Not every artist would leave San Francisco to find their creativity in Winnipeg.
Chris Dorosz is not every artist, however.
The 49-year-old, who grew up in Winnipeg and was an instructor at the University of Manitoba in the 1990s, returned to the city earlier in 2021 after spending 21 years in the Bay Area.
He has made a career with multimedia installations and photography, as well as teaching at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
He also has a husband and a four-year-old son, and when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020, family came first.
"It was sort of a perfect storm," Dorosz says. "My father passed away in 2019 and my mother was still living alone in her house, but then the pandemic hit.
"In San Francisco, it was pretty dire. Everything was boarded up and all the parks were locked. There was literally a parking lot for my son, who was 2 1/2 at the time, to play in. No preschool, no daycare, nothing.
"The city looked like a war zone; it was just awful to be in. So we decided to leave Dodge, pick it all up and come back. We’re making it work. It’s a sort of a COVID, 21-century story."
The three generations live together in Charleswood, and Dorosz continues his art practice in an Exchange District studio, just blocks from one he left in 1999 when he moved to California.
The address is different but Dorosz keeps creating and selling his works. Earlier this week, he was busy crating up fragile pieces to be shipped to his dealer for Miami Art Week, which takes place Dec. 1-5.
The art will be in Florida, but Dorosz will be in Winnipeg.
"It’s sort of the Olympics of art fairs," he says. "It’s like when you hear actors saying they don’t watch their own movies — I world prefer not to be there."
Zoom, the video-conferencing app that’s become a necessity for schools and universities during the pandemic, allows him to continue teaching in San Francisco from his studio in the Exchange District.
He teaches colour theory; delving deeper into how each colour is made and how the human eye interprets colour plays a large role in his lessons and installations.
"I tell my students that (colour) is like ping-pong," he says. "Everyone thinks they can play until you see a pro at it, and then, ‘Ahh, there’s a lot more to it.’ It’s the same with colour theory."
"I tell my students that (colour) is like ping–pong. Everyone thinks they can play until you see a pro at it, and then, ‘Ahh, there’s a lot more to it." –Chris Dorosz
Some of the works he’s exhibiting in Miami are desk-sized stages of people created from miniature tubes of colour-infused Plexiglas.
Dorosz paints each tube, which are about 10 centimetes long, with different colours and and textures and hangs them from the top of the piece in a precise arrangement to create pictures of people.
Each work has five of these intricate portraits, but each person can look different, depending on which angle you look at the piece.
"There’s just an instinctive way of reading these. You come to them (and ask), ‘How did he do that? It’s interesting,’ then there’s more of a darker sub-theme to them," Dorosz says.
The scenes depicted in the works are derived from magazine photographs taken of the rich and famous, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in Saint-Tropez, France; Queen Maxima of the Netherlands attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2019; and an art gallery opening attended by Theresa Sackler, whose family once owned Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, the addictive opioid pain-killing medication.
"All the subject matter is dealing with the forces that rule our lives, which we don’t really know about, what the average person doesn’t know," Dorosz says. "They could be anybody, but then you realize these forms have affected people’s lives and affected the way the world is developing."
In Dark Matter House, an exhibition that was on display at La Maison des Artistes gallery in St. Boniface earlier this year, Dorosz created art derived from other photographs in the media, specifically the Winnipeg Free Press. Paint and perforations were added to create otherworldly images when a viewer shone a flashlight through the paper and against a wall in a darkened room.
"The Free Press is one of the only papers I’ve come across in my travels that prints larger photos and historic photos, and I was able to capture a snapshot in time, from the turn of the 20th century in Assiniboine Park that I loved, and from the pandemic in 1919," he says.
"I have to say I thought I’d have a slower life moving back here and actually it’s more busy." –Chris Dorosz
Dorosz will continue delving into the supernatural with an exhibition in 2023 to be curated by University of Winnipeg art history professor Serena Keshavjee. The show will explore the University of Manitoba’s Hamilton Paranormal Archive, which is related to research by Dr. T.G. Hamilton, a physician, and his wife Lillian, who did their investigations and photographs between 1918 and 1945 at Hamilton House on Henderson Highway.
"The Hamilton archive is one of the world’s largest paranormal photography archives," he says. "I will be creating the seance room. I’ve done this before, re-creating my parents’ living room using paint blobs."
Dorosz says he took up art after watching his father, Michael, carve items and learning from him. He still carves small figurines made from sheets of foam board glued together, and they served as the models for his Plexiglas installations.
"He was an officer in the forces but he also made reproduction furniture," Dorosz says of his father. "I would watch him carve from a very young age.
"If he had had a different background and upbringing, he probably would have been (an artist) too; it just was never encouraged."
While the move back to Winnipeg has allowed Dorosz to relive past memories, he says life in the city is far different than the Winnipeg he left in 1999.
"I have to say I thought I’d have a slower life moving back here and actually it’s more busy," he says with a laugh. "I have my mother living with me, my son’s growing up, we’re travelling back and forth to work a lot and the shows are just bouncing back now.
"It’s a wonderful city and there are so many interesting artistic things. I always got my art fix coming back to Winnipeg, believe it or not, from San Francisco."
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.