Like many 9-to-5’ers, painter Chris Bishop often finds himself doodling when his mind wanders during office meetings. But Bishop doesn’t crumple up his drawings and throw them away once the meeting is over—he uses them as inspiration for his art.
“I feel like if I sit down to sketch something at home or in my free time it’s harder,” the 30-year-old Alexandria resident says. “When I’m in office meetings, it’s easier. Probably because I’m bored.”
“Pretty Girls & Robots,” Bishop’s latest series of works, combines two subjects that the artist admits “don’t really naturally go together.” Yet Bishop has found a complementary visual link. “Girls are curves and natural kinds of lines, and robots are all straight lines and hard edges,” he says.
“Big” is how Bishop describes his Roy Lichtenstein–influenced works. “Bold colors. Bold lines. Bold outlines. Cartoony.” The last comes as no surprise considering Bishop is the creative director for PBS Kids’ Web site, overseeing the design of program sites for such shows as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Teletubbies. But his interest is seeded deeper than his day job. “As a kid, I read comic books a lot….I copied Garfield,” he says. Bishop also publishes Her!, an online comic strip about a girl and a pig.
Bishop’s colorful, two-dimensional pop art is the perfect fit for a busy, brightly decorated pool hall such as Bedrock Billiards—where “Pretty Girls & Robots” went on display Sept. 6 and will be on view until the end of October. District of Columbia Arts Center executive and artistic director B. Stanley—who selects the art for Bedrock—says that’s the reason he sought the artist out in October 2005. “[Bishop’s art] is saucy enough” for the bar, says Stanley, 46.
Though Bishop has exhibited his work at galleries in San Francisco and Los Angeles, he has never attempted to show in a D.C. gallery. He prefers bars. “Bars and restaurants don’t take a commission,” he explains. “Galleries take half of the sale.” But Bishop’s concerns weren’t merely financial; he simply wants to have a little fun during his moment in the spotlight. A bar, Bishop says, provides the kind of atmosphere in which “you don’t have to whisper, and you can have a beer,” as opposed to being stuck in a room with “white walls [and] bright lights, drinking wine.”
According to Stanley, Bedrock provides more than beer and cheer. In addition to helping artists reach an audience they might not otherwise, alternative venues such as Bedrock offer a different perspective for viewers. “It’s hanging where they hang out,” Stanley explains. “After they see pieces four or five times, it usually grows on them.” The environment allows for a “test-drive,” during which prospective buyers—lounging about on cozy furniture while drinking with their friends—can get a feel for whether they could see the piece hanging in their own homes.
To date, Bishop has sold five of the exhibition’s 13 pieces, ranging in price from $250 to $1,000. Twenty-six-year-old Ian Wyatt, president of Business Financial Publishing, has purchased four. His expanding company is moving into a new office, and he wants an alternative to the usual “motivational posters or other cheesy stuff” that adorn work-place walls. Like Bishop, Wyatt says that he’s not into the D.C. gallery scene. But he is into darts, and it was during a night at Bedrock in early September that he first stumbled upon Bishop’s work.
“If it had been in a gallery, I wouldn’t have found it,” Wyatt says.
If there’s any irony to be found in Bishop’s works decorating an office—after being conceived as a worktime escape and then doing time on the walls of a bar—the artist isn’t looking for it.
“I think it’s great,” he says. “Offices usually have boring-looking stuff.”—Kim Gooden