Sunday, May 04, 2008

Interview with John Casey

I finally met John Casey at Sketch Tuesdays, after seeing his name and drawings around galleries and online. Before talking about his work, we discussed the different artists drawing that night, reminding me that John is an artist who takes the time to invest in the bay area art scene, beyond promoting himself. Being one who sees lines in any art work before shading, John's work has always caught my eye. His drawings, sculptures, and installations pick up on the costumes required to carry out different forms of work and lifestyles. Looking at his beings, who resemble the human shape but morphed, causes the viewer to look for themselves, reflected somewhere within the layers of lines. Talking about his beings as monsters in his statement, he says it's appropriate if you use "descriptors like 'vulnerable' and 'fragile' to the definition of monster," which reminds me of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and how much I felt for him.

Read more about John Casey on his site,
Also check out his blog.

What do you think about when you don't think about your art work? What precedes a new idea for a drawing in your mind? Do you think about how people will perceive your images?

I think about way too much when not thinking about, or making art. Making art quiets the clamor in my head.

Ideas for drawings come from a variety of sources. I can be looking at someone moving from a shadow into light and I think "That light split on the figure could be conveyed in a abstract but oddly literal way in a drawing." It could be that vague or in the case where I just saw the German Expressionist silent film "Der Golem" from the 1920s, I made a drawing featuring my interpretation of a golem. I have my ideas of what these drawings mean but I don't expect viewers to interpret a drawing according to my own story line. The title of the work might point the way, but folks ideally would be telling themselves an interesting story while looking at my work. At least that's what I'm hoping for.

It's hard for me to see my work as others would see it. I try not be too concerned about the audience per se but... I guess if I could clone myself and look at my work objectively then the clone would be my audience. But then I'd have to fight the clone to the death because you know that making a clone of yourself never goes well.

I saw your recent blog post about collaborating with Cohen. You mentioned that you aren't one much for collaborating, but I liked how it turned out. Do you think you will be collaborating more in the future? What keeps you doing more solo work?

I've done a few. But collaborations can be tricky for me. Some folks are good at collaborating and the give and take. But generally I find that I can look at a first round of another artist's work and be baffled as to how to respond. Maybe art collaboration is like dancing. If I practice, and the dance partner(s) is good, I could learn to tango.

Cohen's work is generally abstract, so the narrative is totally open and fairly available to navigate. Why do I prefer the more isolated approach to art-making? During my process I try to access a personal mind space. It's the nature of my work to execute this process alone.

Many of your beings wear business suits or uniforms. Do you want to talk about that? What, if anything, do you think clothing has to say about a person?

These characters are members of the military/industrial/corporate complex. Actually I see the clothing as a sort of shield or armor. The character has some emotional complexity and vulnerability but the clothing gives them the implied protection of their status or membership in a particular organization.

You are decently present in the bay area art community, yet you went to art school on the east coast. How did you get so connected with folks out here? How does it affect your art and your life?

The east coast and west coast are two very different environments for sure. I grew up near Boston and lived there for many years. At the time, I imagined myself living there forever. I am a product of that environment. A bit of a wiseass, cynical as hell, and fiercely loyal. In New England it can be hard to make friends sometimes. It takes a lot of effort and emotional investment to befriend someone, and even if you get sick of them, you'd fight and die for them like family. You fight the traffic, the weather, and people's stubbornness. You fight the gallery hierarchy, harsh criticism, and old history. For years I thrived in this beautifully contentious environment.

About 10 years ago I migrated to Oakland in the dot com wave. The west coast offered me some breathing room. My blood-pressure dropped and my tastes expanded. There are a million artists here and a boatload of showing venues. A few years ago, post-dot com layoff, I decided to make a big push in terms of my art and art career. I started going to shows. Folks are open and you can talk to them. I always maintained a studio on both coasts but I really started to focus on the work here. The culture of positive reinforcement inspired me to approach galleries. I have my list of "It ain't as good as back east" complaints (especially pizza) but that list is pretty short these days.

Black and red are the colors you are using in your recent drawings. They also are very present in your sculptures. Why these colors? If you were to add others what would they be? Do you like to use only a certain number of different colors in a piece? Do colors or line movements come to you first?
(sorry that question just kept growing...)

I'd say I use these regularly, black and red ink on a creme-colored paper or, lately with sculpture khaki and red paint with an occasional brown. I like working within a set of very tight physical limitations. I seem to be able to develop my characters better without the distraction of many colors or different mediums. I often think that I should expand my mediums and colors, maybe paint in oil or gouache, but I am a creature of habit. If I do change it up, it will probably be so gradual, it will be like watching oil paint dry (or gouache).

What do you have coming up?

I will be executing an installation in the project space at Swarm Gallery in Oakland called "Picket Fencing." I'll be showing seven large-ish drawings on cutout birch plywood. I've been blogging about the process but haven't shown images of the completed work yet. Jeff Eisenberg and Chris Loomis will be showing in the main gallery. The opening reception will be on Friday May 23, from 6-9pm. The show will run through June 22.


Anonymous said...

I love your Site! Good images of John's new work.

Libby Nicholaou said...

Thanks for reading. I'm glad you like it!