Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rich Cali

A black shape..vaguely resembling a skull, but also maybe a chewed piece of bubblegum..caught my eye. It spoke my language, yet held me at a distance. It felt direct, yet mysterious. "That's a powerful thing," I thought.
Much of Rich Cali's work makes me feel like that, which doesn't happen everyday. As I pulled up to Common House, the gallery/studio space he shares with his wife and two other artists, I was excited to learn more about his process.

Interview + photos after the jump:

EC: Where are you from, first of all?

RC: I'm originally from New Jersey and we moved here in 2005.

EC: What were you doing in NJ?

RC: I had a..I owned a  coffee shop for the last 5 years we were there.

ECYou owned it?

RC: Mhmm. Once we sold our lease back to our landlord, that was the same year my wife     worked for the military, and they were doing layoffs because of the war...
    They fired 19 people one day, and she was one of them. So I was out of a career       and she was out of a career all within the same week. When it's the end of a
    chapter, I always just move.

EC: Makes sense.
    Did you go to school or anything in NJ?

RC: Went to Rutgers, and some community college. Didn't graduate.
    After Rutgers I moved to Erie Pennsylvania to play in a band, and when the band       was done I moved back home..opened the coffee shop..then that was done..and now  
    I'm here.

EC: Your work has a specific terms of color ..or uh, lack of color..     and line..where do you think that comes from? It strikes me as sort of an Asian 
    influence, but I don't know if that's..accurate.

RC: Mmm...definitely line work. Initially I wanted to do layout and typography. So       I've always been drawn to specific lines. Tattoos have always been an   
    inspiration. I draw a lot from that as far as line work goes.

EC: Do you know that person "Slower Black"?

RC: Uh huh. My wife got tattooed by her.

EC: I love her.

RC: She is a perfect example of 'less is more'.

EC: Exactly.

RC: And that's what I like.

EC: I was going to ask you about that. I'm really drawn to the 'less is more'    
    aesthetic. People who, art, whatever...who can convey a  
    powerful image or idea but with the least amount of information.
    In your case, this tree for example..there's no color, it's very simple and   
    stripped down. A simple way of saying something.

RC: I agree, and I also ..I feel like the lack of color is's gonna have     a timelessness to it. Same with black and white photographs. You can't   
    necessarily tell without looking at clothing styles and whatnot. It's timeless, I     think.

EC: There's less information. To peg it down.

RC: Even color photos... I just saw photos of my grandparents from the 40s in Jersey     City, and you can tell just by the's sepia..obviously you know what 
    time it's from . But if that was just a black and white photo, it could have been     from the 20s for all I know.

EC: And you use this recycled paper..I think it's looks old.

RC: That's from 1888 [pointing to a big old book]. 

EC: Yeah, so why do like to do that?

RC: Put white paper in front of me and I can't ..I'll just stare at it.
    But that definitely has the character already, y''s naturally there.
    That helps with when I'm painting.

EC: Where'd you get that book?

RC: I found that one in New Orleans. Day after Christmas this year. I go to Goodwill     all the time. It has about 6 or 8 pieces of paper in there that are useable.

EC: Oh, the rest is printed on.

RC: Yeah.

EC: And would you not use the printed on pieces?

RC: I normally don't. I had this conversation last night with somebody. They were  
    telling me I should try to paint on them. I typically don't like that idea, but I     guess it can't hurt to try. 

EC: I had professors who would've told me that using this old paper is ridiculous and     not archival..and..

RC: Right. I get that. I mean if I frame it  I try to get it framed archivally. But       beyond that..

EC: You just don't care.

RC: Not really. I mean, if someone wants to preserve it, they can.

EC: I want to know about the religious themes..what's up with that?

RC: Catholic guilt. [laughs]

EC: Really?

RC: Yeah, totally.

    I went to Catholic school til' 6th grade, and even after that my mom was still       taking us to Church. Not that it was like a heavy father was always       like "Ok, let's go to church. Your mother wants to go."
    And then I started questioning the bible. I remember her being like.." Well, I'm     not going to tell you what to think.."
    From then on, I thought.. well if she's gonna be a little receptive..
    Sure enough, now that my folks split, now my mom believes more in the lunar
    cycles than..

EC: Really?

RC: Yeah, I mean she definitely still believes in Catholicism and all that  but..

EC: Yeah. She's more open, now.

RC: She's like "Do you know that there are inconsistencies in the Bible?"
    And I'm like "I told you that..." 
    But yeah, I was always around Christian-Catholic italians. 

EC: So you're thinking about that sometimes.

RC: Yeah, totally. always. There's always guilt in it for some reason.

EC: I just had a friend in town ..she's a Buddhist..and she kept saying this phrase,    'Theres no guilt in Buddhism.' I would ask her questions about chanting and           stuff..and she would say something like, "Yeah, maybe I'll chant today for an         hour, or..but if I don't feel like it, I don't have to..there's no guilt in           Buddhism" 
    I was struck by that, because I just never thought about it I guess. There's no       guilt associated.
    I didn't grow up religious, but I know that's how they hold you a lot of times's the guilt and the fear.

RC: Right, exactly. 

EC: You're going to hell if you don't do this. You better do it if you wanna go to       heaven.

RC: It's weird to me. I mean, I understand it because I was taught it.. But still         it's a weird concept. 

EC: Religion is such a wellspring of good imagery.

RC: Oh, yeah. I remember being in church when I was younger. They had the windows         ..stained glass..six on each side. I would just stare at those as opposed to..

EC: Mmm. So you were just at the Sistine Chapel?

RC: Yeah. That was awesome. You go up and up this huge building for could be     a few miles. Til' you hit the end. Every time you hit a corner you think, 'this       is gonna be it, this is gonna be it.' It just keeps going. Long hallways with         huge tapestries and textiles, and then finally you get to this room. It's jam-       packed with people and no one is talking. You could just sit there for days. It       was definitely one of the heaviest things I've seen.

EC: Wow.

RC: I think my neck hurt the whole next day. 

EC: Did you..after you were in there, did you feel like going and making something?

RC: Yeah, I totally did. I went back to the hotel that night and started painting.
    No, maybe it was the next day. But we definitely hit an art store - it was my         wife's idea. She's like , "Lets go get you some supplies , that way when we're in     the hotel in our down time you can paint." So I started painting.

EC: Wives always know best.

RC: She's always right. [laughs]
    But yeah, I started painting right there in the hotel the next night.

EC: Do you have anything you made in the hotel here?

RC: It's all in a show in NJ.

EC: Aw.

RC: Yeah I don't think I do..I think it's all in a show in NJ.

EC: You just bought..what do you use, is that gouache, or..?

RC: It's this FW liquid acrylic. It's super opaque but still pretty watery. I love       it. I was using Sumi ink for a while, but then if you put the white on top of it,     it reactivates and ..

EC: Yeah. I gotta get some of this.

    Is there anything you wanna share about your work?
    I could keep asking questions, but..

RC: I don't really have anything to share.
    I do try to work as much as possible.

EC: It's important to you to have a practice?

RC: Yeah. I mean I would love to be at the Greenbelt today..and yesterday...hah.

EC: I think that's important, treat it as another job.

RC: Right, that's what I'm trying to do.

EC: You make it a priority. 

RC: It's validating.
    I notice a mood change if I haven't painted in days. So I just try to keep           moving. This was all- for the most part, on the plane.. [ showing me a 90% full       sketchbook ]

EC: On a plane?

RC: Yeah. Within the first 2 1/2 hours, I think I filled up half of that book.

Installation shot at Lower Left.

EC: That's awesome. Just doodlin'.

RC: Mhmm. 

EC: I love this, because when people have sketchbooks they're so timid about using a     page. They don't want to just go through it. Because they BOUGHT a sketchbook,       and you're supposed to use it slowly or something. So I love that you       're just doing it 

RC: I had to get over that. 

    I totally go back and find stuff for reference in there.
    That I didn't even realize I did.

EC: Straight up from your subconscious.
    You go back to your little drawings a lot?

RC: I'll definitely sit on the couch and go through it without thinking about it. 

EC: You said those ones [pointing at drawings of pots] were inspired by the pottery in Rome..?

RC: Yeah, I've been doing a lot of pottery over the past year. 
    Let's see's February..what's today's date? 8th...9th..10th. It's the     
    10th..oh shit! It's my mother's birthday.

EC: Gotta call mom!

RC: We left for Rome last year on February 8th. So I've basically been doing pottery     all year long. It's gotten a lot more patterny.

EC: Is ambiguity something that appeals to you? 

RC: Yeah, and just simplicity. 

EC: Reduction.

RC: Right, yeah.

EC: I personally like when I don't know exactly what's going on.

RC: I think I like that, too.

Check out Rich's work in person at Lower Left- closing reception February 14, 2015 12-4 PM. 1706 S 3rd St.

Also coming up: EVERPRESENT- Webb Gallery, printed at Bearded Lady.


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