“Christopher Volpe’s paintings are stark conduits of the inherent oppositions between human beings and the natural world”. – Art New England
What does it mean to paint nature in the 21st century? To me, what’s worth painting now is work that is aware of our moment, paintings that transcend location to open a space for our troubled relationship to our own history and to the natural world. The paintings that I love and aspire to create are those that turn the pain and confusion of being human into beauty that is not a forgetting but an embrace, beauty that doesn’t deny the darkness or sugarcoat reality, yet insists on a lyrical engagement, not just with the world around us, but with a deeper mysteries of the human heart.
I taught college English and art history for several years before becoming fascinated by American painting. Although I was focused on American poetry for many years, painting has now replaced poetry as my preferred medium for conveying strongly felt experiences of reality. At the core of my practice is a contemporary tonalist approach that embraces the expressivity of the materials. Increasingly I’ve been channeling this basic orientation into contemporary idioms that I’m discovering through experimentation and ever-deeper forays into the history of art.
I grew up spending much of my time alone (by choice) on the north shore of Long Island, and a feeling for the dissolution of inhabitable earth in water and expansive skies often emerges in my painting. However, I am most interested in painting as a visual language to express ideas and internal states of consciousness. I’m attracted to what Clement Greenberg called the “American Chiaroscuro” of the New England writers and artists: Albert Pinkham Ryker, Hawthorne, Melville and Poe, whose works speak to me about our culture’s haunted and complex relationships with nature, history, and ourselves.
I paint from imagination, photograph references and from life, the latter of which enables me to absorb sensations and visual vocabularies based on experience that later in the studio I can draw on with greater freedom of conception and expression. Most of my paintings comprise a combination of painting knife and brushwork.