2017 Emerging Artist Prize in Visual arts
According to her mother, Nancy Birchfield, an art teacher in Parma, Ohio, Christi’s life as an artist began at 3, when she mastered the collage. “Some of my earliest memories of playing were sitting at a desk making drawings and cut-and-paste papers,” Christi recalls. “We were raised that art was a form of play, so I grew up drawing and making collages.”
Her dad, Jerry, worked in the machine tool industry for many years, but is also an extremely skilled woodworker, making much of the furniture in their home and teaching woodshop part-time at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the evenings. So, is it any wonder that Christi and her two siblings all attended CIA? She earned her bachelor’s in printmaking.
“I don’t think there was ever a time when I wasn’t envisioning myself as an artist,” she declares. “It was always just the way it was going to be, so I grew up with that mindset.”
Although Christi also employs a similar reductive process to create large-scale fabric sculptures and objects, she says she was drawn to printmaking by enjoying the process of not knowing what’s going to happen until many steps down the line, from dipping the plates in acid to the final print. “There are all of these magical, chemical processes that happen between your idea and the final product,” she says. “What’s fascinating to me about making prints is that you can trust an instinct or have this faith relationship with your practice, and it leads to something. Sometimes, it leads to nothing, and then you move on from that.”
While still a student at CIA, her love of printmaking led her to a residency at Zygote Press. After graduating, though, Christi moved to New York to study at the Columbia University School of the Arts, where she earned her master’s in visual art, in 2010. After five years in New York, of missing her family, the opportunities for artists that exist in Cleveland, the “awesome community of artists here,” and Zygote Press, she came home and began working full-time at Zygote.
“Christi was really paramount in our decision to open INK House, our satellite location in Collinwood, in 2014,” says Zygote Press Executive Director Liz Maugans. “She managed that project and got everything up and running, and we couldn’t have done it without her.”
Today, she serves as the INK House production director. She also continues to print for some of the most prestigious artists in the country, such as Michelle Grabner, Vaughn Wascovich and Doug Sanderson.
In her artwork, Christi draws deep themes of humanity and mortality out of abstracted form. Her fabric sculpture process involves the application of bleach paste to canvas, which she folds in half to create a mirrored image resembling a Rorschach inkblot test. Gathered together, these skeletal fabric pieces amass like bodies in space. Her compositions suggest the symmetry of the body and allude to the impact of time, wear, weather and temporality.
She has received major commissions at the MetroHealth System and the Westin hotel. and her work is included in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art and she has appeared in major exhibitions, including How to Remain Human, MOCA Cleveland (2015); Women to Watch, Reinberger Gallery, Cleveland Institute of Art (2015); and 25 Artists/25 Years, William Busta Gallery (2014).
Christ’s work has been exhibited nationally, and she has received some of the most renowned national and international residencies, including the prestigious Vermont Studio School and the Ohio Arts Council Dresden Exchange through Zygote Press. More recently, she has worked across disciplines, creating fiber works at Praxis Fiber Workshop, drawings with bleach, and prints with pressed flowers. In her fourth year at CIA, one of her works was accepted into the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art. In 2016, she received the Creative Workforce Fellowship from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.
“Having lived away, it made it even clearer to me that Cleveland is the place I wanted to be as an artist,” Christi concludes. “The more that I’m here and the longer I work here that becomes clearer all the time.”