A conversation with Chris Austin


    Alexandra Wallace spoke with Chris Austin about instinctual forest warnings, his twin influences of urban legends and outer space, why not all jokes are for all people and asking himself what he’s truly good at.

    I never really thought of pursuing a career in art until a few years after high school. I think what it came down to was asking myself what I’m good at.

    Alexandra asked Chris what comes to mind when he thinks of each of these mysterious places, finds or moments in history.

    f Bohemian Grove

    Alex Jones was actually right about this one, which is really scary. When I lived in San Francisco, I went to the Bohemian Club HQ and tried to get in. I didn’t get far.

    f The Montauk Monster

    I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about this. It’s an East Coast thing, right?

    f JFK assassination

    Oswald, from the book depository, shot the president in the back. The commotion from that caused the cars in the motorcade to accelerate suddenly. The car behind the president was filled with Secret Service agents, one who had stood up in the car after he heard the first shot. When the cars accelerated, one of the agents lost his balance and accidentally fired his weapon, hitting the president in the head. The CIA kept the assassination a mystery as to save them and the president the embarrassment. That’s the most plausible way it happened, in my opinion, but the Cubans and the Mafia could definitely have been involved.

    f Crop circles

    I really want crop circles to be some sort of mathematical language, or for there to be some sort of intelligent life out there trying to communicate with us, but my inner cynicism is telling me it’s nerds with planks of wood just messing with people, which I also can respect.

    f 1947 Roswell crash

    I 100% believe a real alien craft crashed in the desert and our military recovered the wreckage and possibly some extraterrestrial bodies. I also think we are back-engineering their technology and most UFO sightings are actually “ours.”

    f The Philadelphia experiment

    I read this was an experiment in the 1940s where the military attempted to make a battleship completely invisible. Somehow, it went wrong and all kinds of weird shit happened. Some of the men on board were found embedded in the ship, others were liquified, and some were materializing in and out of existence. Some of the men jumped off the ship in hopes of swimming to safety, but instead of landing in the Philadelphia harbor, they found themselves off the coast of New York 40 years in the future.


    Alexandra Wallace

    Our childhoods share some parallel lines; we both grew up with the same grandparents and have sat across from each other at many Thanksgivings. We both have fathers who are artists, and out of our fellow cousins, we are the only two who pursue the visual arts as a career. How much did your upbringing influence your career choice?

    Chris Austin

    Well, I feel like I always got a lot of positive reinforcement when it came to art, so I felt good at it. I never really thought of pursuing a career in art until a few years after high school. I think what it came down to was asking myself what I’m good at.


    Themes of your illustrations often include conspiracy theories, urban legends and space. Is there a line between creating work that appeals to a certain demographic versus creating things that are fueled purely by your own interest?

    I sort of picture the subject matter of my art as a Venn diagram. In one circle is stuff I like and want to draw, in the other is stuff that people actually want to see, and in the middle is a combo of the two. If I’m lucky, I hit that sweet spot in the overlap.

    I pulled over and walked into the woods maybe ten yards or so. I remember not feeling alone, like I was in a room full of people but it was just me out there.


    When was the last time you were in a forest? Describe in detail the purpose of the trip, and the most memorable experience of the visit.

    I was in Northern California not too long ago in a place called Avenue of the Giants. I was alone and driving back to San Francisco from Crescent City. I pulled over and walked into the woods maybe ten yards or so. I remember not feeling alone, like I was in a room full of people but it was just me out there. I remember feeling like I could understand how the ideas of fairies and gnomes and stuff like that could come about. I felt like I was being watched. Then I thought my instincts could be warning me about a bear or something, so I got in my car and left quickly.


    References to The Simpsons frequently make appearances in your artwork. The animated show is currently experiencing simultaneous news coverage for breaking the record for the longest-running scripted series in television history and for perpetuating racial stereotypes with the character of Apu. What are your beliefs on political correctness? What is the effect of policing our entertainment?

    The Simpsons has been a huge influence on me for as long as I can remember. The show’s brand of humor has always been harsh and sometimes dark but never hateful. Apu is definitely a stereotype, but he is a stereotype so he can be funny. Stereotypes are funny, foreign accents are funny. Is it a little mean? Yeah, maybe is, but that’s how humor works sometimes.

    People need to understand that not every joke is for them. Sometimes it’s even at your expense. But being able take it as well as dishing it out is what it means to have a good sense of humor. Political correctness is vanilla. It’s nice, it doesn’t offend any senses, but it is boring and easily forgotten.


    Please attach a photo of your favorite pen.

    I don’t really have one. That’s like asking to pick a favorite child.


    Bring yourself back to being 16 years old. Describe what you are wearing, where you are, and what you are doing.

    Hmm. 16-year-old me? You could probably find me skating the church parking lot. I’ll be the lanky creep in tight jeans listening to Metallica too loud on my iPod Nano.


    You can only use three colors for the rest of your life in your artwork. What are they, and what is your thought process for choosing them?

    Black, white and red. Black and white because those are the foundation of everything for me — the meat and buns of the burger. All other colors are the lettuce, tomatoes, and secret sauce, but that’s not what makes it a burger. I find red to be the most visceral color that humans naturally react to, so I guess that’s why I picked red.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 178
    Curated by: Alexandra Wallace
    Conducted by: Email
    Edited by: Morgan Enos
    Published: April 27, 2018
    Total questions: 6 + 7
    Word count: 1060
    Reading time: Four minutes


    Foundation: Accessed
    Vanilla: Null
    Parking: Accessed
    Reinforcement: Accessed
    Mathematics: Null
    Materialization: Null
    Aloneness: Null


    About the subject

    Chris Austin is a professional artist and illustrator from Santa Barbara, California. He has created images for skateboards, album covers, magazines and apparel.

    About the curator

    Alexandra Wallace is a photographer, visual artist and the founder of Coyote + Oak. She resides in Orcutt, California.

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