My show, “Happy Accidents” at The Compound Gallery in Oakland is the culmination of a year of color exploration in paint using panels, wood cutouts, and sculptures. This is an epiphany for me, using color at this level. For many years I have primarily made drawings of invented characters using pen and ink, with mostly black ink and a little reddish-sepia ink thrown in now and again. Even my earlier small figurative sculptures had a very limited palette. I am a character creator by trade. My limited palette allowed me to focus on the emotional and psychological nature of these characters and not be distracted by other big elements such as color.
But after over a decade of pen and ink, I wanted to loosen up my approach to my art making. A couple of years ago I switched from pen and began using pencil so I could introduce a subtractive process (erasing) and open my process up to more discoveries. I needed a way to make a mess, and discover the figure’s essence within that mess. I also introduced some colored pencils to increase the emotional vibrancy.
Then, just over a year ago, I decided to experiment painting again. I graduated with a BFA in painting from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1988. I very quickly abandoned painting after graduating so needless to say, it had been a while since I painted formally. I decided to approach painting this time as loosely as possible. My goal was to rediscover my creative “play space” and find the joy of making art again. Not that my previous way of working was without satisfaction. It was just too overly controlled. Instead of planning and mapping out my whole approach to a piece, I just start moving paint around the panel surface and let the shapes and brush strokes help dictate the character’s form to me. It’s the “happy accidents” in the painting process that I now look for.
These portraits of characters are completely invented, usually representative of a kind of psychological self-portrait. Others represent people I have encountered throughout my lifetime, friends, neighbors, and generally everyday folks. These beings are not specific portraits, more like the impression of various people. The character’s life-story is left open to interpretation, inviting the viewer into the story-telling process. I’ve always enjoyed working with open-ended narrative. My new painting adventure keeps the character narrative truly open and honest, or at least that is my hope.
I’ve known Lena and Matt, owners of The Compound Gallery, for a number of years. I have covered their gallery on my blog many times. I have always enjoyed the exhibitions in the gallery, along with the great artist studio community there. After my long tenure at Swarm Gallery I was looking to show in Oakland again. I originally proposed showing an exhibition of a large collaborative project I have going on called “Hands and Pants” which include collaborative drawings by me and over 100 artists. As that discussion progressed, it occurred to me that I could debut the new color work in a solo exhibition. Matt and Lena liked the idea a lot since they had been tracking the new work on my social media. The Compound Gallery space really shows the new work well with a partition wall that encourages intimate viewing of the smaller works, as well as nice sight lines of discovery as the viewer walks around the space. It’s a very nice fit. Not so much an accidental partnership between artist and gallery, but one I am very happy with.
John Casey, “Happy Accidents” will be at The Compound Gallery 1167 65th St. Oakland through March 8, 2015