Written by Rachel Digman and published in the March edition of The Monona Lakesider (BVM).
Artists Among Us is a chance for you to meet and appreciate painters, writers, bloggers, musicians, dancers, and other artists in the greater Madison area. Each month we’ll interview a local artist about their life and latest work. Enjoy the inspiration provided by your neighboring artists.
Long-time Monona resident, Chris Vig, also known as Stick Vega, is an artist who has a blast, literally. Working with gunpowder, fuses, and more typical art materials, Stick explodes his art to create a final piece. Check out more about his work and explosions at www.stickvega.com.
BVM: How does your background in Mathematics and Economics inform or play a role in your art?
Stick: There are two types of math - pure and applied. Higher level math, “pure math”, is very abstract and creative, much like painting and poetry. Some of the math “geeks” I know are the most creative people I have ever met. Gunpowder, fire, explosions, and substrates all have physical problems. In a “pure” sense, I am driven by abstract problems and in an “applied” way I use fuse and gunpowder to make them concrete. I tread both grounds.
BVM: What inspired you to explode your artwork?
I had been painting for a number of years. Then, in 2007, I read an article in the New York Times about Chinese gunpowder artist Cai Gou-Qiang. He had just completed some massive gunpowder murals and was preparing the fireworks show for the 2008 Olympics. The process looked incredibly fun and the results were beautiful. I learned many of the basic techniques I use from watching him. I then developed my own artistic way of doing it. My work is much smaller, more intimate. I continue to learn and evolve.
BVM: What was one of your most exciting explosions?
The first piece I did, THE ORIGINAL STICK was a blast! We had friends at our house for a cocktail party. I had just received some high-speed fuses and the base compounds to mix gunpowder. I did a small sketch on a 24” square board. Friends watched warily as I mixed the gunpowder then sprinkled it on the board. It did not look like enough, so I put more gunpowder on the piece. Then, even more. At that point I layered some cardboard on top to force the blast back into the piece along with some rocks from the garden. I placed many rocks from our garden on top of it. I lit the 20-foot fuse. Nearly immediately, and before anyone was prepared, the piece ignited. Boom! There was way too much gunpowder. Rocks blew into the air and all over our guests! All the oxygen was sucked out of the area. A thirty-foot high mushroom cloud of white smoke appeared. I was hooked. I still have the piece - it looks cool.
BVM: Would you describe the inspiration behind one of your favorite works of art?
Stick: BUZZING (2012) was inspired by my crazy dog. Working with high-speed fuses and gunpowder shaped and held in place by rocks, the painting was exploded onto red/orange acrylic painted board. The result expresses happy energy and is bold, bright, and textured. BUZZING was recently acquired at the One Inspired Evening art auction to help the homeless in Chicago.
BVM: What advice/words of wisdom would you give to artists who are looking to push the boundaries with their artwork?
I would say to keep trying things. Don’t settle. Study. Learn. Test. Try again. If you find a process you like, work on it every day. I work on my art 7 days a week. Some days for just a few minutes, others for hours at a time. Realize that perhaps out of an uncertain, smoky, hazy, explosive process, comes something beautiful. And, if you are going to try painting with gunpowder, start small!