Christopher Bettig graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art with a degree in painting. His family is French but he grew up going back-and-forth from the USA and France and is currently living in SF working as an Art Director for Google and also on the RVCA Artist Network Program.
1. You have a nice variety of work on your website which crosses the divide between fine art and illustration. Has it always been your intention to experiment with installation work? What excites you about it?
Well actually it’s the other way around. I’ve always done installation work and began doing design & illustration only a few years ago. I worked as an Art Director of Store Design for Urban Outfitters in North America, where I developed interiors for the retail stores. I design permanent as well as seasonal installations for the company for almost 10 years before moving on to a freelance career for a few years before joining Google as an Art Director. I enjoy doing installation work a lot more then design, there is something wonderful about having a a tangible object that people can interact with in a physical space. The scale and the variety of materials are also more interesting to me then just worrying about making sure that icons are pixel perfect for retina displays. I do enjoy design, but I really love working with my hands, searching for materials and going places to build site specific work.
2. How has the response been with your works that you did for the RVCA store? I see you did one for The Obvious Corp’s (Twitter) offices as well. Were these installations created by experimentation with objects or is their a direct intention with the work?
The responses have been great! I think people really resonate with my work because it’s all created from affordable materials, has a great relation with light and opacity as well as having a unsure feeling of stability. Obvious Corp loved the work I produced for them and we are already in talks on a future project, which is exciting and amazing. As for the pieces themselves, there are initial ideas but they are not fully planned out prior to construction. I source the materials, hand picking each piece of wood etc, and look to create a piece that will meet certain criteria. I want the work to be made of simple materials and a simple repetition of geometric shapes, but within that idea there is also balancing the different materials to have a nice weight of textures spread through the piece. I also look at light and how that interacts with the work, making sure that it is secure, but also has the feeling that at any moment it could completely crumble. So, there is a lot of planning and thinking involved in my work, but it’s not designed to each individual screw and nail.
3. Do you feel that these installations fit into your “commercial work” or complement them as such?
It’s difficult to say really, as some of my installation work has been for global clients: J Crew, Puma, The Standard Hotel, Obvious Corp, Urban Outfitters, RVCA, Nike etc. So it is very “commercial” but at the same time this is my “fine art,” the work I do for galleries and private commissions as well. I look at this work more now as sculptures that large clients purchase for their offices or for their retail boutique windows.
I do realize there is a huge gap between my sculpture/installation work and my design work.. it’s something I’m not exactly proud of and have been thinking a great deal about.. how to unify my work more through the different mediums. Like all artists, this is a work in progress, and I hope to continue growing and evolving my work. There definitely is some unifying features such as simple geometric shapes in my logos/icons as well as collages and installation work, and the color palettes are both bright and exciting, but that’s not enough to unify my work. That’s what makes being and artist/designer so exciting and interesting! Evolution & growth!
4. You are the art director at Google which is the most technologically advanced company in the world. Yet your work has an authentic almost folk art sensibility to it. What do you think attracted them to your work?
Honestly.. I have no idea, they got in touch and recruited me, I didn’t apply for a job there or anything like that. I think it’s because I have a clean, simple, geometric sensibility to my work. I’ve worked for large global brands, managed large teams, and always deliver on tight deadlines.. I think that was the allure. That and the nearly 10 years of corporate experience with Urban Outfitters which would help me navigate the Google corporate infrastructure while still being able to manage and relate to my team of designers.
5. You visited Cape Town in 2012 and comparing it to other cities that you have been to what are your impressions of it?
I loved Cape Town! I was there this summer, for me & winter for you southern hemisphere people, during the months of June and July. I found it really beautiful, there is so much amazing nature and interesting landscapes surrounding the city and it’s so easy to navigate. It reminded me a good deal of Australia, which I also love, however, I was a bit shocked at the lingering segregation/racism. But that aside, it was absolutely amazing. I had so much fun doing all the touristy stuff – hiking around Table Mountain, surfing, taking a tour of Cape Point & Cape of Good Hope etc. Had some amazing food.. probably the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life at Headquarters. I can’t wait to go back to South Africa and next time I plan on stopping in Durban for a while as well!
6. Which city would you love to live in most and why?
Very tough decision. I’m a French citizen and love the idea of returning one day, however, I have an unending love of Los Angeles and hope to buy a house there in the next few months. From a fantasy point of view, I’d love to live in Melbourne Australia, Udaipur India, Tokyo Japan, Geneva Switzerland… So many places.
So, the answer for now is Los Angeles, for so many reasons. To me, it’s home as it’s the one place I’ve lived the longest, 11 straight years. The food is amazing, the weather is literally perfect all year round, the beaches in Malibu, the mountains in Big Bear, the deserts around Palm Springs / Joshua Tree, the proximity to Las Vegas, San Diego, Tijuana, the amazing creative people in the city, all the galleries and boutiques, the city always has some amazing event happening, everything stays open super late, the quality of life is unreal.. housing is affordable and you can get a small house with a yard easily and still only be 15 minutes away from all the action. LA also has the largest national park within a city in the USA, so there is plenty of nature right in the city.. it’s truly an amazing, diverse place. I learned how to ride a horse in the 60 miles of trails in the Hollywood hills.. right by the Hollywood sign!
7. To be self employed or not to be self employed?
Self employed. No doubt. I’m really happy at Google working with my team developing the branding of such a huge company.. however, I still miss the freedom of working on what I want, when I want. That’s an unbelievable feeling. I seem to go through phases where I work at a corporation for a few years, then go freelance, then go to another corporation and on and on. So, clearly there are benefits to both, but I definitely prefer my freedom.
8. What are your working on at the moment?
Google stuff all the time. Branding for a trend forecasting company, some greeting card designs for a new card company, wedding invites for one of my best friends (congrats Coop & Neen!), a new book “Milk And Honey: Contemporary Art in California” will be released in the next few weeks featuring my work, and I’m working on some small books & zines that will be published in 2013. Not too much going on right now as I’m still recovering from semi-emergency spinal surgery.. which has been more then a bit taxing.
Check out more of his work over here.