This week, in the spirit of our mission to uplift, inform, inspire and engage the community, I would like to introduce you to my friend, and the featured artist of the Expressions of Radnor 2023 exhibition, Chris Niedland.
Chris is a self-taught artist who began painting professionally in 1991, and works out of his art studio in Wayne, PA. His work has been on display throughout the tri-state area in cafes, restaurants, hotels, offices, and galleries, as well as private and corporate collections throughout the United States and in fifteen countries.
His current exhibition, The Color of Music Improvisations by Chris Niedland, will be on display at The Wayne Art Center in conjunction with the annual Expressions of Radnor art exhibition which showcases artwork created by Radnor Township residents.
I first met Chris shortly after we purchased one of his paintings over 20 years ago. My husband and Chris have been friends since their marching band days at Radnor High School, and for the past 4 years we have spent many Friday nights under the lights with Chris and his wife listening to our kids play in the Radnor Marching band. Last week, instead of chatting it up at a football game, I reached out to Chris to ask about how he came to be the talented artist that he is, how music inspires his work, and what we can expect to see at the exhibition.
When did you first start painting?
I started painting when I was a kid-fingerpaints, water colors, chalk, pastels and the like. I always painted to music (mainly because either I, my mom, or one of my grandparents would be playing records) and I felt that the music influenced my colors and shapes. It wasn’t until 5th grade, at Rosemont Elementary, that I started painting with oil paints. I was also experimenting at the time with oil pastels. When I look back at some of the older drawings and paintings that my mom saved from when I was about 4 or 5, remarkably, many were abstract. But as I got older and spent more time in school art classes, I tried to paint and draw portraits and landscapes and still-lifes, because that’s what “art” seemed to be – trying to capture the world around us at the time. But I soon became bored of it all, and put it all away after high school, to study architecture.
What did you do before you turned professional?
I was an architect in Boston before I became a professional painter. Actually, I was doing both, and painting was my “night job”, after working all day at the office. I was trying to get back into it, back to where I left off in high school. I painted scenes around the industrial sections of the city on weekends, because those buildings, machines, trains, always fascinated me. But again, I was left feeling like my manual Pentax 35mm camera captured everything much better than I could. I stopped painting again.
Who /or What inspired you to start painting professionally and when did you decide to go for it?
At about the same time I was giving up painting in Boston, a co-worker approached me, and said that she heard I was a painter, and wanted to commission a large painting for her new loft apartment. I told her that she had heard wrong, and that I wasn’t painting anymore, because mentally, I had hit a wall, and was giving it up. She said to me, (the words that first ignited the spark, and have carried me all these years), “paint the first thing that comes to your mind, whatever it is.” It made me think about being a kid again, and just creating things automatically, and so began my experiment in automatic painting, that continues to this day, 32 years later.
How does music guide your painting?
Like when I was a kid, the music guides my shapes and colors, and mood of the painting. The music sometimes finds me at the most random times and places, sometimes even in my sleep. It will wake me up, as if there was a radio playing next to me. That is when I know it’s time to paint. Other times, I search for music, the way I used to spend afternoons after school at used record stores – looking for something that will move me. Now, record stores are replaced with deep dives into Apple Music. It’s not the same as the old days, but the results are still the same – I find a song, or an album, or a group of songs for a playlist that I play repeatedly while I paint, (to stay in the same mindset the entire time). I let the music transport me to somewhere else, and I start painting. Often, I don’t even remember where I started, and there have been times when I was so into the painting, that I don’t even remember painting parts of it or even most of it.
Can you tell us how the idea for this exhibition came to be and how you chose your paintings for it?
I was asked by The Wayne Art Center, if I would be interested in showing in the Vidinghoff Lobby Gallery, during The Expressions of Radnor show. The WAC also wanted me to still enter the EOR show as well. So we tried out a few titles, and Pam McLean Parker, director of exhibits, suggested the title, The Color Of Music, because of how music makes me see color. It is also based on a quote of mine (and is also my IG hashtag), “color is music you can see”. I chose these paintings because they are all in a similar style, with vibrant colors and shapes and shading, and all convey a sense of motion and dynamics. I also chose this group of paintings because it gives you a sense of where I was, with the paintings below the show title, which are more refined and polished, to where I’m headed, like the painting to the left of the entry into the EOR show, titled Dreaming In D. It’s more loose and playful, like a child. I feel the older I get, the more I want to paint like a child.
What should we expect to see at the exhibitions? In The Vidinghoff Gallery, there are paintings, (some of which are my personal favorites), and range in size and price. The music that inspired each of these paintings, can be found on the nametags next to each painting. In the Expressions of Radnor show, I have two large square paintings, inspired by music that I used to listen to with my grandparents – Brazilian jazz and samba. One of them, called One Note Samba, is one of the few black and white paintings that I still have.
Other than the upcoming exhibitions, where can our readers view your work in person?
I have an ongoing show, at Feine Café in Conshy. The owner graciously has let me exhibit there for years, rotating new paintings in as I complete them or sell them. I also show at Christopher’s in Wayne, and hope to be back there again soon. My shows there are always fun and its great exposure. Chris and Molly Todd are such amazing supporters of local artists, and I’m so grateful, plus the food and atmosphere are always amazing.
In addition to stopping by The Wayne Art Center or Feine Café, you can also follow Chris on Facebook or Instagram @uniedart #colorismusicyoucansee.
I am a such a huge fan of Chris’s work! In addition to the vibrant colors that he uses, the fact that music guides his painting is my favorite thing about his work. I think it’s fascinating (and amazing) that listening to different types of music helps Chris create his artwork.
I can’t paint or even cut a straight line to save my life, so I rely on the creativity of artists like Chris to transport me to more surreal and calming places through their work. There is one of Chris’s pieces hanging over the fireplace in my family room and when I’m having a bad day, I often stop what I’m doing to sit and reflect on the relaxing swirls of colors on the canvas, and knowing what music guided Chris to create those images, calms me and gives me new perspective.
The Color of Music Improvisations by Chris Niedland (Vidinghoff Gallery) and Expressions of Radnor 2023 (Davenport Gallery) are on display now through March 11, at the Wayne Art Center, and the opening reception will be on Sunday, February 26 from 3:00-5:00 PM.