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Introducing... Craig Calderwood


CRAIG CALDERWOOD
Interview

George Adams Gallery: Tell us about your childhood – you were born and raised in Bakersfield? How long did you stay there? Where did you go from there?
Craig Calderwood: I only Lived in Bakersfield for a few years until my parents moved us a few hours over into Clovis, CA. But I have lived all over the Valley in the Country and in the City. Though my memories of that place are, mmm all over the place, It has definitely had an important impact on my aesthetic choices, themes, and materials.
GAG: As a young child you loved to draw. When did you begin to think about becoming an artist? What were the alternatives?
CC: Since I can remember I’ve been drawing or making, I believe as a young person image making became an important outlet and social tool for my closeted self. It was a means for me to express desire, care, and create movement around parts of myself that had to remain safe from the environments I was in. This act of using image making as a sort of private language still dominates my practice today, I always say I accidentally took part in the Canon of queer coding as a kid, “Accidentally”. I found a lot of inspiration in Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Video Game Illustrations early on and sought to emulate that detail oriented praxis as well. For a while as a young person I desired to be a surgeon, but that quickly fell off as my interests turned to music, particularly performing on the upright bass. Playing in the orchestra, wind symphony and marching band saved my little queer soul as a kid, and even though I had planned on making a career in music, a printmaking class I took at Fresno City College sort of changed my trajectory.
GAG: When you say that you were self-taught, tell us about how that came about.  
CC: Aside from my own desire to push myself as an artist I was around a lot of creativity as a child, my Mom is a manicurist and my Dad had this physical intelligence around objects and could just do things. I always say I am self taught and then say, “well I took a few classes at the City College in Fresno,” which is to say that the way I make art is more akin to how I did before my time at city college. But I had some really amazing teachers that planted a few seeds that would help direct how I utilize those skills. The aforementioned printmaking class in particular really grabbed me; funnily enough, I took it to learn how to print on shirts and then fell in Love with the intaglio process. The camaraderie of the class and the generous instruction of our teacher Nicholas Spohrer really moved me. And even though I do not really print anymore, I am very grateful for my time there, I met one of my best friends because of that class. So my sort of drive to create art mixed with proximity to familial creativity, and my short time at City College, really ignited a soft flame in myself that would truly erupt upon moving to San Francisco.


GAG: Fabric, embroidery – how did you come to work in these materials? 
CC: I spent a lot of time around furniture as a young person; my Dad is an upholsterer and was in furniture sales and then delivery for many years. So I sort of found myself just touching fabric all the time. During my stint with printmaking I remember making band patches, silkscreening on corduroy, and admiring the deep textures of the printmaking papers. So I have had an interest in textile and texture and woven things for a long time.
When I started making paintings with craft paint it felt more natural to do that on various upholstery fabrics rather than canvas. I wanted the surface of the textile to be just as important as the paint, or to be present as much as possible. This definitely feels like a carry over from printmaking, where the paper you use is vital to what your results are. My sculpture, though not my main focus, utilizes textiles heavily, sort of as a response to the other work… Sculpture finds its place in my art making when it feels like, haha. 
GAG: You work on both a large and small scale, in stitched fabric, ink on paper, and sculpture. Do you have a particular comfort zone? Any other medium I don’t know about?
CC: I find it incredibly stifling to imagine myself using one material or set of techniques to make artwork. I feel like every material I use feeds another, like there is a sort of infinite learning to me even within, say, changing the size of a pen handle: it changes the way you work, it exercises your mind, challenges what you feel comfortable with. I’ve recently begun making ceramics and have been painting a bit with brushes and I really enjoy how working with those materials affects my drawing. Which is usually where I always return when I want a break from everything else. I tend to work with materials that are relatively unforgiving. Mistakes and failures are sort of integrated shamelessly into my work, sometimes even taking center stage. I find that using something like an ink pen forces me to slow my pace a little, I can be a bit of a runaway train narratively speaking so it helps to have materials that slow me down and make me think more about my next set of moves.
GAG: What are your influences? Writers, musicians, actors, activists, artists, public figures, private figures…?
CC: Many of my early influences came from video game illustrators like Yoshitaka Amano or Keiji Inafune. As well as some of the artists I stumbled upon through my parents' fantasy art books like Mel Odom. I was really obtuse around the art world for many years and didn’t really give it a chance until moving to SF. Aside from my City College Moment, I like to joke I went to school at PBS; for whatever reason I became enraptured with documentaries and docu-series about art and artists, even if I disliked the artist, I wanted to know how they thought about making. I found myself being drawn to artists who try many different ways of making, Like Kiki Smith or Wangechi Mutu or Paul McCarthy. I also continuously find influence in Queer art and film, John Waters, Jerome Caja, Leigh Bowery…So many to name! And I listen to a lot of Kate Bush.


GAG: Why did you choose to live and work in the Bay Area?
CC: Well, my moving here sort of happened spur of the moment, my dear friend Julz Kelly was moving to SF and basically said you’re coming with me. Aaaand here I am. Haha. But I mean of course the reasons why I agreed was I wanted to really try and be an artist, I wanted to be in a place where being out and Queer felt much safer than where I was living. And I really just needed to get out of the Valley. 
GAG: You said you wanted to “destabilize a person’s ability to approach my work with an idea of a Binary Gender” Can you talk about that more?
CC: I really enjoy sort of utilizing a figure and then packing in patterns and textures to sort of obliterate the form. It feels sort of connected to my own person, like scrutiny around the exposed body in more traditional figurative work is something I would like to avoid, as I would like to avoid with my own figure. Genderlessness feels like this very relaxing place for me, and I want my figures to not always read in any direction. I want to imagine what narratives appear when the traditions of Man and Women are disintegrated or maximized to unreadable proportions.
GAG: The earliest exhibition listed on your resume was titled “Best Revenge: A Beautiful Fuck You.” Care to comment?
CC: My first real show in SF! This was curated by artists Caitlin Rose Sweet and Lex Non Scripta and was this amazing crawl in SF to several venues where I was showing some drawings in the 22nd St Co-Op with artist friend Nicki Green and many others. Looking back at the list of people that were in the show, it’s sort of amazing to see so many people I still talk to, show with, and admire. Best Revenge felt like this display of irreverence and togetherness, Like an Unruly Web.
GAG: And then there’s the profile in Dot 429 Magazine published in 2013 titled “Meet Craig Calderwood the Gay Failure.” Any truth to that?
CC: Haha, this article seems to reveal itself time and time again. A handful of years before moving to San Francisco I began to dis-identify with being a Man and Gay, and sort of desired something I did not quite have the language for. GenderFuck was sort of the closest thing I had heard of through fringe bits of media I could get a hold of, but turns out Queer and Trans were what I really needed. Being a Gay Failure I suppose means I did not really move with ease through Cis Gay Male social and sexual spaces and truly just didn’t feel connected to that microcosm. I feel like a lot of non-binary people can sort of relate to failing at our firsts attempts at “LGBTQA+” life. BUT I think failing is great, it's more of a portal to something better than what we are usually taught it is. Though Failure can feel embarrassing or painful even, it’s truly a bountiful opportunity to paradigm shift and grow.
GAG: So, obviously not: you were recently selected for a major commission at the San Francisco Airport. You’ve shown us the mock up and it is a very ambitious project. Tell us about it.
CC: Art has been something that my confidence in does not often waver. Which just means I love it and feel good about what I make for the most part. Last year was a rough one, and when I saw the application for this mural I sort of dedicated all my time to it. It’s a little hard to grasp still, it’s three stories and a rather large surface area, and thematically was to be inspired by Harvey Milk's legacy. I find legacy to be a really interesting and sometimes complicated idea, as the person who has passed has little control of how their image is used and what their legacy actually is. I approached it like any of my pieces. I did research, decided on symbols and patterns and shapes to express my interpretation of the prompt. I decided to make imagery that celebrated otherness and imagines a togetherness in that otherness.

header

Craig Calderwood, Notes On ♀ On ♂ from My Eight Year Old Self, 2018. Dimensional paint, thread, upholstery on fabric, 51 x 46 inches.

We are pleased to be showing paintings and drawings by San Francisco-based artist Craig Calderwood, as part of our exhibition "Shapeshifters," opening October 28th. In advance of the exhibition, Craig spoke to us about their use of textiles and other materials, influences from video game illustrations to PBS docu-series, and how "genderless-ness" manifests in their work.

Q&A 1

Craig Calderwood working in their studio, San Francisco, CA, 2021.

George Adams Gallery:   Tell us about your childhood – you were born and raised in Bakersfield? How long did you stay there? Where did you go from there?

Craig Calderwood:   I only Lived in Bakersfield for a few years until my parents moved us a few hours over into Clovis, CA. But I have lived all over the Valley in the Country and in the City. Though my memories of that place are, mmm all over the place, It has definitely had an important impact on my aesthetic choices, themes, and materials.

GAG:   As a young child you loved to draw. When did you begin to think about becoming an artist? What were the alternatives?

CC:   Since I can remember I’ve been drawing or making, I believe as a young person image making became an important outlet and social tool for my closeted self. It was a means for me to express desire, care, and create movement around parts of myself that had to remain safe from the environments I was in. This act of using image making as a sort of private language still dominates my practice today, I always say I accidentally took part in the Canon of queer coding as a kid, “Accidentally”. I found a lot of inspiration in Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Video Game Illustrations early on and sought to emulate that detail oriented praxis as well. For a while as a young person I desired to be a surgeon, but that quickly fell off as my interests turned to music, particularly performing on the upright bass. Playing in the orchestra, wind symphony and marching band saved my little queer soul as a kid, and even though I had planned on making a career in music, a printmaking class I took at Fresno City College sort of changed my trajectory.

Studio view, Craig Calderwood, San Francisco 2021.

View of Craig Calderwood's studio, San Francisco, CA, 2021.

GAG:   When you say that you were self-taught, tell us about how that came about.  

CC:   Aside from my own desire to push myself as an artist I was around a lot of creativity as a child, my Mom is a manicurist and my Dad had this physical intelligence around objects and could just do things. I always say I am self taught and then say, “well I took a few classes at the City College in Fresno,” which is to say that the way I make art is more akin to how I did before my time at city college. But I had some really amazing teachers that planted a few seeds that would help direct how I utilize those skills. The aforementioned printmaking class in particular really grabbed me; funnily enough, I took it to learn how to print on shirts and then fell in Love with the intaglio process. The camaraderie of the class and the generous instruction of our teacher Nicholas Spohrer really moved me. And even though I do not really print anymore, I am very grateful for my time there, I met one of my best friends because of that class. So my sort of drive to create art mixed with proximity to familial creativity, and my short time at City College, really ignited a soft flame in myself that would truly erupt upon moving to San Francisco.

GAG:   Fabric, embroidery – how did you come to work in these materials? 

CC:   I spent a lot of time around furniture as a young person; my Dad is an upholsterer and was in furniture sales and then delivery for many years. So I sort of found myself just touching fabric all the time. During my stint with printmaking I remember making band patches, silkscreening on corduroy, and admiring the deep textures of the printmaking papers. So I have had an interest in textile and texture and woven things for a long time.
When I started making paintings with craft paint it felt more natural to do that on various upholstery fabrics rather than canvas. I wanted the surface of the textile to be just as important as the paint, or to be present as much as possible. This definitely feels like a carry over from printmaking, where the paper you use is vital to what your results are. My sculpture, though not my main focus, utilizes textiles heavily, sort of as a response to the other work… Sculpture finds its place in my art making when it feels like, haha. 

GAG:   You work on both a large and small scale, in stitched fabric, ink on paper, and sculpture. Do you have a particular comfort zone? Any other medium I don’t know about?

CC:   I find it incredibly stifling to imagine myself using one material or set of techniques to make artwork. I feel like every material I use feeds another, like there is a sort of infinite learning to me even within, say, changing the size of a pen handle: it changes the way you work, it exercises your mind, challenges what you feel comfortable with. I’ve recently begun making ceramics and have been painting a bit with brushes and I really enjoy how working with those materials affects my drawing. Which is usually where I always return when I want a break from everything else. I tend to work with materials that are relatively unforgiving. Mistakes and failures are sort of integrated shamelessly into my work, sometimes even taking center stage. I find that using something like an ink pen forces me to slow my pace a little, I can be a bit of a runaway train narratively speaking so it helps to have materials that slow me down and make me think more about my next set of moves.

"Genderlessness feels like this very relaxing place for me, and I want my figures to not always read in any direction. I want to imagine what narratives appear when the traditions of Man and Women are disintegrated or maximized to unreadable proportions."

GAG:   What are your influences? Writers, musicians, actors, activists, artists, public figures, private figures…?

CC:   Many of my early influences came from video game illustrators like Yoshitaka Amano or Keiji Inafune. As well as some of the artists I stumbled upon through my parents' fantasy art books like Mel Odom. I was really obtuse around the art world for many years and didn’t really give it a chance until moving to SF. Aside from my City College Moment, I like to joke I went to school at PBS; for whatever reason I became enraptured with documentaries and docu-series about art and artists, even if I disliked the artist, I wanted to know how they thought about making. I found myself being drawn to artists who try many different ways of making, Like Kiki Smith or Wangechi Mutu or Paul McCarthy. I also continuously find influence in Queer art and film, John Waters, Jerome Caja, Leigh Bowery…So many to name! And I listen to a lot of Kate Bush.

GAG:   Why did you choose to live and work in the Bay Area?

CC:   Well, my moving here sort of happened spur of the moment, my dear friend Julz Kelly was moving to SF and basically said you’re coming with me. Aaaand here I am. Haha. But I mean of course the reasons why I agreed was I wanted to really try and be an artist, I wanted to be in a place where being out and Queer felt much safer than where I was living. And I really just needed to get out of the Valley. 

GAG:   You said you wanted to “destabilize a person’s ability to approach my work with an idea of a Binary Gender” Can you talk about that more?

CC:   I really enjoy sort of utilizing a figure and then packing in patterns and textures to sort of obliterate the form. It feels sort of connected to my own person, like scrutiny around the exposed body in more traditional figurative work is something I would like to avoid, as I would like to avoid with my own figure. Genderlessness feels like this very relaxing place for me, and I want my figures to not always read in any direction. I want to imagine what narratives appear when the traditions of Man and Women are disintegrated or maximized to unreadable proportions.

GAG: The earliest exhibition listed on your resume was titled “Best Revenge: A Beautiful Fuck You.” Care to comment?

CC:   My first real show in SF! This was curated by artists Caitlin Rose Sweet and Lex Non Scripta and was this amazing crawl in SF to several venues where I was showing some drawings in the 22nd St Co-Op with artist friend Nicki Green and many others. Looking back at the list of people that were in the show, it’s sort of amazing to see so many people I still talk to, show with, and admire. Best Revenge felt like this display of irreverence and togetherness, Like an Unruly Web.

IMAGE

View of Craig Calderwood's studio, San Francisco, CA, 2021.

Q&A 5

Craig Calderwood, Untitled (Immature), 2018. Dimensional paint, thread, pen, upholstery on fabric, 77 x 66 inches. 

GAG:   And then there’s the profile in Dot 429 Magazine published in 2013 titled “Meet Craig Calderwood the Gay Failure.” Any truth to that?

CC:   Haha, this article seems to reveal itself time and time again. A handful of years before moving to San Francisco I began to dis-identify with being a Man and Gay, and sort of desired something I did not quite have the language for. GenderFuck was sort of the closest thing I had heard of through fringe bits of media I could get a hold of, but turns out Queer and Trans were what I really needed. Being a Gay Failure I suppose means I did not really move with ease through Cis Gay Male social and sexual spaces and truly just didn’t feel connected to that microcosm. I feel like a lot of non-binary people can sort of relate to failing at our firsts attempts at “LGBTQA+” life. BUT I think failing is great, it's more of a portal to something better than what we are usually taught it is. Though Failure can feel embarrassing or painful even, it’s truly a bountiful opportunity to paradigm shift and grow.

GAG:   So, obviously not: you were recently selected for a major commission at the San Francisco Airport. You’ve shown us the mock up and it is a very ambitious project. Tell us about it.

CC:   Art has been something that my confidence in does not often waver. Which just means I love it and feel good about what I make for the most part. Last year was a rough one, and when I saw the application for this mural I sort of dedicated all my time to it. It’s a little hard to grasp still, it’s three stories and a rather large surface area, and thematically was to be inspired by Harvey Milk's legacy. I find legacy to be a really interesting and sometimes complicated idea, as the person who has passed has little control of how their image is used and what their legacy actually is. I approached it like any of my pieces. I did research, decided on symbols and patterns and shapes to express my interpretation of the prompt. I decided to make imagery that celebrated otherness and imagines a togetherness in that otherness.