The award-winning Austrian photographer Clemens Ascher creates a reality, that is so calm, clean and picture perfect, it almost feels oppressive. His is a deceiving sense of beauty, as it is injected with a subtle and surreal touch of irony. In his series On Pleasure Grounds, for example, we see seemingly happy tourists admiring wild animals and deadly weapons in what must be the world’s weirdest entertainment park.
Colin, long-legged female astronauts with big round eyes: how big is the influence of Japanese manga on your work?
Very influential. I think the main three are: Manga, European Fetish Imagery, which I was exposed to first, and American Classic Pinup. The long legs in particular are Japanese in influence. The big eyes are more of a general and lifelong love of cartoons, which is how I see my work. I make cartoons.
Not all your women are tall and sexy. Some are pretty scary. One recent series, Trypophobia, shows once seemingly lovely dolls distorted as teeth grow out of their faces. Is this your way of tackling vanity and the idea that beauty never lasts?
The Trypophobia series was a direct response to how I was feeling at the time. Everything was really shitty. All the news from around the world was bad. Everything seemed hopeless. So one day I took one of my faces and dug away at it, deconstructed it, tried to reveal how I actually felt, instead of the usual shiny smooth surface. I was surprised at the response. It obviously touched a nerve with many, and also increased awareness of Trypophobia [a pathological fear of (irregular patterns) of holes]. It seems quite a number of people suffer from it.
All your subjects are women. Where are the men in Colin Christian’s world?
I wake up every morning and see one in the mirror. I read about them in the news. I see the state of the planet, and for the most part, I'm not that happy with what I see. Women inspire me. The reason I make my pieces so big is that the viewer can experience the sense of awe I feel around women. High heels? It's fucking torture! Men could or would not wear that on a regular basis. Having your insides bleed out once a month? Lol! There is a reason women are the single most popular subject in art: they are fucking amazing! They create life, and are beautiful beyond measure. I try to capture the inside, the Superheroine that exists in all of them. I am happy to do a male subject at some point, but to keep it fair and balanced, he will be hung like a humpback whale.
You named Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey as hugely influential on your work. I love both and I think everyone will agree that Kubrick’s 2001 is a masterpiece. But what you think makes Alien such a stand-out film in the SF/ horror genre and the whole of cinema?
Well, it introduced me to H.R. Giger, H.P. Lovecraft and Ridley Scott. After seeing the film at 15, I left school and went out into the world to pursue art in some form or another. All I knew was that after watching Alien, I just wanted to do that, whatever 'That' was. I must have seen the film 400 times by now. Those textures. The whole movie is texture, layer after layer of detail, and it still feels so very 'Alien.' It's an amazing work of art.
Giger was responsible for the art work in Alien. Today’s generation, seeing his work for the first time, may not quite understand what the big deal is about the Swiss artist. Why is he so important? Why has he been so influential?
I cannot think of another artist that tackled the subconscious in such a relatable way. Looking at his work for the first time made a very strong and immediate impression. I understood it right away: the subtexts, forms, sexual imagery. He put down on paper things I had seen or felt myself. It was a revelation. I would argue that Giger is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, up there with Picasso and Warhol. His 'biomechanical' ideas are so ingrained into pop culture and subcultures of so many kinds. I'm sure many can no longer see his direct influence, but it's clear as day to me. By default, Giger got many of his key ideas from reading Lovecraft, so he in fact is the genius behind it all. Every time I see a tentacle in art, I trace it all back to those two. It's very obvious to me.
In what way 2001: A Space Odyssey has influenced your work?
I'm a child of the 60s, and that decade has influenced me like no other. Kubrick introduced me to 'Mod' design, which in itself is an offshoot of Art Nouveau, which Giger also heavily drew from. Flowing forms, stark graphics, geometry and, above all, a sense of future optimism, which I still try to incorporate into the work – despite the bombardment of negativity in the media from around the planet and the cancelation of the Space Shuttle. I love the stillness that Kubrick gets, long drawn-out scenes, and of course the symmetry, putting the focus right in the middle of the frame. It's so direct and confrontational. Kubrick was an amazing artist. The movie Interstellar pretty much spoke for me, how I feel when I look around. I really identified with Matthew's character. I do not believe we are meant to stay here and rot, but it seems that might be our fate … sadly.
You’re originally from London but have been living in the States for ages. Would you ever consider moving back?
No. Although I do miss the English countryside. I have travelled a bit, but nothing rivals the fields, the trees and especially Dartmoor. It's truly magical.
What comic books/ graphic novels did you read as a child?
Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spider-Man and 2000 AD
What do you read today?
Anything by Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner or Darwyn Cooke
What’s the last art show you saw that blew your mind?
Savage Beauty by Alexander McQueen
What does 2016 have in store for Colin Christian?
I'm really lousy at predictions, so I will just say that I hope to be able to continue to do what I love, not having to worry, and spend as much time with family and friends as I can.