Like beloved weirdo David Lynch, artist Canyon Castator brings vibrant surrealism to the mundane, capturing portraits on his iPad and distorting them into fantastical, sometimes unsettling creations on the canvas. In the last couple of years the “Bi-Coastal Curious” artist (Castator recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, but he’ll be back) has developed an extraordinary “body” (sorry, bad art pun) of work, which ranges from iPad “sketches” to his impressive oil paintings. Every time I nip by his studio for a quick tattoo (they start as line drawings on his trusty iPad. I am hopelessly addicted) my mind explodes.
Now a collection of these Lynchian finger drawings have been transformed into a zine, which, frankly, I would call a book, but what do I know? Entitled “New Drawings,” the book-zine, which can be purchased on the artist’s website or at The New Museum, contains a survey of work from the previous year, which means they are new because they were recently rendered, but they are also new because they are made using (relatively) new technology: the iPad. In addition to the book or zine, Castator’s work can also be found in a delightful group show at Louis B. James in New York, which I recommend you go see before it comes down July 31st.
Since Castator likes screens so much, I had him answer a few questions via email about his practice and his lovely bound paper thing.
How are you liking Los Angeles? Has the move affected your work?
LA is new for me, and new is easy to love. I live downtown and can walk to my studio, which is all I really ever wanted. I don’t know how much being here has affected my work as of now… I mean, I’m not painting swimming pools yet.
Your work used to be more on the photorealistic side – can you tell me a bit about the evolution of your practice?
A couple years back, Tal R invited me to be a guest student is a class he was teaching in Düsseldorf, Germany. At the time I was making these psychologically charged photo-based portraits with a limited color palette and an even more limited amount of life in them – it was all wrong. Tal told me “he was there to break me of all the rules and walls I had built up around my practice so that I could really start painting.” My reaction was “fuck it,” and I let it happen.
In Düsseldorf I had been making a painting a day. I had made over 50 pictures while I was there and ended up destroying all but 5 five of them. I came back to New York, got a studio and spent the next 6 months on a single painting. I’d work on it in in oil, then photograph it and draw over that photograph of the painting on the iPad, making changes to execute in paint the next day. Somewhere in that back and forth between the paint and digital drawing, something started to click. I was openly engaged in a conversation with the painting while I was making it, with no idea what the resolution of that dialog would look like. There is a joy in that uncertainty that has brought life into the work.
And what’s the formalized version of that process?
I start a picture with a drawing, typically from life, on my iPad. It allows me get down a lot of information with an immediacy that yields a playful, explorative and spontaneous result. I then use that drawing to inform the painting, intuitively translating the gestural nature of mark making from the digital media into a technologically informed physical painting. It’s important to me to allow the physical painting to be a painting, and not a forced 1:1 replica of the iPad drawing.
Tell me about the book. How “new” is new?
The book is a catalog of iPad drawings. I worked collaboratively with my friend Richard Duff, who is an architect and an amazing designer. We wanted the selection to act as a survey from the previous year, up until that point, but ‘New’ really refers to the method in which I’m making them digitally.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I get this anxious feeling to do more, to keep going, attack from a new angle, and go at it with a different strategy… That’s when I know I have to step away, at that point I’m thinking about the next painting and not the one in front of me.
Do you listen to music in the studio?
Ha! I listen to pop music all day, I love it. Anything catchy. I’ll listen to a song on repeat for a week straight. I feel terrible for the people who have studios in my building that have to listen to that, but it keeps me moving and from thinking too much. Thanks T Swift.
How do you celebrate after a show or book release?