Exhibitionists·NSFW

Award-winning artist Hudson Christie isn't above a risqué sight gag

Hudson Christie, NMA award-winning illustrator and this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, talks to CBC Arts about his influences (Gumby) and the illustration that took on a life of its own... because it's a dick joke.

Everyone loves a dink joke. Hudson Christie, this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, speaks from experience

What happens when people share your artwork so many times that it's essentially been "eaten by the Internet?" It happened to Hudson Christie. The Toronto artist is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence. (Hudson Christie)

There's a sweetness to his illustrations, but Hudson Christie is happiest when his work is just a little dark, a little cynical, a little anything-but-sweet.

It's so strange and psychedelic. It freaked me out, but I watched it all the time.- Hudson Christie on The Gumby Movie, a formative influence

Sunday, the new episode of Exhibitionists features a few of the Toronto artist's animations. The scenes might remind you of toddler toys — or Canadian folk art, or old Gumby cartoons (two of his primary influences, incidentally) — but Christie always adds a sense of humour that warps the innocence as though it was warm Plasticine.

While we're dropping strange comparisons to sculpting materials, we should clarify it's not Plasticine, or clay, that Christie uses. In his words, "I'm a Sculpey man." It's that bakeable clay you probably played with at summer camp, and for Christie it's the perfect medium for creating candy-colourful dioramas, scenes which he photographs or animates from his apartment in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood.

When CBC Arts called him this week, the artist was in the middle of a new commission for the New York Times Review of Books. Outlets including The Walrus, ESPN Magazine and Maisonneuve have all featured his work since Christie graduated OCAD U in 2014. His contributions to that last mag, by the way, earned him a National Magazine Award for Best New Illustrator this year.

Here, though, Christie tells CBC Arts about the early influence that bent his mind in all the right ways, and the one NSFW animation that's his most popular work to date, even if most people have no idea it's his.

He loves Gumby, dammit                             

Nightmares be damned, plenty of us grew up watching — and re-watching — kids movies with a creepy side. For Christie, it was The Gumby Movie (1995). "The movie's just bizarre. It's so strange and psychedelic. It freaked me out, but I watched it all the time," he says, and "that kind of uncanniness is a big influence."

It's especially there when he takes on darker themes. This series about the drudgery of ad-agency life, produced for a talk at the Cannes Lion Festival, is one of Christie's favourite examples. "There's an existential angst there that pairs really funnily with the cuteness."

"When I can get commissioned work where the themes are dark, it's really exciting. It gets as close to that unsettling feeling that I got watching The Gumby Movie."

"Eaten by the Internet"

It's his most famous illustration, but it's not safe for work…or afternoon TV.

Christie just refers to it as "the dick swinging guy," and he created the GIF as part of a school final-project, a series called Work-Life Balance. The collection, gags about what happens when a hobby goes too far, earned him the OCAD U 2014 Medal in Illustration. But the 39,000 people who shared it from Christie's Tumblr probably don't know that.

"That animation just got eaten by the Internet," Christie laughs, explaining how he's always stumbling across his cartoon online. He's seen it on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter,  the front page of Reddit. "It's always without attribution, but that's sort of the nature of it," he says. "I'm just running into it randomly and if I'm able to sort of randomly encounter it that must mean it's so much bigger than I even know."

Dink jokes

"There's so many people who will share that image," says Christie. Scan the comments on his Tumblr, and it's clearly connecting with art students. Per one note from a follower, it's "for anyone who has ever taken a life drawing class." But for the countless other commenters, the ones leaving messages more along the lines of "LMFAO," there's well, a more naked appeal.

"It's not gross because it's so unreal," says Christie. "But it's a dick joke. And that's maybe why it's popular, is because it's a dick joke."

"It's reached so many eyeballs and places I'll never even run into all of them because there are so many weird corners of the internet that it could end up in," he says. "The reason someone produces work as an artist is you're putting stuff out there for other people to see it. I think it's absolutely a good thing."

Want more from Hudson Christie? Visit his website and watch Exhibitionists online or Sunday at 4:30 (5pm NT) on CBC Television.

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