Radiant, piercing light

Chris Kelley

Photo By SHOKA

Born in the Bay Area, shipped to Los Angeles and now back in Northern California, artist/piercer Chris Kelley has been around the block a few times, but now has sights set on Sacramento, paint brush in hand. With the help of some friends, Kelley has already put together a collection of his art, titled Radiant, and has another on the way. Now piercing in Midtown for Monster Ink Tattoo, Kelley took a quick break to discuss his art, his goals and what sets Sacramento’s art scene apart from other places he’s called home.

How would you compare the Bay Area art scene to Midtown?

Sacramento doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves from other scenes, but I really like what’s going on here. From Second Saturday to the boutiques, there’s a real push for an independent vibe. You get the big-city feel in a really compact area—a lot like San Francisco.

I feel like Sacramento wants to be like San Francisco so badly.

Oh yeah, for sure. San Francisco is so densely populated, there’s a much bigger diversity, whereas Sacramento seems more gentrified. I see Sac pulling away from all that now, though. In Davis, trying to find a job other than piercing looking the way I do is pretty much impossible, whereas out here in Midtown, I could work in a bank or a restaurant. I don’t get looked at like I’m a serial killer.

How long have you been painting?

I’ve been painting my whole life, but I started pursuing it seriously around five or six years ago.

What made you decide this?

After I had really done my first series of paintings, my friends Eric and Victor were putting on a one-night event in San Francisco called Witty Remarks; they put me in it. Man, all these people I had admired for years were there … primarily graffiti-based artists, but it was really inspiring. I have always done art for myself, but over the past few years I’ve been able to make connections and get things going. I always thought if I ever did it for a living or a full-time job, it would take away from it, but from just doing it, I think that as long as you’re doing it for yourself, that’s what’s important.

You ever dabble in graffiti?

Yeah, in junior high. I got shipped between S.F. and L.A. a lot, so it was around me at all times. Then in high school, I stepped it up, got into my first graffiti crew. Unfortunately, I lacked the discipline I have now, and I was into other things, like girls and skating.

I got arrested once, not actually for tagging, but for being in an area where it was happening and not having my driver’s license on me. I also got chased off a freeway by some redneck in a truck, but luckily no major incidents.

No jumping in bushes?

Nah, straight-up Dumpster diving.

So what’s going on with your zine?

It’s something I had always wanted to do, so this is the first one I put together by myself; it’s called Radiant. It’s just a collection of photographs of my daughter, me, paintings and drawings. It’s super simple, printed on a few pieces of paper, folded in half then stapled. The second one I’m putting out is called Prevail, and that will be available at my next solo show.

When’s that going to be?

My next solo show will be at Log Cabin Gallery in Davis in a couple months. Dates are still up the air.

And you pierce, too?

I was a piercer before I was a full-time artist, but being around that many creative people who draw all the time definitely [motivated] me. A lot of my co-workers and friends said I’d make a great tattoo artist; I draw and paint more than a lot of the tattoo artists I work with, I know all about tattooing, but the actual act of tattooing another human being is something I just can’t bring myself to do.

What inspires you?

Just like everybody, I went through some hard times, and my art has always been kind of my saving grace. I came up with this concept last year of “radiant,” just a word I’ve been fixating on over the years, and it’s just about spreading love, joy, hope, sunshine and just reminding myself about those concepts.

And what images do you tie into those concepts?

I tend to use a lot of anatomical images, like human hearts and eyes, to represent the concept of knowledge, growth and creation. All my stuff is very graphic, like I can see a person or an object and see what makes him/her/it beautiful. But in no way have I ever been able to translate that onto paper, so I just work with images that have an impact on me.