With a geographical upbringing as far-flung as the mediums he pursues, Chase Hall has been mostly known for his stunning portrait series, which prominently features a populace that goes largely unnoticed; though, he’ll be quick to let you know that his fine art has been an equal extension of his creative production since he was 9. From sculptures to drawings, to paintings, Hall’s disparate mediums come together in a cohesive oeuvre, articulating often overlooked counternarratives that don’t fit so neatly within the public’s imagination, but that’s not to say he attempts to control any narrative but his own. For Hall, it can only begin with the personal, regardless of what viewers can glean from his work. Read on as Hall talks about how his background has played a major role in his work and why he eschews any labels—plus, scoop up some hints for his upcoming book come Fall 2017. Till then, be on the lookout for any updates via his Instagram .
The press seems to focus on your photography, implying that your painting/drawings came after. Is that the case? If not, how do these different visual languages feed into each other? How do these different mediums allow you to express yourself one way or the other?
Both painting and photography came into my life around the age of 9. All of the mediums I work with are tools to help me articulate my voice and what I’m trying to share with the world. I find when painting and being in the studio isn’t expressing my exact thought, photography and filmmaking out in the field let me showcase that thought, that feeling of empathy and resilience.
You were raised across Minnesota, Chicago, Las Vegas, Dubai, Colorado, and Malibu. Can you tell me a bit more about that and how that's come to inform your practice?
I was raised by a single mom who was always grinding for us to live a better life. That came with many pros and cons but being exposed to the beauty and struggles around the world has really opened my eyes.
I love that your artistic concerns are uniquely American as well (be it the Moby Dick reference to your black man paintings and compulsion to the underdog)—but you're always trying to expose an off-kilter narrative in a way. Can you speak to that?
What inspires my practice is how one can take a hit and get back up. A lot of the narrative I’m trying to share deals with a lot of my own hardships—I cannot speak for the black narrative or even the American narrative. I just am working to share my own version of a narrative that will make sure the history and beauty of all peoples will be intertwined into the genre.
Hence, the reason why race figures so heavily into your work. Can you tell me a bit more about your mixed-race experiences as well?
Yeah, its wild how the one drop rule is still such a prevalent thing today. I often joke how I’m just as much white as I am black because my whole life I’m the “black friend” or the classic “C’mon Chase you’re not actually black?!” Comments like that are a constant, and in all honesty, every ounce of racism I have faced or will face is all fuel to the fire. I truly believe that being mixed is a privilege. It has allowed me to understand more about different backgrounds and how all races are working towards the very same goal in the end. I sometimes feel like being mixed is a bridge for one culture to start learning about another. Labeling is sustaining racism and things like black history month will constantly hinder us being equal. There is no white history month or Asian history month. We need to start understanding what is marginalizing and how to change it.
Your unapologetically simplistic forms also create this kind of childlike immediacy and innocence, but then the titles upend that. Do you always have a title in mind before you create? Or what's that process like?
Honestly, the titles all come throughout the time making the piece. I usually have a vision or idea so therefore the title is kinda cooking throughout the whole process. Voice, music, and lyrics all coincide with my process and energy in the studio; through listening, I find a lot of similar routes to explain a feeling. There are moments when I can look at my work and throw a title on all of ’em, but most of the time, I just have my head buried in the work. Titles are a total privilege, like the dessert to a big ole’ dinner. The title to the piece is usually the ribbon to which you tie your bow.
I’m really interested in the way you're highly invested in the quotidian and how that inevitably becomes political (from your fruit boxes to engaging with strangers on a personal level). Can you explicate?
I find happiness in all different areas of the day to day, especially time and how we chose to spend all 1,440 minutes in a day. We are living in a moment where racism, erasure, and stereotypes hinder the love, the stories, the past of so many. Nurturing the time we all have put into life, and upending that passion and hard work plays highly into my practice. I look up to authenticity and wisdom. I find that in the street more than anywhere else. A lot of society is so self- or celeb-involved, they look past a lot of beautiful people, places, and things. The work becomes political because re-introducing a potent moment, may it be past or present, hurts.
If there was anything you could clarify about the current narrative on race in America today, what would it be?
When I was younger, I naively believed that I had missed the Civil Rights movement or the chance to walk and take photos at the Selma March, or even go listen to MLK speak. Today we are still very far from equal civil rights, and I want to clarify how hard we ALL must work to create a better life for everyone moving forward and how The Civil Rights Movement has not come to an end.
You have another book coming out. Can you tell me about that?
My next book is kind of like the sister book to Milk and Honey , which was a black and white homage to the underdogs of NYC. This next book will have the same concept but will showcase color portraiture over the last three years in the streets of NYC.
What else do you have down the pipeline? Any new things you'll be trying out?
Yeah, a lot of smoke being blown around but ain’t nothing for sure till the ink is dry and the contents have been exchanged. My main focus moving forward is to be making good work. I spend the first half of my day in the streets with my film camera and the second half in my studio making work. I am trying to keep creating and learning day in and day out. My pipeline consists of making the dream a reality.
Images courtesy of Chase Hall
interview SUNNY LEE