When I set out to add some art pieces for Portmanteau Home’s debut collection, I immediately thought of Christopher. He is the kind of guy who’ll walk up to you at a party (back when we COULD have a party in person) and introduce himself to you with a big open smile, then proceed to introduce you to all the people around him. He’s also the kind of guy who’ll good-humouredly indulge friends who are fascinated with his strong Boston accent, (think of phrases like “pahk-tha-caah” and “ wicked smaht”). Tall and lanky with carefully groomed salt and pepper beard and hair, and always bespectacled in the latest fashion, Christopher somehow manages to look at ease both at a Celtics game or at an art gallery.
He is married to my sharp-witted, no-nonsense Korean American college roommate from a lifetime ago, and they have two amazing mixed-race children. Sitting down together virtually, we talked about what it’s like to be in a mixed family, the meaning behind the ‘American Pie’ artwork series, and how the experience of being in a mixed family has shaped his art and life.
Even over Zoom, Christopher’s easy manner comes through. As a third-generation Bostonian with French and Italian roots, he explains how food was an integral part of his family growing up, and something that brought his whole family together. He fondly remembers Sunday dinners with his cousins at his grandmother’s house, enjoying delicious home-cooked French meals, and Christmas Eves celebrated with classic Italian dishes like homemade gnocchi and raviolis. While holiday and weekend dinners highlight Gasper’s cultural heritage, Jenny explains how the family’s everyday meals typically lean more toward Korean food. She is particularly delighted by the fact that she has been able to pass down her love of dduk-gook (savory rice cakes in broth) and how the dish has now become her children’s favorite comfort food as well. On any given day, the Gasper family will gather around the table to enjoy pasta with banchans (little side dishes that come with Korean meals) and nosh on salads with chopsticks.
When asked about something else that makes them stand apart from other non-mixed families, the conversation steers back to the dinner table. Christopher and Jenny enthusiastically discuss how in their household, scissors are essential cutlery to be found on the table at all mealtimes. Scissors are ubiquitous in Korean restaurants and homes to cut everything from meat to kimchi into tiny bite-sized morsels, and the Gaspers are converts to the ingenious uses of scissors at mealtimes. Jenny points out how Christopher unyieldingly calls the scissors “Korean scissors” regardless of their brand or origin, and he laughingly admits to using scissors to cut up pizza. Like many mixed-race families, their cultural differences most often manifest through foods, and accordingly, the mealtimes are when culinary and cultural portmanteaus are created.
Along with sharing their cultural heritage through food, Christopher and Jenny talk about other ways that they have brought their cultural history to the family. Jenny talks about how her experience of growing up in an immigrant family has taught her to put things in perspective, and encourages her kids to work through life’s challenges by framing the issues in a bigger context. Christopher, who has grown up in a family of artists, musicians, and craftsmen, makes a point of introducing his kids to different types of art and fostering a close bond with the family.
Before he became an artist, Christopher worked for a major retail company for many years. Now as an artist, he uses his art to investigate the meanings of being self-aware in the present moment. Christopher talks about how being in a mixed-race family has broadened his knowledge of art and opened doors to new inspirations. There's a thoughtful quality to his work, and can be colorfully whimsical at times. So when I approached him with the idea for an art piece that celebrated the joys of being multiracial, he rose to the challenge.
Having two daughters, one who always gets asked ‘what are you?’ and another who always gets mistaken for being Asian, he explored the ideas of what it means to be mixed-race American and found the perfect symbolism in playing off of the familiar expression, “as American as apple pie.” To tie the art into the fall collection, he translated the hand painted textile patterns into the pie filling. With joyful colors and bold composition, the pieces channel Wayne Thiebaud, but with a distinct style of his own. Christopher’s ‘Pie’ series for 2021 Fall Portmanteau Home’s Asia collection epitomizes the identity of mixed-race people with a brilliant sense of humor, and I look forward to his further exploration of American iconography through the lens of multicultural America.
To learn more about Christopher’s artwork, visit https://www.christophergasper.