Chris Easley is sitting next to one of his abstract paintings. Easley, who specializes in landscape and abstract art, has given up his career to become a full-time artist. (Roberto E. Rosales / )
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Chris Easley has worn many hats in his 47 years.
Raised in California, he played soccer and studied history at the University of California, Berkeley. Since graduating, he has been a loan officer, legal officer, and teacher in Oklahoma and New Mexico for nearly 15 years.
But Easley described these jobs primarily as a means to an end that enabled him to pursue his true passion: landscape and abstract painting.
“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve just been painting and trying to find a casual job to support my habits,” Easley told the Journal.
But now casual work and habit are one and the same. Easley quit La Cueva High School in October, where he was the final semester of art teaching, and plans to make a living selling his paintings.
It was a long-awaited change.
“A load was lifted from my shoulders and I saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Easley. “And I got rid of all the stress.”
It wasn’t until the pandemic restrictions eased that Easley realized how frustrated he was with teaching. As the 21st
“Not only was I productive, but I got to a point where it got really good,” he said.
In contrast, going back to the classroom meant a loss of that freedom and turned out to be a struggle for Easley. He started a new job at La Cueva before the new school year, hoping the change would be good for him, but said the fit wasn’t right.
Admitting that he knew there were some things that he would miss about teaching, Easley said that there is nothing like the “lightbulb” moment when a student grasps a concept he had previously missed. Even so, he felt drained of behavioral problems with a new generation of children and a school system that he believed wasn’t designed to make things better.
“Over the past five years it has become increasingly clear that I have to get out,” he said.
Chris Easley was a teacher at a local high school and decided to become a full-time painter. His works include New Mexico Green, above. In some cases, Easley said he would paint over his work five or six times. (Roberto E. Rosales / )
Always artistic, Easley began painting in college after his then-girlfriend introduced him to the medium.
During the worst of the pandemic, painting became a way to relieve stress, but it also inspired him to learn more about the history of his craft. He threw himself into research on famous French painters such as Henri Matisse and especially Paul Cézanne, and his work changed as a result.
“When he paints, it’s a record of the whole experience,” Easley said of Cézanne.
On the surface, there is a stark contrast between Easley’s pastoral landscape paintings and his lively, chaotic abstract works. But to hear him talk about it, the only difference is the degree of modification.
Easley said that many of his abstract paintings start out as rectilinear landscapes before “breaking up” them by painting over them more abstractly.
In some cases, Easley said that he will paint over his work five or six times and become more and more abstract, even as “ghosts” of previous iterations of the painting look under the canvas. He often says he doesn’t understand what he is painting until he takes a step back and looks at it.
“When it’s done, I’ll see the reflection happen,” said Easley.
On the other hand, the focus on landscapes brings the former soccer player “back to basics” when he is too lost in abstraction.
After years of constant paychecks, Easley admitted that he has some concerns about relying on selling his art for an income. A strong month of sales in October while he was still working at the school encouraged him to give it a try, but he said there could be months when sales may decline or disappear altogether.
“January can get dry, we are aware of that,” he said.
Still, quitting his job gave him the mental breadth to think more about marketing his work instead of just doing it for himself. Easley has started building an online presence with profiles on Etsy and Saatchi Art. Here in New Mexico he has upcoming shows at Zendo and Farm & Table.
The goal for Easley is to invest in his work in the hope that it will pay off for him and his family.
“We know economic success can be a long-term strategy and we are ready to do whatever we can to get the ball rolling,” he said.