If these walls could talk: muralist Chris Van Redman discusses style, method

Daphne Chen/Staff

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We meet in front of a long stretch of concrete patchworked with murals — a wall to most, but to some, a canvas.

Facing the wall enclosing Wurster Courtyard, Chris Van Redman, a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in art practice, squeezes hot pink paint into a plastic trough with a sort of elegantly careless, practiced motion.

He brings his brush to the face of the wall and slowly, painstakingly traces one fine line — a tiny dab of paint in perspective of the vast expanse of the concrete. Then he wipes his brush off on his jeans.

Watching him paint, it’s hard to imagine so many thin, precise brush strokes slowly coming together to form a complete mural — but, again and again, Van Redman has made it happen. Painting everything from smaller murals by the College of Environmental Design to 100-foot stretches of art on the walls of Palm Greens Cafe, Van Redman has made a career of public art.

Recently, Van Redman’s become involved with the department of art practice’s project of renovating Wurster Courtyard, painting murals on the walls enclosing the space.

“Currently, I’m working on this back wall — I got permission to do it,” Van Redman adds quickly. “It’s a mural of Le Corbusier, and what’s to come is Jane Jacobs. They’re both architects and they’re both from different schools of thought in the architecture department.”

“One of the things that stuck out to me was this dynamic of contrast,” he says. “This idea of two opposing views and where they meet in the middle, and presenting both viewpoints but not having a stance — presenting two players on a stage and letting people make up their own interpretations.”

And much of Van Redman’s art reflects the dynamic of contrast — above all, he’s fascinated with the ideas of contrast and change — with interaction and reaction.

“I have a belief that everything you see and learn you retain,” he says. “Like, your vision — it’s like a GoPro on constantly. Those things are never lost and they can be reached at any time. So that idea’s kind of abstract, but that’s where my art comes from. A lot (of it is) process-oriented, and from controlled chaos without restraints, and also reactions. The only way to go to the next step is to make one step. Something will happen, and then you react.”

So, as Van Redman works, he draws from the “GoPro” bank of footage of his own experiences.

“I think (what’s) most interesting about Chris and Chris’s work (is) his own personal story,” said attorney, artist and art collector Angela Valente-Romeo in an email to The Daily Californian. A prominent figure in the art community in the Palms Springs area, Valente-Romeo has previously purchased his work. “It is a reflection of his journey. As he matures so does his work. It is fascinating to see what he has done (and) what he can do.”

At the moment, however, Van Redman is more interested in responding to the art already on the walls. Between bouts of painting, he steps back to look at the murals already covering the walls. As he considers the art, we talk about the history of graffiti in the courtyard — and his place in it.

“This is one of the places in Berkeley that’s actually really historic, in terms of graffiti or street art,” Van Redman says. “And all of that’s not lost — all that history is still here. The paintings, when these things get covered over — they’re not gone. They’re layered. And my hope would be that some remnants of (them) would still exist. Like I would like to see, even if it’s just a 2 inch stripe, how cool it’d be like 20 years from now to see this whole timeline of students’ work. Even if it’s just segmentations of it.”

“If you look at some of the work, a lot of it’s reacting naturally,” he continues. “Every action has a reaction, so the idea (is) spontaneity, stepping back and looking and doing sketches. So sometimes you paint stuff over, sometimes you incorporate it into a new design. Based on the circumstance of what we’re doing right now, I’m doing a little bit of both. Like, I have visions of what this is going to look like, so it’s basically piece by piece, but I try not to plan everything out — because then it wouldn’t be as fun. Those little surprises are I think what makes painting painting. ‘Happy accidents,’ they say.”

Contact Lindsay Choi at [email protected].