Inside the fascinating, occasionally random world of artist Chris Cropper

Andy Downing
Paintings by Chris Cropper

Chris Cropper has drawn for as long as he can remember, filling his grade school notebooks with sketches and doodling endlessly in the margins of his textbooks. The year he spent at CCAD, he transformed one class text into a cover-to-cover work of art, plastering every page with paintings of past classmates, colorful imagined characters and wild, surreal scenes.

“Not a single other person in my family makes art, but it’s always been there [inside me],” said Cropper, 38, who was adopted at birth, which he said might account for his odd-man-out interests. “It’s just what I’m good at. Everybody has that thing ... that they love and they’re passionate about.”

While Cropper goes through cycles — there was a yearlong stretch following a 2018 car accident when the artist was so depressed that he lost any interest in painting — he said the craft has remained a steadying presence, something he continually returns to as a means of processing his internal and external worlds.

“Art has been the one constant in my life to help me deal with stress and my emotions, and just as a way to make some mark on the world and set myself apart,” he said. “It’s one of those things where the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it, and the easier it was for me to do. I mean, there have been times when I would literally stay up for two days straight painting. I don’t do that anymore, because it’s not healthy, and I’m getting old, but it has always … been therapeutic for me.”

Early on, Cropper, used to strive for flawlessness, growing frustrated when a brush stroke felt off, or if his hand couldn’t quite recreate the image as pristinely as he envisioned it in his mind. A turning point arrived in the late 1990s when Cropper’s high school art teacher cautioned him against the impossibility of perfection. “I’d get mad about making mistakes, and she’d be like, ‘You know, sometimes you need to just appreciate it and leave them in there. They can add to your work,’” Cropper said recently from his basement art studio in Orient, Ohio.

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The paintings Cropper created for “New Beginnings,” a solo pop-up show at Wild Goose Creative, which takes place on Friday, Jan. 24, feature aspects that have become hallmarks of his style, his canvases dotted with pasted-on, collage-like found objects (Cropper has a drawer in which he collects random stickers, public notices, labels and the like), stray bits of text and sad characters whose deep eye bags transmit a weariness, or some sense of the weight this world often puts on us. “They’re everyday people struggling, trying to make it through, because we all know life’s hard,” Cropper said, adding that while most of his characters are entirely imagined, some have a basis in real-life folks, such as the woman in one painting modeled on Kills singer Alison Mosshart. (Cropper listens to CDs during his marathon painting sessions, so musical allusions frequently bleed into his work.)

Collectively, the pieces can come on like busy city walls dotted with graffiti, flyers and faded ephemera, fitting considering that Cropper grew up idolizing street artists like Shepard Fairey. As a result, his paintings are often busy, beautiful and, in Cropper’s word, “random,” reflecting a mind that’s continually racing onto the next thing. In one three-minute stretch of interview, for example, the artist ping-ponged from discussing his evening plans (“There’s this band that’s going to be [at Spacebar] called Slow Crush, and they’re from Europe and sound a lot like the Jesus & Mary Chain”) to pointing out one painting informed by the opioid crisis (“This is a pretty intense piece”) to detailing the various ways that he filters pieces of himself onto each canvas (“I’ve struggled with depression my whole life, and that’s a part of the reason [my characters] look sad”).

“Now, again, I still do commissions. I’ve done landscapes. I paint animals. Honestly, we could go back downstairs now, or sit right down here, and I could draw you, and it would look just like you. I’m fully capable of that. … But somewhere along the line it was like, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’” Cropper said. “I mean, over the years I’ve gotten it all. I’ll tell someone, ‘I’m an artist.’ ‘Well, you should do tattoos! Why don’t you do tattoos?’ ‘Well, I have friends who do that, but it’s a completely different thing.’ Other people will be like, ‘Well, you should go back to school.’ ‘No, I’m good. I’ve been there, done that. I’m doing OK.’ Somewhere along the line I was just like, ‘This is what I’m going to do. This is my niche.’”

Wild Goose Creative

7-10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24

2491 Summit St., North Campus

Chris Cropper's “New Beginnings”