Over the past decades, you might have seen Canole in a previous incarnation, perhaps as a helmeted fellow making his way through traffic. You’d have recognized him even with a helmet — his self-designed café racing motorcycles and signature black leather garb are a giveaway.
Maybe you’d know him better in tight white attire and mask. After captaining the UCSD fencing team he became coach for two years, and is still available for anyone who might be filming a fencing scene.
Since a renewed interest in visual art has gotten hold of Canole, he wields a pencil rather than an epée. He’s lost the beard. Underneath the masks, helmets and facial hair resides another manifestation of the same guy.
As a physics undergrad at UCSD, Chris took chemistry with Linus Pauling. He graduated from Cal Arts. France chose him to represent the U.S. as an artist-in-residence in sculpture. He once established the Guinness World Book Record for longest conversation. (Like many Pannikin regulars at the time, I reserved a 15-minute slot as one of his many interlocutors.)
I first took note of Canole as a teenager. He’d just returned from his artist’s residency in Paris. I’d become a regular visitor to the much-missed Mithras bookstore and Unicorn Theater, now a Lamborghini dealership. He was “that guy” who sat behind the counter.
Over the more recent years, I’d gotten a glimpse of Canole. As of Aug. 1, however, Pannikin has given us a chance to see him better. The café is mounting 32 of his portraits and drawings.
I was particularly interested in this retrospective because I have been writing about artists’ tributes for the site, www.opentohope.com — a project I began after my mother, also an artist, died. Recently, visiting with my father, a San Diego advertising man and fine artist himself, at the Pannikin, we couldn’t help notice Canole and his drawing board.
For these mimetic and fine-lined illustrations on paper, he has used Caran d’Ache headstone, graphite stone created on a lathe. The portraits, each representing around 80 hours of labor, depict people who have influenced his psyche. This might look like a series of drawings of other people but on the whole it’s a kind of self-portrait.
I recognize Albert Einstein and President Obama. There’s Sophia Loren, Frida Kahlo, Leonardo da Vinci and Yasunari Kawabata (whom I did not recognize). Some portraits are friends and locals.
Canole’s work is fundamentally about relationship. It has also been therapeutic. In his earlier years, many of his projects took him outside of popular culture: Taoism, sculpting. He now gets to re-experience some of this stuff for the first time. He can appreciate these lost decades — maybe regain them — through a prism of abstraction, reading about his subjects, reminiscing with others and, of course, drawing.
The project is also a tribute to interdependence and gratitude. When Canole’s parents died when he was 11, his aunt and uncle raised him. So much in life has materialized for him due to the kindness of others, he says, that he sees other people as the source of great things.
The show opens Thursday, Aug. 1, at The Pannikin, 7467 Girard Ave. with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m.
To learn more about the La Jolla man, visit www.canole.com. Or, ask him. He’s almost always ready to chat.