John Casey & Friends

Swarm Gallery is pleased to announce the multi-layered show featuring the work of John Casey and a long list of collaborators.

The show features:

Tall Tales : The new works of John Casey comprising drawings and sculpture
Call & Response : a limited edition book co-created with John Casey’s wife and author/poet, Mary Kalin-Casey
Hands & Pants : An impressive selection of collaborative works with a vast array of artists and personal friends of Casey.

Swarm Gallery
560 Second Street
Oakland, CA

October 1 – November 6, 2011
Opening reception, Saturday, October 1, 6pm – 9pm
Find out more on the facebook page

Black & Light, pencil on panel, 36 x 48″ / 2011

To view the evolution of the painting above, please visit Casey’s blog. The process was so tedious and highly detailed, he needed to turn the canvas upside down from time to time to ‘unwind’ his wrist. Below is a hypnotic video of how he worked:

Swarm Gallery had this to say about the show, Tall Tales: Collaborative Projects by John Casey & Friends:

In this show, John continues to explore his open-ended narrative drawings and sculpture with a new twist. In his quest to set a compelling stage for stories told by both the artist and the viewer, John invites his wife, writer Mary Kalin-Casey, and his visual-artist pals to join him executing two large collaborative story telling projects. … John has reached out of his personal lexicon and, through the collaborative process, has expanded his visual narrative. The result is a more exploratory approach, with a looser, less tentative line quality, reaffirming his love of drawing.

The renowned Oakland beer bar, The Trappist, will be supplying their new (and now infamous) Wet Dream on tap. This beer just happens to be have a label designed by John Casey himself.

photo taken during the Oakland Art Murmur. Shown from the left Loren Purcell and John Ream of Team Printing who printed the “Wet Dream” shirts, Casey on the far right is modeling his creation.

The scope of this show is expansive, so I asked Casey to talk about why he chose such a unique way to feature his work.

This show has a lot of dynamic range. It is featuring your work, a collaborative book with your wife Mary Kalin-Casey, and collaborative efforts with a large group of staggeringly talented artists. What spurred you to tackle such a complex show structure?

The whole show kind of grew larger organically. I knew I wanted to shift my formerly preconceived tighter pen and ink work to a looser, more exploratory process. Collaboration with other artists pretty much forces you to reconsider various creative choices. There can be a host of surprises in the exchange which opens you up to more exploration. I always wanted to collaborate with Mary and responding to her writing with drawing really challenged my usual way of working. Ultimately we decided to make a companion book stemming from the project titled ‘Call & Response.’ There are combination works that are unique to the book and combo pieces that are in the show. There are combo pieces in the show that are not in the book as well.

The larger Hands & Pants project stemmed from drawing with other artists at Live Art Wednesdays in Oakland. At first I imagined asking maybe a dozen artists to each collaborate on a 8″x10″ drawing of hands and/or pants I had started. Then I asked a few more folks and a few asked me and before I knew it, I had asked 60+ folks to participate. I gave participants a drawing and a far off deadline, and I have received almost 100% return. So there will be 60+ collaborative Hands & Pants drawings in the show!

Below is the cover to the limited edition book ‘Call & Response’ – there will be an initial print run of 250.

Can you explain the process of how you and Mary Kalin-Casey co-created the book, ‘Call & Response’?

‘Call & Response’ matches Mary’s writing with my drawing and vice versa. In some cases I go first, drawing a character engaged in an activity. Mary responds to the drawing with a short story, poem, or essay, depending on how the drawing strikes her. This response is the first time my work has been narrated in a format other than in the viewer’s mind. When Mary goes first, my challenge is to depict her story while maintaining the exploratory elements of drawing, taking inspiration from, but not over-illustrating, her often oddball tales. Our work is displayed in a left-to-right configuration with the “call” on the left and the “response” on the right. We found the results are both spontaneous and surprising.

Below are two spreads from the book. Click on each image to read the thought provoking text and see the artwork at a larger size.

Additional images from the book.

Sweet-talker, pencil on panel, 14” x 11” / 2011

Blowing Smoke, pencil on panel, 14” x 11” /  2011

I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with John & Mary on multiple occasions and their mutual respect for each others POV is apparent in the way they matter-of-factly communicate with each other about their creative perceptions. Beyond their objectivity, is a couple that truly admires and cares for each other. It is no wonder, that this book has turned out to be such a fluid flow of ideas that touch both the head and the heart.

John & Mary in his studio, 2011

In addition, to Casey’s new work and the book ‘Call & Response’ he also curated an impressive group show that was a collaboration of his work with over 60 of his peers. Again, this was a staggering feet so I had to speak with him about this venture.

How did you structure the framework for the collaborative part of the show, ‘Hands & Pants’ where you invited a large groups of leading and emerging artists to reinterpret your work?

As mentioned, Hands & Pants is a broader collaborative venture, employing over 60 of my artist peers. I drew either hands or pants (blue-jean-clad waist-down shod figures) or both, in my simple pen-and-ink style on 8″x10″ Bristol paper. Each invited artist was given the hands and/or pants and asked to complete the figure in any way they saw fit. My intent was to create a collective storyboard using the “Hands & Pants” motif as a common recognizable character engaged in a variety of manifestations. However, the returned collaborations have gone far beyond my expectations in sheer artistic variety, producing an extended family of unique, individual beings.

Hands & Pants artists include Gina Tuzzi, Deth P. Sun, Kara Joslyn, Obi Kaufmann, Kathy Aoki, Josh Keyes, Jason Byers, Gregory Jacobsen, Alex Rosmarin, Nathaniel Parsons, Kerri Lee Johnson, Derek Weisberg, Narangkar Glover, Dan Nelson, Alison Tharp, Jim Kaufmann, Ronny Jones, Micke Tong, Bill Dunlap, Mia Chistopher, Marcos Lafarga, Erik Otto, Jake Watling, Amy Casey, Ryan De La Hoz, Adam 5100, Sacha Eckes, Martha Sue Harris, Teppei Ando, Tina Dillman, Pete Glover, Michele Theberge, Scott Wilson, Robert Hardgrave, Matt Decker, Dave Higgins, Morten Hemmingsen Sorup, Maya Kabat, Henry Boyle, Brett Amory, Althea James, Tara Foley, Hunter Mack, Justin Lovato, Jon Carling, Michael Mconnell, Justin Angelos, Michael Mellon, Brian Caraway, Erik Friedman, Alison OK Frost, Andrew James Jones, Erik Parra, Steven Barich, Crystal Morey, Billy Sprague, Rick Beaupre, Patricia Gillespie, Faring Purth, Scott Greenwalt, Mary Mortimer, and Mary Kalin-Casey.

Below is a brief selection of artist interpretations.

Amy Casey

Dave Higgins

Derek Weisberg

Robert Hardgrave

Scott Wilson

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of being invited into John’s studio for a visit as he prepared for the current show. I was also able to ask him the five questions I ask everyone.

Casey Notes:

What artists or creative person has influenced you?
That list changes constantly. This last spring Mary and I went to Washington DC. Amongst the many museums we visited, the National Museum of African Art blew my mind. I have seen a lot of African work in the past but this collection is particularly thoughtful. Anyway, that work has been haunting my subconscious. Most African Art is remarkably honest and inventive.

Not including other artists or art, what inspires you?
Biology, nature, science in general, and science fiction in particular. I’ve been digging architecture lately as well. Basically the world that surrounds us and the world that could be.

What is the part of your process you enjoy the most? … the least?
The most enjoyable is the initial mapping out process for a work, the conceptualizing. Also, erasing heavily worked areas of a piece can be quite liberating. The least enjoyable is applying texture or repetitive line work to large areas of a composition. It can be a bit boring. It’s like driving a car late at night on the highway. You have to keep your mind occupied and active so you don’t drive off the road.

If you were NOT an artist, what would you be doing?
Teaching school or nursing maybe. Something helpful to a large number of people. That sounds nice. But actually I’d probably be a bartender. That can be helpful to folks, yes?

Unlike the quiet chaos that often roils through Casey’s work, his study was bright, clean and exceedingly well-mannered.

Some of the new works for ‘Call & Response’ on his drawing table.

Casey throwin ‘em up.

Casey was kind enough to share some of his older works with myself and fellow artist Scott Wilson (shown left, Mary Kalin-Casey is in the middle).

A few of  Casey’s older works set out. I will admit, I am now the proud owner of the beauty in the top row, far right. WIN!

Scott Wilson, John Casey and myself trying hard to look adorable.

Of course Casey has a to-do list. A sweet/funny detail is that he wrote “hug wife daily” on the bottom of the list, only to have a studio mate change the “h” to a “B.”  The fact that he left it that way is a testament to (A) his affection for Mary Kalin-Casey and (B) his ever-present sense of humor.

Upon leaving, I turned and noticed these two details on his studio door.

And lastly, my partner at Purebred, Jason Mitchell and I have an on-going portrait series of artists, so we were thrilled that Casey was interested in shooting with us. John really wanted to draw on his face for the photos and Jason had the brilliant idea to film John through a 2-way mirror. The resulting footage has been cut together into short, highly unique film of John literally becoming one of his characters by his own hands.

Below is a behind-the-scenes shot of John drawing on himself for the short video piece. I shot this image while looking at the playback monitor.

In additioon to the film, we shot a series of still images. John really got into the process and created a vast amount of props such as oversized hands, flower eyes, and a custom drawn T-shirt.


Big hands on John’s drafting table (photo courtesy of his blog).


The beginning stages of his custom drawn T-shirt (photo courtesy of his blog).


Props waiting patiently at the photo shoot.


Casey drawing new eyes.


The eyes and Krylon pencils used during the film.


John and Jason reviewing the images.

Below is one of the final images from the subsequent photo shoot. We sent him the file and he sent us back additional drawing elements, which has made this one of the most collaborative pieces we’ve ever done. Despite the fact that not much of Casey can be seen in the flesh, we feel it reveals everything.

We are honored that this collaborative photo portrait will be a part of the show Tall Tales AND the ‘performance’ film will be on view during the opening.

If you are in the NorCal, Bay Area this weekend, I hope you will stop by the show and take in it’s sheer epic’ness. Casey’s work and curation is impeccable.

To view more of Casey’s work you may view his website here.

Thanks for all your time John!