CHRIS TANNER, Interdisciplinary Artist

Shot by Rocio Segura

Our Rockella Space Member Feature for December is the fabulous Chris Tanner. Chris has been a Rockella Space Member since 2022 and has a studio at One Eyed Studios.


Photo Rocio Segura

Chris Tanner is a gay artist and performer. He is best known for his assemblages made from glitter, paillettes, jewels, sterling silver leaf, and found objects. Tanner was born in Duarte, California, and studied art at the San Francisco Academy of Art and the California Institute for the Arts. He is an accomplished performer and playwright in addition to his work as an artist. His work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions both nationally and internationally. He was a resident at the Yaddo Artist Residency Program and the New York Public Library in 2009. Tanner is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, and the 2018 Acker Award. His works are held in numerous collections including those of; Michael Bloomberg, Willie Brown, Cyndi Lauper, David Lynch, Karen Finley, Jamie Drake, Richard Sinnott, Randy Tate, Judy Peabody, Joan Rivers, and the estate of Holly Solomon. He has been featured in the New York Times, Art in America, Harpers Bazaar, Arts and Antiques, the New York Observer, and the cover and centerfold of Women’s Wear Daily. 

We interviewed Chris to get a better insight into his world of performance, art, and glitter!

To learn more about the creatives who call Rockella Space home, head over to the People page for a full list of in-depth interviews.


Who are you and what do you do?


I am Chris Tanner, and I was born on December 30th, 1955 in a car on Foothill Boulevard, near Pasadena, California. I am an artist, sculptor, and performance artist, and I’ve been living and creating art and performances in the East Village and abroad since 1979.

How long have you been at Rockella Space and what is your favorite thing about having a studio with us?


I’ve been at One Eyed Studios for one year this December. My favorite thing is that it’s only an 18-minute train ride from my apartment in the East Village. It has a beautiful big window to look out with lots of fresh air. I adore going to lunch at Nhà Minh, which is right around the corner.


Image of Chris’ Studio at One Eyed Studios. Photo: Rocio Segura

Have you connected and/or created a community with any other artists in the building?


Yes, I have. I’ve been enjoying the lovely artists that inhabit the building.

Tell us about your work. What inspires you to create the work that you do?


I love light, Hollywood glamor, and the history of the earth and humans. I’ve been taking driftwood from the Northern California coast and encrusting it with jewelry that has been worn and passed on by my grandmothers, mothers, and gay uncles and mixing it with the skeletons from Redwood trees so I have the history of both encapsulated.


Photo: Rocio Segura

How do you start a work? Tell us about your process.


I buy minerals, crystals, and stones from various places along with searching for brooches at local flea markets on the weekends, collect my driftwood and canvases, and just begin playing,


Image of Chris’s Studio at One Eyed Studios. Photo: Rocio Segura

You use driftwood in your sculptures. Do they have a specific significance? Where do you source them?


My mother, the honorable former assemblywoman Sally Tanner created the Lemon Law. She lived in Ferndale California, which is South of Eureka California. While spending the last years of her life with her, I would take long walks with my friend Mary on Centerville beach in Ferndale collecting driftwood, and take them home to my mum, where she would say yay or nay to each piece. Although my mother has passed on I feel that I’m creating them with her, these sculptures. 


Chris performing in Ivo Dimchev’s, In Hell With Jesus, at La MaMa Theatre, 2023.

Tell us about your work as a Performer.


My first role was playing Candy Darling in San Francisco, while going to neon sculpture school in the Academy of Art in 1975. I studied acting at CalArts in 1976 and came to New York City in 1979 to begin my Downtown performing career. On my arrival I got a job singing telegrams and met friends that I began collaborating with on the Lower East Side. I began working at many theaters including La Mama etc. in 1980 and I finished performing in Ivo Demchiv’s play “In Hell with Jesus” that closed this week. Some of the various collaborators in my performance career have been Ivo Dimchev, Karen Finley, Taylor Mac, Cyndie Lauper, Penny Arcade, John Vacaro, Everett Quinten, Walt Disney to name a few.


How does using glitter, beads, jewels, and color in your work reflect on your work as a Performer?



Tell us about your paintings. Do you start off with a sketch or is it all just free-flowing and unfolds as you start working?


I think about it a lot and then I just start. Free-flowing and sometimes with a quick sketch.

Your mother has been a huge influence on your life. Can you tell us about her and why she has influenced you and your work?


She was a great mother and a strong woman. She was a wonderful artist and inspired me to be myself in every way.

Your practice is quite interdisciplinary. Can you touch on the other disciplines you have worked in in the past?


I love collaborating in every way with other artists, musicians, writers, producers, and people in my community.

What have been the highlights of your career as an artist so far?


I really loved working with Ivo Demchiv this last month. My favorite play I’ve ever written and collaborated with many artists on was “Ravaged by Romance”, with text and poetry by my former partner Steve Lott who died of AIDS in 1990. Other unforgettable sacred moments I’ve shared on the stage, were looking into the eyes of Karen Finley and Penny Arcade in their productions.

Who are the artists (alive or dead) that inspire you?


Diane Arbus, Kathe Kollowitz, Toulouse Lautrec, Gustave Klimt, Egon Schiele and Arch Connely.

If you could have dinner with an artist alive or dead, who would it be and what is the one question you would like to ask?


Jean Cocteau and “What was the best sex you ever had, explain in detail please.”


Image of Chris’s Studio at One Eyed Studios.

What plans do you have in the future for your work? Are there specific things you would like to try and make?


I aim to be true to myself and make the best and truest art that I can make. Have it seen and enjoyed, and contribute to making the world a better place somehow.


Photo: Rocio Segura

Do you have any upcoming public opportunities where our audience can see your work, whether performance or exhibition?


On April 4th, 2024, I will open with a solo exhibition of paintings, sculptures, and events at LaMama Galleria, 47 Great Jones Street, New York City.


Where can people learn more about your work?


You can learn more about my work on my website or by following me on Instagram.