Artist Chris Hassig is the man of the hour on the valley art scene, with solo exhibitions of his work filling both the Nugget Gallery in Aspen and the Wyly Community Art Center in Basalt.
Across both shows, most of Hassig’s work has a personal aesthetic and visual language that’s instantly recognizable. The Nugget exhibition, “Seeing Fast and Slow,” showcases his “Grass” series — hand-drawn ink pieces that look like minimalist geometric shapes from far away, but up close reveal themselves to be made up of intricately detailed grasslike forms. The Wyly show, “Close In and Far Away,” is broader in scope, including grass pieces alongside ornate maps of an imagined city, cyanotypes and mixed-media work with hand-sewn overlays with threads running over pen-and-ink pieces and etchings.
Nearly all of his work invites up-close, extended study. He has a way with baroque detail that would make Wes Anderson proud.
“I envisioned the Nugget show as an LP, putting forward a statement that is fairly tight,” Hassig explained. “Whereas at the Wyly, I wanted to give a glimpse of my process and all the roads I’ve been down.”
Hassig, 27, has previously had one solo gallery show – at the Nugget in 2013 – and has had his work selected for local group exhibitions such as the Aspen Art Museum’s Roaring Fork Open.
This winter, with the Nugget show opening in early March, another artist dropped out of a show at the Wyly. The Basalt gallery had been in talks with Hassig about a fall show, and asked him to move it up. Hence, Hassig is enjoying a big spring coming-out party with two upper-valley showcases.
Hassig grew up in Carbondale and left home for school at Middlebury College in Vermont, and later studied printmaking in Massachusetts. He currently makes art in his free time while making a living at Bonnie’s restaurant on Aspen Mountain. Mostly self-taught, he brings an outsider perspective to his work.
“I feel like I’ve been doing art forever,” he said. “But only in the last four years I’ve gotten really serious about producing professional grade artwork — work that I intend for other people to look at.”
Hassig has drawn his whole life, he said, and spent 12 years or so filling a sketchbook with increasingly detailed drawings and maps of his imagined country of Saiopor (the Wyly show includes a massive map of the fictitious Ralesis, Saiopor, filling eight framed 24-by-18-panels, and several pieces that use pieces of Saiopor street grids).
“That was where I got my start, working in that sketchbook,” he said. “It was a secret endeavor of mine.”
He traces the exquisite (and time-consuming) detail of his hand-drawn style to working in such small sketchbook, trying to pack as much of Saiopor as he could into its pages.
“I got really good at drawing in a tiny hand,” he said. “That’s where my dexterity came from.”
The “Grass” series originated in a postcard-size drawing he made while lying in the grass, trying to capture the up-close complexity of grass. It’s evolved into a mind-boggling body of work that blends the abstract with botanical illustration and embraces the tension between them. From across a gallery, a piece might look like a triangle or a sphere or an eyeball, but up close it reveals a new world of tangled grass blades and shapes. They’re obsessively detailed up close, yet minimalist from far away.
“It counterbalances the complexity of the drawing,” he said. “I like that yin and yang aspect. … I like that it’s not completely esoteric and intellectual. Kids can get into them. Anyone can. But they can also be taken seriously as contemporary art.”
Like any ambitious artist, Hassig is focused on improving his work and finding an audience. For now, he said, the Roaring Fork Valley is an ideal locale to do both.
“I think Aspen is a good place to launch yourself, because it’s such an intimate, small place and you’re not going to get lost in a sea of anonymity as you might in Manhattan or somewhere,” he said. “And it’s a concentration of people that are interested in art and can buy it.”