Artist Casey Gray has been repping the art world for a while now with his ornately detailed work using stencils and spray paint, and his upcoming show “Garden Party” at White Walls is no exception. I spent some time this week with him in his studio space – a giant converted warehouse he shares with ten other people – fully equipped with a skate ramp, art studios and a recording studio. Though Casey has been pretty elusive about his signature style, you really do wonder how he produces such detailed work using spray paint – he let me get an inside look at his process. Read his interview below:
“Garden Party” will consist of selections from three distinct bodies of work, with the main focus centered on Casey’s exploration of 17th century Flemish still life painting using his hand-drawn stencil technique. Also included for the first time will be a new series of abstract geometric “spectrum” paintings as well as vividly colorful collages made from skateboard grip tape. If you’re free this weekend, the opening reception is Saturday, October 6th, from 7-11pm and is open to the public through November 3rd, 2012.
LF: “Garden Party” is your third solo exhibition at White Walls. How has your work evolved in your time there?
CG: I’ve never been the type of painter that is happy making the same work over and over again. It is essential for me to feel that I am growing as an artist and that my work is consistently progressing and evolving. Over the years with White Walls, my work has moved through a variety of different themes and concepts. In the beginning it was mostly narrative-based and very graphic. Now with this third solo show, Garden Party, I have shifted from making work ‘about things’ to literally making work about ‘things’. My discovery of different stencil materials have opened up my work to new directions I never imagined I would travel in. The one thing that has always stayed the same is my commitment to spray paint and the Xacto knife.
LF: The subject matter of this exhibition – still lifes based on 17th century Flemish still life painting – feels quieter than your past work. Does this say something about where you are in your life?
CG: I don’t think that my life or my work is any quieter than it has been in the past, but I agree that it has gotten more focused and controlled. My color palette hasn’t changed much but I believe has gotten more sophisticated. What has gotten tamer is the way I approach depth, form and content. The still life paintings are much more based in a sort of relative realism than my work in the past. However, this show has quite a few large ‘Spectrum’ paintings that are as rhythmic, loud and colorful as any good club experience.
LF: You’re spray paint/stencil approach is uniquely you. Any secrets you want to share?
CG: I can tell you that every image, object, shape or detail in my newest work is 100 percent drawn and then cut by hand, usually from a digital reference. I find it quite interesting to have an image of anything and everything in the world only a click away.
LF: This body of work examines the traditional vs. the contemporary. Are they always somehow intertwined or innately separate? Then to continue this question, are you a digital or an analog guy?
CG: Any good historian would tell you that you can’t fully understand the present without at least a basic understanding of the past, so in that sense I would say they are always intertwined and informing one another. It’s a constant dialogue.
LF: You have a formal painting education. Do you think you would be the same painter without the formal hats?
CG: Although you do not need a formal education to be a successful artist, I definitely would not be making the work I am today without one. The discourse, community and above all, time to develop my work that art school provided are simply invaluable to me.
LF: How has skating shaped your art life?
CG: Skateboarding taught me a variety of things from a very young age like individuality and how to look at the world in a creative light. It teaches you a different perspective for looking at architecture and the urban environment, finding beauty and opportunity in what can be largely overlooked and undervalued spaces. It had a profound impact on the way I use color as well.
LF: I love the grip tape idea. How did you come up with this as a medium?
CG: I hadn’t been able to skate as much as I’d like to over the last couple years and I had really been missing it. While setting up a new deck one day it sort of just hit me that it wasn’t just the act of skating that I missed but the physical sensation of setting up a new complete. The texture of the grip is so rewarding to work with but at the same time it tears up my fingers. I have a real emotional connection to the material and I wanted to translate that into a more formal art practice.
LF: What’s your favorite past-time? (Besides making art)
CG: Traveling, skateboarding, spending time with my girlfriend Lauren and my family.
LF: Most inspiring artists to you right now?
CG: That’s a tough question to answer. There are so many talented artists in San Francisco that inspire me on a day to day basis however for this exhibition I drew much of my inspiration from notable historical artists such as Balthasar van der Ast, Ambrosias Bosschaert, Renoir and Matisse.
This is the upstairs of the studio where the recording studios are. Casey is roommates with Ben Swardlick, Eric Luttrell and Andy Coenen – otherwise known as The M Machine – a fast rising electronic music group. They performed at Outside Lands Music Festival this year and were recently showcased in Wired Magazine, which you can read here. Interestingly, the studio was equipped with the recording studio when they moved in, as it was the former space where iconic 70s band Journey lived.
Above Casey holds up one of The M Machine’s posters, and below the work of White Walls artist Chris Blackstock – who did concept sketches and the album cover for the group’s first EP release under Skrillex’s new label, OWSLA. He developed concept sketches and . Check out the sketches here!
LF: What gets you off, literally or figuratively?
CG: Four on the floor with an epic bassline.
LF: How FAST do you live?
CG: Fast as I know how.