dead in black and red.
john casey's superb line drawings of his alter egos pull me in completely. it's hard to not be taken w/ john's enormous talent and his characters. his lines are meticulously drawn and his subjects are oddly wonderful. john casey's installation picket fencing opens this friday at swarm gallery in oakland, california. john answered q&a's for me about his work and the inspiration behind it. i hope you guys dig it, i was stoked to read his thoughts. thanks john!
the phone call.
the reoccurring central theme in your drawings are male figures, often w/ some sort of malformed body part. where do these fellas you create come from?
the characters in my drawings are male simply because they are essentially self-portraits. the physical malformations my characters have are the result of biomorphology. my theory is if one could distort one's body based on one's emotion or psychological state, what would that look like? what if the body formed strange huge club-like limbs or a floating head on it's own, without the control of the owner? whether the figure is in control of that morphing, i'm not one hundred percent sure. i think it varies from work to work.
praying for takeoff.
your little guys have been described as monsters, you're not a fan of that word. how come?
i'm actually okay with the word if it is used in the complex sense of the concept as in mary shelley's frankenstein, a being who is ostracized from society but a being who also has complex emotions and a desire to belong, to be loved. the more simplistic idea of the monster being evil is what i reject. there is no such thing as pure evil.
your mom saved drawings of your's from your childhood, is there a specific drawing that stands out most in your mind?
there is one figure that has that special, turtle look with a round body and flipper arms that kids draw when they make a person. the head featured these spinny, spyro-graphic eyes and sharp, pointy teeth. i made this when i was three so i obviously had an interest in the expressive crazy characters even at that young age.
i know you were a big fan of creature double feature as a kid, do you still watch monster flicks?
not specifically. i like movies that have characters struggling with moral dilemmas that often result in monstrous choices and behavior. i love sci-fi flicks. i'm not into slasher films. i can't stomach those movies anymore. i think i've seen just enough real violence in my life that i don't need to see the gratuitous stuff.
what are some of your favorite movies? are there any specific movies that have influenced your work?
sure, i love cronenberg's naked lunch, julie taymor's titus has some truly mesmerizing surreal scenes, ken russell's altered states (talk about biomorphing), and anime movies like akira and sprited away. i saw der golem recently, the german expressionist film from 1920. the creature in that story inspired a specific drawing for me.
your work is so clean and refined, what do you draw w/?
i use micron pens, faber-castel pens and itoya pens on stonehenge print-making paper.
the prodigal son.
what was your earlier work at art school like?
pretty violent and expressive oil painting. i was an angst filled young man. now i am happily married and living a good life and appreciating it. hopefully, i am developing some restraint while still exploring strange psychological landscapes.
when looking at your work there is never any background, which is such a great backdrop for your subjects. it leaves so much to the imagination. is there a consistent running storyboard in your head when you draw? care to share what it is?
i abandoned specific backgrounds in my work around the time i started making sculpture. i decided to leave the narrative in the work pretty open to the viewer. eliminating backgrounds eliminated specific contexts and allowed me to fully focus on the figure development. my story takes place in a parallel universe where humans are not quite humans. the not-quite-humans are a lot like us but they have crazy powers of transformation (often unwanted transformation). they have the same emotions, similar clothing, and similar societal hierarchies. but they are not us and not bound by the same laws of physics.
you also create radical little sculptural dudes, any plans to create a vinyl toy in the future?
i've thought about it and had a few folks approach me with the concept. i'm not adverse to it, but i wonder if the vinyl toy market is over-saturated at this point? would folks be into that? i'm not a vinyl collector so I don't know.
color is pretty massive right now in contemporary art. you don't often use a lot of it but you recently "collaborated" w/ cohen and his watercolors. how was it incorporating color into your drawings? will we see more of it?
maybe. but i like to keep things like materials super simple. i'm a creature of habit and changes in my work happen at a glacial pace so maybe only a few colors at any given time.
you've got an installation show "picket fencing" at swarm gallery at the end of the month can you tell us about your motivation and drive behind it?
a dad told me a story about his four young sons. the boys were playing in the back yard and when the father went out to check on them he found that they had torn pickets off the pristine picket fence and they were sword fighting with them. this story really made me laugh. probably, because i have two younger brothers close in age. we menaced our neighborhood at times and played war games (this was back in the days when kids were given toy guns to play with). the picket fence has so many powerful connotations and it reminds me of new england where i grew up. so i am reinterpreting this scenario using my characters in the form of large-scale wood cutouts that will wrap the walls in swarm's project space.
what else is coming up for you?
i'm working on a book of my drawings which i will be published by rowan morrison. i'm shooting for sometime this fall for a release date. there should be 70+ drawings in there. TAG will have my work at their booth at the affordable art fair in NYC June 12-15. i have some group shows brewing in LA and the bay area and a solo at swarm next march which should be pretty darn epic if i do say so myself.
thanks for the interview meighan!