Christian Jo Gauthier poses for a portrait in his gallery at Parrish Studios off of O Street on Sept. 26, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska

Sirens blare as cop cars pass by an open window while music rattles through the floor from the room below as Christian Gauthier works to clear the clutter of painted emotional faces, art supplies and tattered papers from the floor. Cutouts from wood, metal and paper encase portraits, bodies, dogs and pigs, and line the brick and plaster walls. Gauthier sits in front of the window, his long legs crossed as beads of sweat build on his forehead, a result of hard work and broken air conditioning.

This is Gauthier’s studio, a place where he strives to grow in the name of art. This space is a frequently visited stop during Lincoln’s First Friday, as it sits nestled in the middle of the Parrish Studios, located above Duffy’s Tavern on 14th and O.

Gauthier is a 23-year-old visual artist who works as a builder for Unique Designs and Unique Displays. He is well known in the Lincoln art scene for his uncommon paintings and media, as well as his comedic shirts and Instagram account.

Although his work contains a plethora of bright colors, there is a dark and painful undertone to Gauthier’s pieces.

“I only get down to actually working when the pain of not working exceeds the pain of working,” Gauthier said. “It’s one of the things that I love most in the world, but it’s also one of the most painful, exhausting and depressing things I could possibly think of.”

Gauthier described the self-inflicted isolation needed for him to be able to create. He described his daily schedule of waking up at noon, going to work and only being able to be artistically productive between midnight and 6 a.m. — a time accompanied by crying and hours of drawing.

Although he spends a chunk of his time in solitude, he still connects with others in the arts community. 

Katheran Wiese, a 23-year-old former University of Nebraska-Lincoln studio art student, has been “art friends” with Gauthier since they were seniors in high school.

“I think [artists] really need each other,” Wiese said. “I think we support one another.”

Wiese has received artistic guidance from Gauthier from over the years, helping her grow and use different media such as screen printing. Gauthier’s assistance left an impression on Wiese, as she described him as a kind and generous artist.

Along with helping others grow, Gauthier works on his own growth as an artist through a process he refers to as “stretching.”

“A big part of my process is constantly stretching myself in all different directions,” Gauthier said. “If I don’t keep going and forcing myself to learn and stretch, then it creates this big empty hole in my life.”

He concurs different media, changes color stories and shifts his portrayals of three dimensional objects on a two dimensional plane.

“His use of material is very untraditional,” Wiese said. “I always think it’s very exciting to watch him explore his materials.”

Gauthier’s work flows in conceptual eras. His individual bodies of work fill up the brick walls of his studio with the similar colors, materials and moods in the pieces. He works at an idea until he feels like he is “copying” himself.

“It’s like I’m sitting in a tree, and I’ve been up there for too long and there’s nothing else to look at, so I have to cut the branch off,” Gauthier said. “And then I fall for a while, and I hit the ground, and then I find another tree to climb. It’s a constant battle of trying to find something new that feels honest and worthwhile.”

One thing that has remained consistent throughout his work is his screen printed T-shirts. Skateboarding skeletons, grotesque figures, well dressed men and dogs, printed on to pastel and neutral colored shirts and worn throughout Lincoln. He sold his shirts enough to be able to provide an income to support a year off of work.

“The designs for the shirts are usually sketches that make me laugh,” Gauthier said. “I honestly have to look at my sketchbook and laugh for it to go on a shirt.”

Many pass through the tattered brick walls of Gauthier’s studio during First Friday, appreciating the art, buying shirts and asking questions without really knowing what it took to create. Whether it’s a shirt that will make Gauthier smile or a painting that strained him to make, there is a lot of emotion built in to each piece of art he creates.

“There is no specific goal in mind. It’s never been to make a living off of,” he said. “I’m just trying to put good things in the world to the best of my abilities.”