A Virtual Artist Walkabout with Callan Grecia
Welcome to the inaugural INDIE (virtual) artist walkabout where artists take us through the ‘why’s behind some of their favourite works. Exhibitions place an emphasis on the viewers’ interpretations of the work and when reading about an artist’s show it’s often through reviews by a journalist or critic. We wanted to hear from the artists themselves, in their own words. First up is painter Callan Grecia whose work comments on a post-Internet world and a post-apartheid South Africa. He most recently took part in the group show shady tactics at SMAC gallery curated by Thuli Gamedze; a series of interventions that take the strategic mechanism of politicised playfulness seriously. Here he lets us behind the canvas:
1. DON’T WORRY HE DON’T BITE
“This painting is of a dog behind a fence. It’s set in a suburb, but it’s also set in the memories I have of walking through white neighbourhoods when I was younger. I did this painting after seeing a ‘beware of the dog’ sign with a graphic of a German Shepard on it while I was taking a run. The painting is quite loaded and open-ended, I think, but I guess if you look long enough I’ve put all the signifiers in to get the message across. I guess it’s more about how the viewer perceives the work though because depending on your background you could see a bright and happy painting of a dog with a glittery sun, or you could see hints of the apartheid flag and a symbol of fear and power, a weapon.”
2. EVERY NIGHT IS CRY TIME
“This was the first self portrait I’ve done in about 6 years. I think the last self portrait I painted was in my second year of art school. I actually thought I’d end up painting portraits after my third year. I painted a bunch then but in a very different style to this. I think I’m always trying to extend my painting vocabulary so the way I paint is constantly shifting in and out of and in between styles. I’d been wanting to paint a self portrait for a long time prior to painting this but I didn’t have the guts to do it. With group show shady tactics, curator Thuli Gamedze gave me so much freedom to produce that I felt I was making the most honest work I’ve ever made and a self portrait seemed to be a way of pointing the viewer to that openness by saying “this is me, this is my work, these are the ideas I have in my head”. The thing that ties the painting together best for me is the little pencil scribble that says ‘Every Night Is Cry Time’ which is what the work is titled. I’ve been struggling with Bipolar type 2 for years now and I’ve only just been diagnosed recently. I think my face has changed so much because of this, I’ve got bags under my eyes from sleeping so poorly and I think I just look a lot more worn out than I thought I did. I think the final work is a summation of the inability to look at myself properly until now. But I’m not even sure if that’s really it.”
3. THE DOOM PAINTING
“This is one of my favourite things I’ve made in a long time. The painting is pretty much an idyllic white person’s backyard, at least it’s supposed to be. Set in suburbia, the white picket fence is there to keep out people like me. The rainbow is a loaded symbol I think, but particularly here it’s pointing the viewer towards the idea of the ‘Rainbow Nation’. I’ve been looking at a lot of Art Brut painting and children’s art recently and I’ve just been incorporating these cartoonish methods of mark-making to represent complex and loaded ideas that I can’t really verbalise completely. I guess the red splatters are obviously blood and lots of it. I’m not sure if the work is a troll or if it’s deadly serious or both but I think this painting in particular is definitely somewhere in between the two. I think growing up through that period and seeing these rainbows that were meant to signify how unified we were now that apartheid was ‘over’ but then experiencing the complete opposite from then all the way up to today stuck with me. Playing in my white friends’ big yards and being in awe of how much they had (while being embarrassed or ashamed of how little we had) changed to being angry the older I got and the more I read. So I guess this was a way of grappling with the cumulative rage of that happy fucking rainbow that people died for that people still die for that doesn’t exist. The doom logo is from a game I used to play when I was younger and I thought it was fitting in that yard because that’s where doom lies. The dog collar is also a symbol of doom I think.
I think I can describe my recent work as ‘puzzler paintings’. Puzzler being the Indian slang equivalent of hustler. I use spray paint and reference graffiti in my work because these are the tools I can afford. Spray paint is cheap and covers large canvasses for less than expensive artist series oils. I use what I can afford and in doing that I guess it’s a direct shot at the elitism in painting where oil painting is lauded as this special thing where as soon as the materials are cheap the work becomes less than.”
4. YOU CAN FIND THESE ON MY ETSY
“This painting was for my MFA submission show in 2017. I was looking at the effect of the internet on image reproduction, consumption and its effect on painting in the modern day. This image in particular was one of a few thousand I’d found, saved and sorted to paint for the show and I think it was representative of online aesthetics at the time. A lot of the painting was an exploration of colour and light, trying as hard as I could to replicate the screen on canvas. There were a lot of glazes and even more frustration involved. The glow you see on the central statue is supposed to create depth and push the other two statues back but it worked as a digital visual cue like when you turned off an old tv but it still glowed for a while after. I wanted to really push the digital aesthetic through painterly means here and I think to some extent I succeeded, although I wish I had the painterly vocabulary I had now then. I managed to experiment quite a bit with this painting and I ended up learning a lot through that experimentation so even though it’s not incredibly successful I think learning new things through process-driven practice is always a good thing to take away from a painting as a painter.”
5. WISH FULFILMENT
“This painting caused a lot of tension between me and my supervisor. I love cars, I really have a thing for old BMW’s, the Lamborghini Diablo (which is the car in this painting) and the Ferrari Testarossa. I was obsessed with cars as a kid and I used to draw them all the time. I wanted to be a car designer. This painting is a testament to that and honestly was probably painted purely because I really wanted to paint a cool ass car for my show that I could post-rationalise to fit in after. I typed in Lamborghini Diablo and picked the first image for this painting which was a purple, shiny Lambo in all its cheesy 90s glory. I think it’s the epitome of a 90s school boy’s bedroom or a 90s dad’s desktop background. It doesn’t have to be a Lamborghini but it definitely encapsulates the image in my head of that idea. The painting under more realistic details of the car is actually a series of washes that I was heavily into at that point. I would start my paintings by mixing turpentine, oil paint and linseed oil in a plastic water bottle and pouring it in layers over and over again onto the canvas. It created a depth I couldn’t really achieve in any other way and worked quite well for the style I was painting in at that time. As for why I chose to include this, I have to paint a car for every show I do now, it’s just something I do. And I think it’s one of my favourite paintings too.”
More of Callan’s work here.