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Juxtapoz 15th Anniversary Art Auction: Caleb Neelon

Juxtapoz // Sunday, 30 Aug 2009

Next up in our series of featured contributing artists for the Juxtapoz 15th Anniversary Art Benefit Auction, “The Big Payback” is the talented and multi-faceted Caleb Neelon.


Elise Hennigan: Being a visual artist and a writer (for Swindle, Juxtapoz etc.), do you find that your art informs your writing and vice-versa?


Looking back, I realize that while I had always done art, I started both graffiti and writing for publications almost simultaneously, in high school.  There has always been a common element of exploration and reporting on that exploration in both; and both are a way of making a solitary practice more social.  Where they are completely different is the speed of gratification.  Painting is instantaneous; and books take years from conception to reality.


As an educator yourself, how and what do you think writing graffiti teaches young people?


I certainly can't sum it all up; but one thing that I love about graffiti - lettering - is that it can sustain an interest in art for kids who otherwise would abandon it.  Lettering offers success at an age when kids are otherwise receiving subtle messages that they are 'not an artist,' as though that was something you're either born with or not.  What I mean by success:  Sarah draws out a version of her name, ‘Sarah’, shows it to a friend, and her friend reads that it says ‘Sarah’. Communication achieved; and Sarah is still feeling good about art. 


Compare that to a classroom of kids doing self-portraits.  While there are always those couple of kids in a class who have a natural gift for representational drawing, more likely than not, Sarah is going to show her self portrait to a friend, and that friend isn't going to recognize it as a picture of Sarah.  At that literal stage in the 'tween and teen years, that represents failure, and only the most resilient artists will push through that failure and keep at it. Graffiti, as an art developed by and for kids, offers success where many forms of art are offering failure.


Why did you decide to participate in “The Big Payback”?


You ever been to Detroit?


Care to say a few words about the piece that you donated?


Cross Purposes is a piece featuring boats on jackstands, a motif I use a lot and have always found powerful and loaded no matter how many times I work with it.


Any exciting projects in the works?


I'm about to start a large mural project at Children's Hospital Boston.  It's sure to be an intense experience, and I'm not sure I'm emotionally prepared for it—nor could I really be.  I'm also in later stages of the largest and most deeply researched book project of my life.  Stay tuned at - my personal site. And good for you guys for organizing this.


All proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Power House Project to help purchase and renovate foreclosed and abandoned homes in the Detroit area. For more info on the auction, presented by Upper Playground, including contributing artists and works, check out the auction site here:



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