Christian Schiess is a San Francisco Bay area artist originally from New Mexico. His education spans several disciplines and institutions that include a B.A. from Univ. of New Mexico-Albuquerque, in Anthropology; a B.F.A. in Visual Arts from the Univ. of San Francisco, S.F., CA, and an M.F.A. in Sculpture from Mills College, Oakland, CA.
Additionally he completed a Fulbright post-graduate Fellowship at the Royal College of Art in London, UK, and is the author of the book “The Light Artist Anthology.” His awards include two grants from the Pollock- Krasner Foundation New York, NY, an NEA/AFI Grant Washington, DC, three NEA/Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships, Denver, CO, and an Artist Relief Grant, United States Artists Organization, Chicago, Illinois.
His list of artist-in-residencies including two at the San Francisco Exploratorium, S.F., CA; a Bristol Exploratory residency during his UK Fulbright Fellowship, Bristol, UK; and a New York State Council on the Arts Residency in Binghamton, NY.
In addition he has been selected twice as a visiting guest artist in Sculpture at the Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. Currently he is a Dept. Head and faculty member at The Crucible in Oakland, which is the largest non-profit industrial/sculpture art education facility in the United States.
As a visual artist my work frequently involves the use of luminous and kinetic materials to create sculptures, assemblages, and site specific installations. My direction as an artist evolved from my college background beginning with a B.A. in Anthropology and Fine Art from the University of New Mexico in 1970; and continued with a B.F.A. from the University of San Francisco in 1977, an M.F.A. in 1979 from Mills College in Oakland, California and a Fulbright Fellowship based at the Royal College of Art, London, UK from 1990-91. In addition, I credit several remarkable individuals with assisting and guiding my growth on this path. During my graduate studies at Mills College, it was my good fortune to study with the visiting Italian sculptor Arnold Pomodoro. With his advice and encouragement I accepted his challenge to work with nontraditional materials and began experimenting with light components. Later, my efforts with light sources was furthered by Dr. Frank Oppenhiemer, the Founder and Director of the San Francisco Exploratorium Museum, who selected me for two artist-in-residencies at the museum from 1981-1984. Dr. Oppenhiemer and his brother Dr. Robert Oppenhiemer both worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II in Los Alamos, New Mexico. After his A-bomb experience Dr. Oppenhiemer chose to help influence the direction of technology away from its destructive potential and founded the Exploratorium Museum to promote the collaboration of technology, art, and perception. Later, while on a Fulbright Fellowship from 1990-91 in London at the Royal College of Art, I was introduced to the British artist Dante Leonelli. Dante was influential in connecting me with several European artists working with light and also encouraged me to start a book project. The book, titled The Light Artist Anthology, was completed and published in 1994 and documents the work of 15 American and European contemporary artists involved with radiant light.
My attraction to the use of radiant light begins with the obvious understanding that light is a necessary requirement to activate our remarkable visual apparatus. Early in our evolution our Paleolithic ancestors achieved a milestone by domesticating fire and acquiring rudimentary control of light. That control has continued to develop through technology with a long list of artificial radiant light sources that include incandescent , fluorescent, LED, neon, laser, electro-luminescent, photography, cinema, video, strobe, and holography, to name a few. Luminous, radiant, light as opposed to reflected light has proven to be a very adaptable material in my work. It can be made to behave like a substance with the characteristics of mass, volume, color, texture, and under certain sequencing techniques can appear to be kinetic. In all its various forms radiant light epitomizes technology and is also a necessary ingredient in nature through the process of photosynthesis. Light is a vital part of our physical existence and has become a ubiquitous, irreplaceable component of our art and culture.
My early works established three distinct series. They included the "Fire/Air Series” that consisted of encapsulated luminous structures which were inflated, translucent, colored vinyl shapes that were installed suspended from ceilings by thin wire and appeared to float against the force of gravity. Their light weight construction made them kinetic to touch and ambient air circulation. The interactive, luminous air sculptures in this series represented nature and technology in a harmonious and playful relationship. The “Fire/Water Series” involved submerged or partially submerged, electrified, luminous sculptures installed in natural aquatic settings such as lakes, ponds, streams, snow and ice creating competitive associations between water, electricity, nature and technology. Finally the “Ignus ex Machine Series” entailed the the construction of luminous suits worn by artists carrying light wands that enabled them to draw and compose 3-dimensional volumes of kinetic light. Inspired by the pioneering motion studies of Edward Muybridge, the luminous motion of the artists arms, legs and torso created imagery documented in several formats including film and video. The images create a “human vs machine” tension that results from motion that appears mechanical and machine like as viewers attempt to glimpse the hidden human forms generating the motion.
More recent directions in my work include the: “Cyber Arboretum Series - Prosthetic Repairs to an Injured Environment;” “The Cyber Flower Series;” “Studies in Bioremediation;” and the “Flora Paraplegia Series.” In the “Cyber Arboretum Series - Prosthetic Repairs to an Injured Environment,” the materials used have a clinical, prosthetic appearance and incorporate multicolored radiant light, glass, machined stainless steel, aluminum, plexiglas, paint and laminate. The damaged environment in the work is represented by pieces of distressed natural wood from trees unique to a specific location. The radiant light represents an augmentation of the natural light necessary for photosynthesis. If industrial air pollution becomes so opaque that it degrades the quality of natural sun light, then augmented artificial light becomes a requirement to maintain photosynthesis. In this series the technology that causes injury and damage to the environment paradoxically becomes necessary for its repair and recovery. Another direction, “ The Cyber Flower Series,” is an attempt to challenge and reproduce the vibrant colors and diversity of floral patterns found in nature with the technology of electronics, motors, and radiant light. By utilizing the high speed mechanical rotation of multicolored luminous shapes a variety of patterns are created during the rotation. The patterns have the appearance of flowers and can be either programmed to cycle a variety of “flower” displays over time or can be made viewer interactive with separate motor speed and luminous pattern controls. This series acknowledges the technological effort required to compete with nature and the beauty of flowers, but ultimately pays tribute to what nature does best.
In the series “Studies in Bioremediation” the materials used are similar to the “Cyber Arboretum Series,” but technology is no longer used to simply make prosthetic repairs to nature’s injuries. In acute situations technology is needed to attempt the restoration of a destroyed environment. Unfortunately, such extreme efforts can result in an environmental transformation rather than its reestablishment and culminate in the loss of an environment that may never recover. The work in this series represents remediation that transfigures nature with sparse , austere consequences. In the “Flora Paraplegia Series” the materials used also include wheels. In desperate environmental situations technology is needed to attempt a physical relocation of a species. At this level of involvement the interface of technology and the environment is no longer a partnership. Humanity’s technology has traversed from the Holocene to the Anthropocene epoch leaving its mark in the geological strata with radioactive material, plastic and concrete. Historically technology at its best has a beneficial, benign, and unifying function that adapts the world to human advantage. Ideally technology becomes unifying when it is made available to all and transcends gender, class, and nationality. Unfortunately, technology can also fuel fear about our excessive association and dependence on it in our daily lives. Beginning with the advent of GMO/organic modification of plants and the recent CRISPR DNA technique, the impact of technology with the environment has become an overwhelming global force. It has begun to compromise the flora, fauna, weather, and geology of our planet. Humanity has actually moved beyond being just a Darwinian product of evolution and advanced toward becoming an agent of evolution.
My current artwork has continued to evolve and reveal more complicated concepts. In the “Flora Chimera Series,” technology circumvents nature entirely with DNA sequencing and the“CRISPR” technique. The 2020 Noble Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Dr. Jennifer Doudna for her pioneering work developing CRISPR. CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” and is a powerful gene editing technology that allows scientists to directly alter genes and the resulting traits of plants and animals. The technique uses genetic parts from various species to cut and paste together genes that result in entirely new and novel species that scientists call Chimeras. The term Chimera comes from Greek mythology and describes a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature composed of the parts of more than one animal. Taking control of evolution sounds enticing, but there will surely be unintended consequences. There is enormous opportunity with such a technology, but also risks. In my “Flora Chimera Series,” the level of our technology has wrestled the control and direction of evolution from the mechanism of natural selection. Technology now allows the hybridization of plant and animal species from completely different phyla. Eventually hybridization may also include mineral and inorganic components. The artwork in the “Flora Chimera Series,” transfigures nature with unexpected, thought provoking consequences and challenges us to become aware of the unanticipated consequences of such a powerful technology.
Technology has proven to be a rich vein of subject matter in my artwork and its interaction with the environment will remain a major focus.
Royal College of Art, London, UK, Fulbright Fellowship postgrad. 1990-91
Mills College, Oakland, California, Sculpture M.F.A.-1979
University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, B.F.A.-1977
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, Anthropology B.A.-1970
Honors and Awards:
2020 Artist Relief Grant, United States Artists Organization, Chicago, Illinois.
2018 Pollock - Krasner Foundation Grant, 863 Park Avenue, New York, NY
2009 Guest Curator, The Bedford Gallery, Lesher Center for the Arts,
Walnut Creek, California
2008 Pollock - Krasner Foundation Grant, 863 Park Avenue, New York, NY
2006 Vermont Studio Center Visiting Artist, Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT
2005 Guest Curator, Thacher Gallery, University of San Francisco, S.F., CA
2004 Vermont Studio Center Visiting Artist, Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT
2003 Guest Curator, Louie Gallery, Ohlone College, Fremont, CA
1994 National Endowment for the Arts-Western States Media Arts
Fellowship, Portland, Oregon
1992-90 Fulbright Arts Fellowship, Royal College of Art, London, U.K.
and The Exploratory, Bristol, U.K.
1990 New Horizon’s Award: Innovation in Contemporary Arts, Science and Technology; Leonardo/ISAST, Berkeley, CA
Guest Artist and Instructor at the IS ‘90 International Sculpture Center, Washington, D.C.
1989 Guest Lecturer, Visiting Artist Series, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Sun Gallery Civic Art Center, guest curator/artist, Hayward, CA
1988 Selected as a USA participant, “Images Du Futur,” La Site Museum,
1987 “Artists Space Grant,” West Broadway, New York, NY
1987-86 Artist-in-Residence, New York State Council on the Arts Fellowship, Roberson Center for the Arts & Sciences, Binghamton, NY
1984 National Endowment for the Arts-Western States Media Arts Fellowship, Boulder, CO
SECA Film as Art Award, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, S.F., CA
1984-83 Artist-in-residence, The Exploratorium/San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
1983 The Theta Award in Sculpture, Foothills Museum, Boulder, CO
Tech Shop-83, Instructor/artist, International Sculpture Center, San Jose
State University, San Jose, CA
Theta Award and prize, Foothills Museum, Boulder, CO
1982 National Endowment for the Arts -Western States Media Arts Fellowship, Boulder, CO
12 International Sculpture Conference, guest panelist and instructor,
1981 National Endowment for the Arts-American Film Institute
Fellowship Grant, Washington, D.C.
Artist-in-residence, The Exploratorium/San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, San FranciscoCA
Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art, semi-finalist,
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
The Pioneer Fund, Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA
1979-7 California Graduate Fellowship Commission, two year full tuition grant award; Sacramento, CA and Mills College, Oakland, CA
1977 Trefethan Award Grant, Mills College, Oakland, CA
Collections and Commissions:
2014 “Pin Bowl -2,” Pacific Pinball Museum, Alameda, CA
2013 "The Galton Board Project," Pacific Pinball Museum, Alameda, CA
2012 "Visible Pinball Machine-Freedom Project,” Pacific Pinball Museum,
2011 "The Visible Pinball Surf Champ Machine,”Pacific Pinball Museum,
2010 "Pin Bowl Project," Pacific Pinball Museum, Alameda, CA
2008 “Cyber-Lumen Series-Sweden,” Thomas Tits Museum, Sodertalje,Sweden
2005 “Strato-Flora from the Cyber Flower Series,” Phaeno Museum, Wolfsburg, Germany
2002 “Cyber-Lumen Series-Mexico,” Trompo Magico Museum, Guadalajara, Mexico
2001 “Cyber -Lumen Series Alabama,” Sci-Quest Museum, Huntsville, Alabama
2000 “Turbo-Flora Series- Beijing,” Beijing Oriental Plaza, Beijing, China
1999 “Cyber-Lumen Series-Spain,” Ciudad de las Artes, Valencia, Spain
1998 “Cyber-Lumen Series-Osaka,” Osaka Children’s Museum, Osaka, Japan
1996 “Tiachung Cyber-Lumen from the Cyber Flower Series,”National Museum of Natural Science, Taichung, Taiwan
1995 “Cyber-Lumen II from the Cyber Flower Series” The Western Virginia Science Museum, Roanoke, Virginia
1994 “Phoenix-Lumen,” The Arizona Museum of Science and Technology, Phoenix, Arizona
1993 “Biosphere: Lumen-Illusion,” Biosphere Center, Oracle, Arizona
1991 “Cyber-Lumen I from the Cyber Flower Series,” The Exploratory Museum, Bristol, England
1990 “Flora Borealis,” World Financial Center, Battery Park, New York, NY 1988 “Lux Rota II,” Scitrek Museum, Atlanta, Georgia
1987 “Fire from the Machine,” The Center of Science and Industry
Museum, Columbus, Ohio
1986 “Ignus Ex Machina,” Roberson Center for the Arts and Sciences, Binghamton, New York
1985 “Lux Rota,” IBM Gallery for the Arts and Sciences, New York, NY
1984 “Lumen-Illusion,” The Exploratorium Museum, San Francisco, California
1982-81 “Kinetic Light,” The Exploratorium Museum, San Francisco, California
2003 Louie Art Galley, Ohlone College, Fremont, CA
1989 Center for Neon Art Museum, Scottsdale, AZ
1988 Victor Fischer Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1987 Roerich Museum, New York, NY
1986 Roberson Center for the Arts and Sciences, Binghamton, NY
1985 Victor Fischer Gallery, Oakland, CA
1984 New Langton Arts, San Francisco, CA
1981 Foster Goldstrum Fine Art Gallery
Note: Several commissions were solo public dedications with
receptions and are listed under the "Collections and Commissions" heading
Selected Group Exhibitions:
2021 “Radiance: Luminous Art from The Crucible,” guest curator/artist, K Gallery, Alameda, CA
2020 “Radiance: Luminous Art from The Crucible,” guest curator/artist, K Gallery, Alameda, CA
(catalog) cancelled during Covid-19 restrictions
2019 “Crucible 20th Anniversary Celebration Exhibition,” Crucible Events Gallery, Oakland, CA
2018 “Norman Moore and Christian Schiess, Recent Works,” K Gallery, Alameda, CA (catalog)
2017 “Art and Science of the Pinball,” Chabot Space & Science Museum
2016 “Luminauts,” public screening Main Civic Center San Francisco Library,
San Francisco, CA
2015 “Ausgeflippt,” Phaeno Museum, Wolfsburg, Germany
2014 "From Tools to Table," The Crucible Gallery, Oakland, CA
2013 "The Galton Board Project," Pacific Pinball Museum, Alameda, CA
2012 "50 Years of American Studio Glass," The Crucible, Oakland, CA
2011 "Looking Back, Then into the Future," Expressions Gallery, Berkeley, CA
2010 “Future/Tense,” Autobody Fine Art, Alameda, CA
“Think Green 2,” Expressions Gallery, Berkeley, California
2009 “Illuminated Sculpture,” guest curator/artist, The Bedford Gallery, Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA
2008 “Industrial Art,” Expressions Gallery, Berkeley, California
“Robotica: Machines in Motion,” Rhythmix Cultural Works, Alameda, CA
2007 “Luminaries and Visionaries,” Kinetica Museum, London, England, U.K.
“Abundance of Color and Light,” Expressions Gallery, Berkeley, California
2006 “Spring Exhibition,” The Crucible, Oakland, CA
2005 “Carpe Lumen,” guest curator/ artist, The Thacher Gallery, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
“Intersections:Art/Science/Mathematics,” Roland Gibson Art Gallery, State University of New York, Potsdam, NY
2004 “Illuminated Sculpture from the Crucible,” guest curator/ artist, Louie Art Gallery, Ohlone College, Fremont, CA
“Evolving Light,” The Museum of Neon Art, Los Angles, CA
2003 Solo Exhibition,“Cyber Arboretum Series,” Louie Art Gallery,
Ohlone College, Fremont, CA
2002 “Crucible Faculty Exhibition,” The Crucible Gallery, Berkeley, CA
2001 “Luminous Beginnings,” The Museum of Neon Art, Los Angeles, CA
2000 “Neon: Current,” Reed Whipple Gallery, Las Vegas, Neveda (catalog)
1999 “Northern Lights,” The Museum of Neon Art, Los Angeles, CA
1996 “International Neon Glass Art Society Exhibition,” Arnheim Gallery
Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, Mass.
1995 “Cyber Lumen and Turbo-Flora II,” The Western Virginia Science Center, Roanoke, VA
1994 “The Light Artist Anthology,” Exploratorium Museum/SF Palace of Fine Arts, S.F., CA
1993 “Eclectic Electric,” Center for Contemporary Art, Miami, Florida (catalog)
“Biosphere: Lumen-Illusion,” Biosphere Center, Oracle, AZ
1992 “Arslab-Metodi ed Emozioni,” Citta Di Torino Museum, Turin, Italy
“Art from the Exploratorium,” Canary Wharf Exhibition, London, U.K.
1991 “Les Artists et la Lumiere,” Centre National Art de Technologie Museum, Reims, France (catalog)
“Illumination Celebration,” Zenith Gallery, Washington, D.C.
“Multi Mediale 2,” Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany (catalog)
1990 “Contemporary Neon,” The Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, Nevada
“Technorama Exhibition,” Technorama der schweiz, Winterthur, Switzerland
1989 Solo Exhibition,“Fire and Air,” Center for Neon Art Museum, Scottsdale, AZ
“Light and Illuminated Sculpture,” guest curator/artist, The Sun Gallery, Hayward, California
1988 Solo Exhibition, “New Works,” Victor Fischer Gallery, San Francisco, California
“Images Du Futur ‘88,” Le Site Museum, Montreal, Canada (catalog)
1987 “Neon: New Artistic Expressions,” The Bruce Museum, Greenwich,
Solo Exhibition,“New York Fire/Water Series,” The Roerich Museum, New York, NY
1986 “Seeing the Light,” the IBM Gallery of Science and Art, New York City, NY
Solo Exhibition,“Kinetic Luminism,” , Roberson Center for the Arts and Sciences, Binghamton, New York
1985 “New Neon,” Trans America Center Gallery, Los Angeles, California
Solo Exhibition, “Fire/Air Series,” Victor Fischer Gallery, San
1985 “Americans in Glass,” traveling exhibition, Stedlijk Museum,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Museum Bellerive, Zurich,
Switzerland; Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf, Germany; Kestner-Museum,
Hanover, Germany; Kjarvalsstadir Museum, Reykjavik,Iceland (catalog)
“Illumination: The Quality of Light,” Nexus Gallery, Philadelphia, PA (catalog)
“Going Public: Sculpture from Studio to Site,” Civic Art Gallery, Walnut Creek, California
1984 “Electronics New Art,” Scottsdale Center for the Arts, Scottsdale, Arizona
“Lumen-Illusion,” Artist-in-Residence, the Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA
“Luminauts,” SECA Film as Art Award Presentation, San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Solo Exhibition,“Ignus ex Machina,” New Langton Arts, San
1983 “International Directions in Glass Art,” traveling
exhibition, Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, Hobart & National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
4th Texas Sculpture Symposium Exhibition,” Matrix Gallery,
1982 “Inside/Outside,” Visual Arts Center of Alaska , Anchorage, Alaska
1981 Solo Exhibition, “Introductions,” Foster Goldstrum Fine Art Gallery,
San Francisco, California
“Contemporary Glass Australia, Canada, USA and Japan,” traveling exhibition
National Museum of Art, Tokyo and National Museum of Art, Kyoto,
Japan (book and catalog)
1981 “Neo-Luminism,” Bill Kane and Christian Schiess, Redding Museum and Art Center, Redding, CA
1980 “Working with Glass/A Survey of Bay Area Artists, “ Triton Museum,
Santa Clara, CA
“Current Trends in Glass,” Walnut Creek Civic Arts Center, Walnut
Creek, CA (catalog)
1980 “Light-Part One,” Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA
1979 “Graduate MFA Exhibition,” Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, California
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