The Proust Questionnaire: Chris Cran

The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.



Photo: Denise Clarke

Chris Cran is an internationally recognized painter who lives and works in Calgary, Alberta. His work explores issues of representation, related on the one hand to the construction of personal and cultural identities, and on the other to perceptual/cognitive illusion — both interests critically underpinned by a disarming and inventive sense of humour. 

He has exhibited widely around the world, including shows at 49th Parallel in New York City (1992), Taejon Expo ’93 in South Korea, and the Fourth International Painting Biennial in Cuenca, Ecuador (1994). The twenty-year survey exhibition, Chris Cran — Surveying the Damage, 1977 to 1997, curated by Clint Roenisch, was organized by the Kelowna Art Gallery and toured nationally from 1998 to 2000. A catalogue accompanied the exhibition, with essays by Dr. Roald Nasgaard and art critic Nancy Tousley.  

Cran’s paintings are included in numerous collections, such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon), the Glenbow Museum (Calgary), the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Nickle Arts Museum (University of Calgary), the Kelowna Art Gallery and the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (Toronto). He has also ventured into a variety of other related activities, including teaching art, curating exhibitions, and designing theatre sets.

Cran was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy in 2002. He received the ACAD Alumni Award of Excellence in 2011, and the Doug and Lois Mitchell Outstanding Calgary Artist Award in 2014. In 2015 and early 2016, his work was on view in Sincerely Yours at the Art Gallery of Alberta and Inherent Virtue at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery. These two exhibitions are combined in the special exhibition Chris Cran: Sincerely Yours, on view at the National Gallery of Canada until September 5, 2016. Surveying Cran’s artistic production over the past forty years, Sincerely Yours features over 100 paintings and drawings from the national collection, other institutions, and private lenders, and is the most comprehensive exhibition on Cran ever produced.


Your earliest memory of art:

A watercolour by British artist A.E. Chaton, R.A. from 1830 that hung in my family home. Also, watercolours by my great-grandfather, George Lingford, and my great-uncle, Ernest Ehlers.

When you knew this would become your vocation:

About twenty years later, when my friend Herald Nix put a canvas in front of me, and a paintbrush in my hand, and suggested I try it. After the first painting I was hooked.

Your greatest influence:


Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):


Favourite pastime (other than art):

Doing whatever I wanted.

Favourite artists:

Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Juan Gris, Laurie Anderson, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Rita McKeough, Vikky Alexander, Ron Moppett, Christian Eckart, John Will, Michael Morris, Hyang Cho.

Favourite writers and musician/composers:

William S. Burroughs, Cormac McCarthy, Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges; Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Howlin’ Wolf, Fred McDowell, Blue Sky Boys, Carl Stalling, Alejandro Escovedo, Jason Moran, Herald Nix, k.d. lang, Mary Gauthier, Tom Waits, George Jones.

Favourite colour, flower and bird:

The grey of a shadow; daffodil; crow (I had three as pets when I was young).

Favourite food and drink:

Roasted almonds; black tea.

Favourite smell and sound:

Freshly cooked dinner, and the voice that says, “Dinner’s ready.”

Favourite object:

My f—ing computer.

Favourite environment or landscape:


Favourite weather or season:


Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:

“ Di’n’t neither.”

Pet peeve:

False accusations.

Best quality:

Ability to get over false accusations.

Worst flaw:

Delighting in false accusations.

Your definition of happiness:

Here right now with my wife, Denise.

Ideal place to live:


A recurring dream:

I have to pee.

One wish:

That I didn’t have to pee right now (while I am dreaming).

Aspirations before you die:

To keep on going and going and going.

To me art is:

The most fun.


Chris Cran: Sincerely Yours is on view at the National Gallery of Canada until September 5, 2016. For more information please click here.

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