You might wonder who's behind the minimalistic, disturbing, and surprising artwork on the brand new Composer release. His name : John Casey, US Citizen, california lover and beer drinker. With this release, Composer gives us the chance to discover a bit more about him and his work. Fasten your seat belt. We are heading to Oakland, California.
Composer : Hi John! How are you doing?
John : I'm doing very well. I have a show coming up in a week in Oakland and I have most of the work completed. That can be a rare thing.
C: You live on Oakland, California, which is not far from Berkeley University. Are you still a student?
J: No, I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Fine Arts in Boston. I graduated in 1988. I've considered graduate school but I really don't want the debt burden.
C: How's life down there?
J: Pretty nice. Oakland is very different from Boston. We have nicer weather. People are more relaxed and the creative environment is more supportive. I miss Boston sometimes. I miss the attitude, the sarcasm, and the accent.
C: Can you see the golden gate from your kitchen?
J: Ha! No, I can see the Bay Bridge and the Oakland Tribune building on a sunny day. We are on the top floor of a three-story apartment building. It's a nice view.
C: What about the artistic community?
J: Oakland has been experiencing a huge renaissance in art. Many galleries have opened (and closed) since 2005. A gallery event formed in 2006 called Oakland Art Murmur and has been getting bigger and bigger since. More galleries are participating. San Francisco has it's own huge arts community and it is only a short drive or train ride over from Oakland. I believe there are more artists per square mile in the Bay Area than even New York City.
C: You were born in Salem, Massachusetts, the scariest city in the states. To explain to the French reader, this city still hosts secret witches, who are responsible of true disasters in the world (including the Bush family reign, death of Michael Jackson, MIR station fall, and the Sarkozy shoulders shaking syndrome). Does your origin influence your work at some point ?
J: Actually I was born on Friday the 13th in Salem, Massachusetts so how could I NOT be influenced by my origin? There are still many practicing witches in Salem, many out in the open. What they are responsible for, I dare not say, but I imagine (and hope)that some are good witches.
C: Most of your drawings are really freaky. I would say beautiful freaks. You draw characters not as we can see them, but as they might sees themselves. And they become creatures. That's why actually we really wanted to collaborate with you on this record. There's a little of us in any of the drawings.There's melancholy and (infinite) sadness, human condition, poesy, and distress that comes along a true sense of fragility. Do you have a meaning, a main idea behind the artistic aspect, or is it only an aesthetic direction?
J: You have pretty much gleaned the core of the meaning of my work, which is quite flattering. Many folks are put off by the freakiness of the characters, but I hope they come across as more complex and vulnerable. You see that, which I appreciate.
C: You are only working with pencils? Aren't you?
J: I have switched from pen and ink to pencil recently but I use both sometimes.
C: Have you ever think of making a comic books?
J: I have been asked if I would have interest in making comics or animation. I feel like I am just getting the gist of drawing. Those other formats should be left to those experts I think, but you never know.
C: Is it the most inspiring period for you, or were you more productive in the past? Recently in what way your work has the most evolved (if so!) ? What are your projects ?
J: I did a lot of oil painting in art school. Once I graduated, I made sculpture mostly working in wood and paper pulp and clay. About 10 years ago, I began drawing some. Now I mostly draw and occasionally sculpt. I like sculpting and would like to do more, but drawing suits my creative ideas more these days. I finally feel like I am making the work I want to make.
C: I've been told that you'll be exhibiting at the Gallery Polaris in Paris next year. Could you tell us more about that?
J: I am working on 20-30 drawings that will be in that show in late March. I'm not sure what the content will involve per se. That is still developing. Hopefully the show will coincide with the Drawing Now Art Fair in Paris. I have only seen photos from the fair and I would love to attend next year. So having an exhibition and attending the fair, and visiting Paris, then off to Belgium for good beer may be on the agenda.
C: Will you be showing new works?
J: Oh yes, all the works will be new and specifically for Polaris.
C: Now, let's ask some serious questions. Do you really think Pixies should have reformed?
J: Oh sure. They are a great band. I saw them back in 1987 in a small club Boston and then reformed in 2006 in Berkeley at the Greek Amphitheater. Two completely different viewing experiences. The Boston show in '87 was shock and awe, the show in Berkeley was nostalgically warm and fuzzy.
C: What kind of music are you listening to right now?
J: At this very moment I am listening to Thomas Stronen. Nice low key avant jazz, good for studio work. That said, I love loud and poppy stuff as well. I've been listening to Fucked Up, The Antlers, The Art Museums, Wolves in the Throne Room, Boris, Wooden Shjips, White Denim, TV on the Radio, Salem, Neutral Milk Hotel, Mogwai, M83, James Blake, Grizzly Bear, and Fleet Foxes. And I'm always revisiting oldies like Jethro Tull, early Queen, Miles Davis, Electric Light Orchestra, Yes, stuff like that.
C: What was the last gig you attended to? Can you tell us more about the San Francisco music scene?
J: I honestly don't know much about the local scene. I don't go to shows much these days but I may find myself at a loft party and a band will be playing and everyone seems to know who they are. One of the best shows I saw recently was in a huge warehouse space in Oakland. It was Religious Girls and Jel of Anticon fame. Two different kinds of music but they complimented each other very well.
C: On your blog, there's a bunch of beers pics. It looks like you are a real beer lover. I guess we share the same problem (actually, is it a problem?).
Thing is, French beers taste like shit. We have no choices but drink Belgium beers, which is not patriotic at all. What was the best beer you ever drink?
J: Yeah, I've heard France is a beer wasteland. Too bad. There are many many terrific craft beers in America. It would be hard to pick a favorite. Pliny the Elder brewed by Russian River Brewing Company in California is pretty darn great. There are a lot of tasty hoppy IPAs in California, But I like Mikkeller beers from Denmark and De Molen beers from Holland. Two amazing European brewers that import to the USA. If you could find those in France, I'd strongly recommend those. Smart Americans don't let patriotism get in the way of good beer. We are a global village eh?
C: I've watched this very funny show called 'Portlandia' and now I'd really like to move to Portland, Oregon. I'm stuck in the 90's too and in my American dream. As an American, would you also have an “European dream” ?
J: I have only seen one episode of Portlandia. It's pretty funny and accurate as far as I can tell from the few visits there. My European dream would be to live in Amsterdam or Berlin and make art and ride a Dutch bike. I love the bike culture in Amsterdam. Plus Europe has the nicest cleanest, quietest trains I have ever ridden. Try taking BART in the Bay Area. I think I'm going deaf from it!
C: Let's go more polemic. On the east cost, people were making a lot of fun of California :”it's a world within the states. California is really different. They should be independent”. You know both sides of the states. What makes California so different from the rest of the US ?
J: California historically is the final destination for western expansionism in the USA. Its the land where people who wanted to escape old European conventions traveled to and settled. It's a very creative and independent place. When I lived back east I made fun of California. Bay Watch was my point of reference so of course I thought the place was absurdly silly. When my wife got a job offer in the Bay Area, I was hesitant to move. I remember arriving and watching the newscast where the announcer said "Broadcasting from the greatest place on earth!" I though 'holy shit, who are these people(?), the audacity of these fools!" Then after living here for a year or so, I realized I was completely seduced and will probably never live anywhere else. I've live here for 13 years and I think this place saved me creatively. I blossomed here, I have total creative freedom. Where else in the USA can that happen?
C: and let's make sci fi : what social or political event would lead California to the independence?
J: California could never declare independence without entering into a civil war. There are two reasons, California has a large stock of nuclear missiles and the central valley grows a large percentage of the food for the USA. Now if there were a huge earthquake and California actually separated from the continent and floated off into the Pacific Ocean, then there may be an opportunity there.
C: For the end, i'd like to know if it was the first time a band ask you for art cover? Did you enjoy the experience?
J: I enjoyed working with you Eric. In the past I have done a few covers for bands. Unfortunately they modified my art too much for my taste. You kept the art intact and the modifications you've made compliment the work. I enjoy your music and the fonts are classy too. I thank you for that.
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