Spotlight: Larry Calkins, Mixed Media Artist
Finding inspiration in the world around him, Larry Calkins creates art that provokes laughter and emotion. In his hand-built studio/home, and sometimes outside it, he works with paint, fiber, metal, photography and whatever else will fit his vision.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do.
I am from Oregon. My wife and I built our own house. We used to have mules. We have chickens, cats and dogs now. I was trained as a photographer.
What was it like to grow up in a small, rural community? How did you find your way to life as an artist from that beginning? Do those roots still influence your work?
I liked where I grew up. It’s a beautiful place and I’d live there still. Although it’s a hard place to live. It rains a lot and winters can be brutal. I grew up in the Siuslaw forest which is ancient. So those deep shadowed woods hold a lot of mystery. So a lot of my work is about there.
How do you define Outsider Art, and how does that category apply to your work?
I dislike the term very much — I am an artist. So I can inhabit all art worlds. I love art history and I can read.
As a creative individual, do you believe that you perceive the world differently from other people? Do you think that any unique thought processes are involved when you create something?
Not really. I’m pretty observant, but just about everyone where I’m from is. Most people are too occupied or half asleep because of TV or screens.
You do painting, sculpture, fiber art, photography – do you work in all these areas at once, or do you focus on one medium at a time?
Sometimes, but usually one thing at a time. I do work on more than one piece at a time.
Is the medium the message, as Marshall McLuhan said? Which comes first for you – the subject matter or how you will express it?
The subject matter or the idea.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work and how does that affect your approach?
Poetry. Yes, my life growing up and my current life here on Tiger Mountain. Also my times in Europe. So, yes, I do work in series. Lately, I have been doing pieces about Abraham Lincoln who shortly after being assassinated ends up in a small village where I teach in Mexico. Only the locals can see him, but they leave him be. Eventually, he sails back to America and retrieves his wife Mary after her death, then sails back to Mexico again.
Techniques? What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Humor and tragedy I suppose. The ability to touch people or make them laugh or move them in a way that feels familiar — like something they’ve seen or known before. So I suppose my dresses and my waxed box/book pieces.
When you begin to create, do you have a finished piece in mind, or does the work evolve?
Always a finished piece. I see it in my mind’s eye, then I draw it and then I make it. Sometimes I make a small change, but more often than not that doesn’t go well.
How has your work changed over time?
A little less precise, so my paintings are a little less finished. And I write more on my pieces. So I think about writing more and more and how it influences my work.
Tell us about your studio and how it enhances your work process.
A little like Francis Bacon’s studio. Chaos. It stifles me sometimes. I clean it up and I can work again. Right now I’m working outdoors because I’m welding, but I can work anywhere, anytime.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio, and how do they improve your work?
A welder oxy acetylene torch, my Blackwing pencil and my sketchbooks. Used cotton bedsheets and a typewriter.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
I’ve been using a leg bone from a deer for a hammer.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence, music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Silence or chickens crowing — birds, too.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
I live on five acres on the side of a mountain, so nature and animals influence my work.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
I write, I draw, I research.
Where can people see your work? Do you have gallery representation and how did that come about?
Rice Polak Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, American Primitive in New York City, IMA Gallery in Seattle, Washington, Mason Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, Seattle Art Museum Sales Gallery — all by invitation.
What are you working on now, and then what’s next for you?
3 shows: One at Seattle Art Museum Sales Gallery in June, one at Rice Polak Gallery in August, then one at IMA Gallery in November.
See more of Larry’s art on his website.
Interview posted May, 2019
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