Colorless Green Ideas: An Interview with Adam Caldwell
Yesterday, we previewed and spoke with Rob Reger for 111 Minna's latest exhibition features new and exclusive works by Reger alongside a solo show by Adam Caldwell, Colorless Green Ideas. Today, we speak to Adam Caldwell, whose triumphant return to 111 Minna highlights a new collection of work featuring his duality of surreally-realistic juxtapositions and layered themes that highlight the full gamut of contemporary and classic art. Here, he speaks to Michelle Delaney from 111 Minna about his new works.
Michelle Delaney: What artists inspired you to become an artist? Who continues to inspire you?
Adam Caldwell: I started drawing before I knew what I was doing. I would scribble and finger paint at age one. My parents loved it and would just keep feeding me paper. For inspiration, comic book artists were the beginning; Jack Kirby especially. Later in life, I found Andrew Wyeth. I had never been exposed to something that melancholy or weird before and it flipped a switch in my brain for the better. The Guggenheim was another place that held endless inspiration for me.
It wasn’t just artists you’d find in the Guggenheim, though. By the time I turned 12, guitar was my calling. Eddie Van Halen, jazz, funk; I just loved guitar. I played in bands in high school and college, eventually having to make the choice between art and music. I chose music. I went to music school, following that dream. It was later that I fell in love with the bay area, for its food, museums, and the tolerance for everyone. Eventually I found my way back to art, with a new group of people to inspire me. Neo Rauch, Lopez Garcia, Gehard Richter, and Jenny Saville, to name a few. All contemporary realist/surrealist abstract painters in their 50-70’s.
How do you describe your work?
I use realist techniques to disrupt realism, making the viewer question what’s real. I would call my work abstract. I am more concerned with the composition and structure than setting a scene or narrative. I’m not trying to tell a story in my paintings.
Can you describe the process for how you create your art?
Drawing is always the first step. I’m constantly drawing in my sketchbook, working out ideas and thinking in graphite. Research comes next. I read up on what I’m working on, finding images, cut outs, anything to help drive me forward. I use photoshop to create compositions of the work. With everything I’ve collected and created, I have a database to help maintain an overarching theme. When I put everything together, the theme is unrecognizable. To translate from photoshop, I use a projector with a grid. I generally work on canvas for this. I draw, paint, collage, paint, collage, etc. By the end, the final piece looks nothing like the reference.
Which emotions do you most often explore in your work?
Honestly? I have no idea. I don’t paint happy; I'm not trying to express happiness. When I’m happy, I don’t paint. That anxiety inside of me that needs to get out helps me channel my productivity. In the end, all my paintings are dark, serious, touching on heavy subject matter.
How do you decide on the theme of a show?
I work a lot of themes into my shows. Capitalism, how we perceive the media, capitalism’s effect on our consciousness. That being said, I don’t push a narrative. For this series, I am focusing on how collage and oil paint can work together. This theme is more about me overcoming a technical hurdle. I want to confront how we perceive images in the modern world and how commercialization and advertising messes with our perception. Thinking of the piece as the set of a movie. Lots of action to create directional energy.
What has changed in your art in the last five years?
I’m always trying to push my work (which is a bad idea if you want to make money). If you want to push sales, you want consistency in your work. I want to get more abstract, less tight, and use collage more. Collage, to me, is like a musician sampling a piece and putting it through filters. I’m always taking bits from old paintings and sampling compositions to create something new. When I do collage, it’s so quick and changes the painting, causing problems I have to solve.
Are there things you miss from pre-pandemic life?
I used to be a competitive kickboxed (amateur national kickboxing champ!). Sparring twice a week since 1992 and suddenly there’s no sparring, no gyms. I did heal a lot of old injuries, but it’s back to training, now!
What narratives have you been exploring in your art recently?
I touch more on themes than inherent narrative. My work is like reading a book that when you finish and put it down, you’re not sure exactly what happened. I just drive the bus, I don’t own it.
What are you most excited about for your upcoming show?
I’m excited to see my bigger pieces in a show. More than that, though? I’m excited to see my friends in San Francisco and show them what I’ve been doing.
You made a comment about substance free art. Can you elaborate?
When you are born, you have a drug storage facility of what you can do in life. I have used up my storage facility.
How do you decide on your color palette?
I have used the same 11 colors since school. Hell, I can mix paint without looking. Yellow, red, blue, ivory, black. You can make a full range of colors with just those.
Colorless Green Ideas opens May 5 at 111 Minna, San Francisco