Penciling in the Madness: Raccoons, Magic Mushrooms and More From John Casey's Bizarre World of Art
"I’m fascinated by hands as metaphors for creativity..."
What is your favorite brand of pants?
Levis and Dickies.
What is your preferred medium to create art with?
Pencil and colored pencil, although I dabble with a lot of different mediums.
Who was your first concert?
Ha! Seals and Crofts at Tanglewood in the Berkshires in Massachusetts in 1976. I was at summer camp and that was one of our field trips. My first concert of choice was probably The Cars at the Boston Garden in 1980.
What animal would benefit the most from having hands?
Wow, I can only imagine how crafty raccoons would be if they had actual opposable thumbs? They are crazy adept with their current paws, but they’d probably take over the world with little human hands.
We love your use of hands and pants in your work. How did you develop that style?
I was looking for a way to make collaborative drawings with a variety of artists. I wanted to show all the works together, so I needed a theme. I’m fascinated by hands as metaphors for creativity, communication, and hard work. I always gravitate to the figure, so I decided to make pants as a foundation and hands as an endpoint and let the collaborator draw the in-between. That project became huge (handsandpants.com) and took on a life of its own paralleling my own practice and inevitably the hands and pants combo became a regular motif in my own personal work.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
In art, as in life, pay it forward. If you work with other artists, help them hang their show and talk up their work if you dig it. Volunteer for art non-profits. If you apply to a show and get rejected, send a thank you for the time the gallerist took to consider your application. Generate this positive energy and folks will usually consider you for various opportunities. Plus, you meet lots of interesting folks and make friends, some which last a lifetime.
If your fish sculpture took its pants off, would we have some reverse-mermaid action going on down there?
Do you have any big projects coming up?
I do. I received a grant from the Svane Family Foundation which will result in making a piece for a show featuring the theme of “The Ark.” It’s a metaphor for the world gathering to ride out the storm of these troubling times. Since the grant was generous, I want to make a large and very detailed piece which I have just begun. It’s a challenging project.
We love seeing work come to life from paper to other mediums. Do you plan out which drawings you will eventually sculpt or do you just until you have one you like?
My drawing informs my sculpture and vice versa. Often, I draw first, and it dawns on me that a particular character would make a good sculpture or painted wood cutout.
Who are some of your inspirations?
Scientists and inventors, artists and poets, activists and community-minded people.
If you could have a superpower what would want?
Be the ultimate polymath and able to speak any language alive or dead.
Do you have a favorite animal to draw?
Raccoons. They have so much personality and are so compelling and clever. Everyone has an opinion about them, but personally I love them.
Has quarantine impacted your work in any major ways?
Oh yeah. In the beginning a cranked out a number of pandemic themed drawings. I even made some cute Coronavirus sculptures. Portraying the thing you fear as an oddball character, lessens the fear somewhat and can be super cathartic.
You seem to use mushrooms a lot in your art. Are you well-versed in mycology?
Not really. I just loved the color and shape variety of mushrooms and of course the idea that they are neither plant nor animal is pretty alien and wild.
My website in johncasey.com and I have a shop with some merch on there. My IG is at @johncaseyart and I show some process stuff there. Folks can inquire about my work directly to me via the IG DM. I also have work at a number of galleries, but I’d say check out Antler Gallery (https://www.antlerpdx.com/collections/john-casey) in Portland and Galerie Polaris (http://www.galeriepolaris.fr/artistes/john-casey/) in Paris.