This April San Francisco-based artist Casey Gray introduces a new body of work for his first solo appearance at Hashimoto Contemporary. Gray’s practice uniquely utilizes spray paint and hand-cut masking techniques to create vibrant still-life compositions. By referencing historical painting tropes, his work comments on the complexity of our contemporary visual experience.
Casey Gray’s paintings are filled with objects and ephemera from modern life, engaging the viewer to search for connection through material identity. Culling from a vast web of imagery, he arranges visual excess into colorfully intricate tableaus. Though each piece illustrates a struggle for physical balance, Gray achieves a delicate harmony between the realism of his rendered subjects and the inherent flatness of his medium.
Gray’s exhibition culminates in a monumental 8 by 6 foot painting entitled "The Pursuit of Happiness." It depicts an elaborately decorated cabinet, cluttered with items of the past and present. Each object contains significance from various cultures and histories, and invokes sentiments of hope. The exhibition title “Double Knotted” refers to the shoelaces intertwined throughout Gray’s ornate compositions, while also alluding to the anticipation of an uncertain future.
Tell us a little about yourself, what first prompted your interest in art?
Casey Gray: I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t interested in art. As I got older that interest grew, especially through my connections to skateboarding and punk rock. I never wanted to be a professional artist growing up, in fact there were a lot of things I thought I’d be first. That being said, art is the one thing I’ve consistently done my entire life without question, so in hindsight it was probably inevitable.
What sparks the creation of a new piece? How does your process unfold in the studio?
Theres not one definitive answer to this question. I often have ideas on the type of work I want to make, such as a mobile or a cabinet, and then figure out content from there. I keep pretty extensive folders of images I’m attracted to, and use them to create compositions one object at a time, so in that sense my process can be very reactionary. There is a lot of digging through folders and mining Google image search for reference imagery. Usually I have a broad feeling I want to get across, a theme I want to explore, or even a story I want to tell and that becomes the foundation for putting things together. I never know what a painting will be before starting it, and am always surprised by where it ends up. Keeping a level of discovery is very important to me.
Your work often depicts cabinets, boards, and vases, what is the significance of these receptacles and the varying objects they contain?
I suppose I have an obsession with making connections between objects, and with filling voids, both literally and figuratively speaking. I don’t like leaving things empty. This has become a metaphor for various ideas I have around optimism, identity and connectivity. My floral paintings could be seen as a metaphor for self expression and personal discovery, as they are the testing and proving ground for visual experimentation in my practice. The cabinets and cork board paintings function in a similar way, in that they are full of voids to be filled. Just as a vase is a receptacle for arranging flowers, the shelves and quadrants are stages for arranging objects and ephemera.
How do you think your work comments on our contemporary visual experience?
If you believe that the organization of experience is the definition of art, then my work is more a product of, rather than a comment on contemporary visual experience. I’m constantly trying to weed through the excess and arrive at some sort of more manageable, navigable path forward. My paintings are a product of that navigation and organization.
There is a delicate balance between depth and flatness in your paintings, how do you interweave these two opposing forces?
Probably the most comprehensive and overarching theme of my work is the struggle to achi balance. My personal philosophy of painting dictates that my interest in realism have some sort of counterweight, which is areas of flatness or texture. Its important for me utilize the inherent qualities of the medium, to let the paint be paint, just as much as it is to blur this line.
Photo by Shaun Roberts
Your upcoming show here at Hashimoto Contemporary is titled Double Knotted, what was your main jumping off point for this specific body of work?
The title quite literally refers to the fact that there are shoelaces painted throughout almost every piece, hence double knotted like tying your shoe. I have been using shoelaces lately to create more “gestural” lines in my work and as a mode of leading your eye around a piece. On the other hand, the title also has to do with the idea of anticipation. When you double knot your shoes, its because you’re anticipating them becoming untied if you don’t. Theres an aspect of planning for vigorous activity. In the face of this new administration, it’s alludes to preparing for the battle ahead.
What do you look at or listen to when you need inspiration?
I’m more a believer in letting inspiration seep in organically, rather than trying to force it out. The best way for me to achieve this is to get out of the studio and NOT work. I’ll usually go skateboarding, or just run errands that day. I’m a pretty firm believer in the ability of objects to inspire and hold meaning, so I will often find myself falling down the rabbit hole of a Google Image search, moving from one term to the next collecting images and forming meaning as I go. Occasionally I'll go browse antique stores like Stuff on Valencia Street, or take a walk around Home Depot for an hour. New materials always have a way of inspiring.
Where do you see your work heading in the future? Do you have any specific projects you’ve been wanting to do?
Its hard to say what the future will hold for my work, but I am becoming more interested in the flatness of my works on paper so I hope to explore that more. After working exclusively with spray paint for a decade now, experimenting more with other media is something I’m looking forward to also. The realism in my work can be extremely tedious and soul crushing at times, and the works on paper provide a nice balance for me and allow me to explore new modes of representation as well. I have a few special projects in the works for later this year, but nothing I can mention yet. I am looking forward to hopefully painting a mural or two this Summer also, something I haven’t done in a very, very long time.
Join Casey Gray and Hashimoto Contemporary for an opening reception on Saturday, April 1st from 6-9pm