas of the world dreaming of the animals that no longer exist.
Chris Austin's paintings are truly beautiful pieces, intricate and delicate they build an almost photo-realistic image that transports the viewer into these wild green spaces. You can almost smell the soft earth and moss of the underbrush, you can feel the gently warming sun drifting through the canopy and the sound of birds and insects. The understanding and application of paint are astonishing, the lighting and textures of the: grass, bark, water seems in motion as if we have stepped into this surreal moment of time. What is really wonderful about these pieces is that they are at once beautiful aesthetically but they also challenge the observer to decide what they are getting from these paintings. Do you take it at face value and remain intimidated by these predators or do you get drawn into the imagination of the artist and defy your own preconceptions.
Keep working, even if it’s no good. Eventually, it’ll come through hard work and perseverance. Never work for a dollar figure, you will always find a way to make money. However, your creative energy may not always.
By: Thomas Jukes