I met Chris Cosnowski’s cats before I met him.
It’s one of those all-too-common unbearably chilly Chicago days, and I’m making my way up the artist’s freshly shoveled driveway, concentrating mostly on the fact that I can’t feel my toes. Thankfully, his home is inviting and warm, as is his wife Allison (and their two felines). As Chris takes my coat, I notice several of his own paintings adorning the high-ceilinged walls of his living room.
“Has your studio always been in your basement?” I ask as we head downstairs.
“Yeah, it has. But I’m thinking of making a change. It’s really tough getting my paintings up the stairs, and I hate having my sizing be limited.”
“Have fun in the dungeon!” Allison yells after us with a giggle.
The first things I notice in Chris’ studio are his boxes. Lots of boxes. They’re the kind you see at a garage sale, or perhaps a disorganized thrift shop. I want to walk over and peer into them, to rummage through them. But I resist.
Four large-scale paintings are propped up on opposing walls. The paint on their surfaces is smoothly and evenly applied. Several appear to be wet.
Chris offers me a chair, and we both settle in. After feasting our eyes and conversation on his paintings for a bit, I let my vision wander back toward the overflowing boxes. I ask about them, and he says with a smile: “It all started in some thrift store when I moved to Chicago in 1998. I found my first trophy there.”
Cosnowski paints other people’s trophies. He calls them “trinkets.” His paintings are large, his subject matter is small: little toys, plastic knickknacks and tiny figurines. “I just thought it would be funny,” he explains. “I remember I stayed up all night painting my first one. The next morning I sat back and thought, ‘What’s so funny about this?’ I realized these images are great because they really capture our society. There is a subtle sense of celebrity and victory in each of them.” He goes on to confess that while most of the trophies he paints are gently used, he prefers newer trophies. “The older trophies don’t have that mirror-like finish that my process is really built around. I like new trophies because of their crisp reflection.”
As I look closer, I notice Cosnowski’s own reflection within the painted shine of the trinkets. “Well, that’s something that first happened by chance. Now, it has become me acknowledging my own participation. I am part of these. I’m peering out at viewers.”
Before we get up to leave, I ask Chris to describe his work to me in three words. He chooses clean, colorful, and monumental. He asks me if he can add a fourth word: humorous.
Why humorous? Cosnowski’s hyperrealistic playthings use ironic wit to point out humanity’s flaws, to celebrate our achievements, and to ask us to face ourselves.
I walk to the studio door before him, but can’t figure out how to open it. He reaches up and pulls a thin, nearly invisible string hanging out from the wall. The door swings open. “I made it myself,” he says with a smile. “It keeps the cats out.” (Maria Girgenti)
Chris Cosnowski shows at Linda Warren Projects, 327 North Aberdeen, February 21-April 5.