GUEST 8 | The Art of Improv with Chris Vorhees


Chris vorhees

on The Art of Improv

Our guest this week is sculptor Chris Vorhees.  He is a master craftsman who has exhibited worldwide. His work is authentic and unique.   He works independently and has also collaborated on many large scale installations, often with SIMPARCH.  Here is one of my favorites.  Let’s learn more about his work and his take on improvisation, shall we?

Recreational Vehicle   Chris Vorhees  Life size carving of 1970 Monte Carlo SS out of styrofoam. This piece was installed in many events, sites and locations across the U.S.

Recreational Vehicle Chris Vorhees

Life size carving of 1970 Monte Carlo SS out of styrofoam. This piece was installed in many events, sites and locations across the U.S.

What does the ‘Art of Improv’ mean to you?

Working improvisationally to me has applied mostly to making music and visual art. When sitting down with musician friends to play music, we typically begin by improvising ‘songs’ / patterns to get our minds loosened up. It’s a very freeing and liberating process that sometimes borders on meditation. I would define the ‘Art of Improv’ as something concerned with using improvisation as a technique to begin, restart, resolve and/or can even be the complete focus of a creative process. When working, it is a place of experimentation that doesn’t have much judgement attached to it. Usually it unfolds; a path to the goal or some new thing, or a dead end. All are informative.

Have you always worked improvisationally?

No, I sometimes have the idea of the finished piece imagined ahead of the “figuring out’ process, and just proceed to making the thing. But sometimes I will come up with an idea that I don’t know how to make and that is where the improvising comes in.

Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally?  If so, how do you begin?  If not, how do you find yourself getting there?

I work improvisationally most in the problem solving realm. My visual art and my ‘dayjob’ (fabrication/custom builder) both demand a similar skillset of manipulating materials to create a desired outcome. I would describe my process as working intentionally, consciously and requires improvisation as a means to experiment with techniques to accomplish what I am trying to do.   I rarely experiment improvisationally with the end goal to be a final piece.  Instead I rely on improvisational skills in the process.

Modified Dresser Set   Chris Vorhees

Modified Dresser Set Chris Vorhees

How often do you work with improvisation?


Please share a bit about your process.  Do you have methods to getting started?  Do you have tricks to getting unstuck?  Do you have motivators to finishing up?

My process varies from piece to piece. Whenever I have an idea for a piece, I try to jot down whatever I can about it in my sketchbook. I’ll return to it later to see if its possible or even worth developing. Next I’ll figure out what materials to use, and will experiment (improvise) on technical aspects. The best path for me to getting started on something is to go do it. I need to get into the studio or have some space to let the idea out of my brain. Usually when I get stuck I set the project aside for a while until I figure something out.  Other times I will abandon the idea/project completely. Other times I will grind it out until the end.  Motivation to see the finished piece is usually the main motivator.

Where do you find inspiration?  How do you use it?

Inspiration comes and goes. Mostly I find you have to be open to being inspired. When you’re ready then you can start to see the ideas come. Books and music are good for inspiration. Traveling is a great way to find inspiration. Mostly looking at things with the right kind of eye - looking for something that interests you. If I am too anxious, or tired, or stressed, it is difficult to be inspired. 

2 x 12   Chris Vorhees

2 x 12 Chris Vorhees

What advice would you give to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally.  Can you share some good advice that you received that helped you become more comfortable this way?

I think working improvisationally could be a great place to start for people who are looking for some liberation in their process. My advice would be to forget about whatever preconceived notions you have about ‘I can’t” or ‘I don’t know how’ or self depreciating thoughts and allow yourself to have a few moments to work on your craft. A true quote from a professor of mine in college: “Stick a chicken in your pants” - I took this to mean lighten up, have fun, experiment. 

How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if, . . .?’

What if Trump was never born?

What are reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share?

Reading wise - just bought a few art books - ‘Fischli and Weiss’ - swiss artists, SITE by James Wines. “Who owns the Future” by Jaron Lanier, Highly recommend “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. Music: always changing. Lately I have been listening to a strange mix of things- Lee Scratch Perry, Killing Joke, Icelandic Electronica, Tim Hecker, Lighting Bolt. other inspirational obsessions - photo journey walks - keeping an eye out. 

Thank you Chris! ‘Stick a chicken in your pants’ is sure to stick with me, AND, my dreams would have come true if Trump had not been born. I loved this so much, but I also really appreciate your perspective on improv from a musical as well as a visual standpoint. I think it easy to understand the idea of improv when you look at the performing arts, because the music, the performance takes place in the moment. Art does this too, but only the artist experiences it. So it is harder to explain and visualize. When I reached out to you I was not sure you would say you used it. I believe all artist’s do, but know that not all artist would believe/agree that they do. SO, thank you too for believing it and saying yes, your quick response to my invitation, confirmed for me that this whole ART OF IMPROV thing is a good idea! Please be sure to check out Chris’ website and his day to day postings on Instagram.

If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.