Bio and Artist's Statement
Khrysso Heart LeFey was born in Canton, Ohio two weeks before Christmas 1959 and grew up in a home with shelves full of art-history books and bags full of scribblings and stories and crafts that his mother began archiving for each of her four children as soon as they were able to hold crayons in their hands.
At the Ohio State University Khrysso weighed both writing and music as career paths but ended up with a degree in Linguistics. He put his energies toward writing for his first ten years out of college.
Ironically, when he changed courses and began applying himself to folk music, he made far more money as a starving musician than he had as a starving writer. Ultimately, he found that he most enjoyed writing music and writing about music.
Having early on undertaken a spiritual journey that had flung him from the extremes of the Radical Religious Right to Unitarian Universalism, as he neared his fortieth birthday he pursued a theological education at the notoriously liberal Iliff School of Theology in Denver, where he felt most drawn to and became deeply involved in liturgical arts, earning a master's degree in 2002. It was in Denver that he changed his name from Chris Wagner to Khrysso Heart LeFey.
Khrysso had finished his classwork at Iliff the summer before 9/11, and the conservative wave that swept over US culture in its wake subverted many of his professional hopes and dreams for ministry and teaching. Meanwhile, he grew more and more aware that no matter what creative pursuit he was immersed in—poetry, recording, teaching, book publishing, interior decorating, cooking—what he loved most about it seemed to revolve around the processes of arranging and editing.
After years of refining his vocal and verbal skills, he found himself yearning for more embodied expression—arts that would involve him physically below his neck, so to speak: dance, or acting, or visual art. As he reflected on his history, he noted that he had always been fascinated with paper. Indeed, he realized that for years, following a fling with an artist boyfriend in the early '90s, he had been collecting samples of paper that caught his eye.
Believing that one's gifts and inclinations constitute one's "marching orders," so to speak, when it comes to vocations, he began focusing more intentionally on paper, on color and pattern and texture. Gradually, he took on the label "aspiring collagist," even as he noted the irony that the French verb coller means "to stick together"—yet while he was collecting much, he was collaging little.
As he burrowed further into the world of art and artistry in general and collage in particular, Khrysso found himself learning (thanks to his mother's archives) from his early childhood, during which time he had studied resist techniques and print media and sculptural forms, and he realized that, just as he had become a writer and become a musician by doing them, so he had come home to being an artist simply by nature of that fact that art was what he was doing.
While the discipline of looking for consistency and contrast, color, pattern, form, perspective, and balance manifested itself in various kinds of compositions, he found design to be the common denominator in all of his visual interests; the media with which he worked were only incidental.
With that understanding he grew comfortable with the idea of working with digital media so as to play to his strengths as a designer and leave technique to the technically proficient. He now identifies as a "mixed media" artist, finding his greatest sources of inspiration in collage and the related media of assemblage, quilting, mosaic, and stained glass.
After living in Columbus for most of his adult life, at the Winter Solstice of 2010 Khrysso returned to Stark County, Ohio, the geography of his childhood, where he continues to write, design, and look at pretty paper.
As a 16-year-old aspiring writer, I heard editor Ted Solotaroff say to a roomful of attendees at a Midwest Writers Conference, “Be someone on whom nothing is lost.” I apply that dictum perhaps more consciously to my art than I do to my wordsmithing.
Although I study paper art and quilting and mosaic and stained glass for inspiration re: technique or effect, I have come to believe that I have more in common with photographers than with creators of these other media because working with cropped paper makes me choose and then view my world through WINDOWS.
It is easy to conclude, when observing how I select and trim paper, that I am merely "preparing" for collage, but it is actually while I am cutting and trimming that I am in the thick of the process of invention; by that token, layout is almost an afterthought. It is with the selection of materials that many of my works are conceived. The rest is just assembly, which is why I feel connected to the word "assemblage." Ironically, “collage” is a very small part of the process, coller being the French word meaning “to stick together.” But of course that requires a very literal interpretation of the words... Collage, assemblage, montage... take your pick, for the most part. How important is the glue, really, he asks, shrugging... Sometimes I think I should be calling myself a "designer" rather than an "artist."
The spiritual intent of collage, when it was conceived as a specific art form in the early Twentieth Century, was originally surrealistic: it was about juxtaposing existing images in ways that jarred, even shocked, ways that challenged and, ideally, changed consciousness. In that sense collage was unlike the related genres of découpage and papier collé--which involve gluing but not jarring. Collage is, in the strictest sense, a postmodern--a deconstructionist--genre. As far as that goes, my practice of collage is not so overtly political: I juxtapose images (and if I can tweak consciousness, so much the better), but my ultimate purpose is to please my eye.
I believe that all artists are inherently political, but politics is not what my art is about, except inasmuch as I feel myself called to create beauty in a world in which beauty is seldom on the agenda, and to do so in a way that is completely in service to my Muse, not beholden in any way to any human authority. So while design tends to dominate my process, fine art--that is, art for art's sake--is what my work is ultimately about.
Creating windows through which to view my world and then to project my views onto grounds of my choosing requires that I put myself at the mercy of many externally imposed limits. In many ways, as it is for photographers, I am limited by what is already out there: the imagination of a photographer rarely concocts an image; rather, most of the time, at least, the image captures the photographer's imagination. Being so conscious of externally imposed limits, I feel an affinity with author Ilse Aichinger's "The Bound Man." For me, freedom lies in “being someone on whom nothing is lost” because finding is how I create art.
I call what I do “Scavenger Art.” I experience my heightened awareness to what is around me as one great exercise in resourcefulness… And so I affirm that being a “pack rat” is not about nostalgia or sentimentality but, rather, about possibility, potential. My world will be made of what I have collected.
A chief difference between “art” and music or wordsmithing is that “art,” though it finds its source within me, requires external materials for its expression. That means that my tools are, at least initially (now that I am digitizing much of my work), generally more specialized and expensive, and they have weight and take up space... and dry out... and warp... and crease... That particular requirement causes me acute stress and, indeed, heartbreak that are at times particularly difficult to bear: I tend not to despair over my poetry as I do over my collages and sculptures.
That fact of my materials dictating my directions--it makes my life unmanageable, especially if I am moving far distances, as I have done numerous times since I took up "art." But it leads me into some really enchanting adventures: physically, strips of paper, for example, differ little from one another; yet their colors, patterns, and textures instruct me to arrange different groups of them in ways that continually please... enthrall... exhilarate me. Though the territories and terrains through which they lead me may feel familiar, they are always new, requiring different attention every time.