Artist and professor Christopher Cascio’s compulsion to make art is undeniable. The evolution and combination of his mediums over the years read much like his individual works — quilted, thoughtfully considered, informed by the past, and inspired by the culture around him in Houston, Texas.
How did you find your medium/mediums?
Drawing, and by extension, painting, have always come naturally to me. It’s something I constantly did as a child.
Most people assume you are a painter when you tell them you are an artist, so choosing my medium wasn’t really a unique experience. I settled on acrylic paint and later aerosol-based, which is what works best for the type of paintings I make and the types of studios (or lack thereof) I have had. I primarily use acrylic aerosol and painter’s or automotive masking tape on canvas these days. The work could be easier to make on wood panels, but I like the look of canvas and its connection to the history of painting, so I’ve developed some tricks to make it work. As a basic rule, an artist should pick the medium that best translates their message/idea to the audience. Since my work references quilt making, I have gotten into sewing and bought a sewing machine last year. I have been piecing it together with old paintings. It definitely breathes a new life into the work by having to learn new techniques and new mediums.
How has Houston, or Texas at large, shaped your work?
Since I was raised here, I have a lot of knowledge of the ins and outs of the art scene. I can navigate it easily. When I moved to LA in 1999, I realized I was at a disadvantage compared to the artists who were native. I think it’s good that I left and spend almost a decade in California, but I’m more confident here. I could never afford a studio until I moved back so that shape my work immensely. I was able to start working at a larger scale and with different materials because I wasn’t confined to my bedroom.
One thing Houston has is a lot of space, and with that comes some affordable workspaces. The community of artists here also shapes the work. There tends to be a lot of team effort and support from other artists here because we all feel like we are stuck in this uncultured strip mall together. Houston is a huge metropolis, so it has a lot of culture, but that culture is sometimes hidden and “underground” unless you are going to one of the museums or commercial galleries. There is a can-do attitude here in Texas, where if you have an idea, you can find the help and space to make it happen. There is no zoning in Houston, and I have run a gallery here and showed in many alternative spaces over the years.
Do you think about the viewer when you are making work?
Sometimes I think it’s better not to think of the viewer because it takes me out of my meditative flow, and that is where the best work originates from. But the short answer is yes. One thing I try to do is constantly remind myself that the viewer is not the same as me. I used to make much more information-heavy work, collages with hundreds of images associated with a theme. There was a lot of sociological and psychological content in the work, and I would sometimes forget that everyone doesn’t have the same base of knowledge and experience that I have. People would always surprise me with what they were getting from work, and most of the time, it was because they had a totally different perspective and set of knowledge than I did. Those surprises were welcome but also, I realized that I needed to be more sensitive to the fact that what I assumed would come across was not at all what did in most cases. I don’t want the work to be esoteric – I want it to be universal. The paintings I make now are much more about color/geometric design and have spiritual/meditative concepts, so there is less of a need for informational knowledge, and it’s more about putting across a feeling or sensation. I intend to create that sensation in the viewer, and if it makes me feel a certain way, then I know I am on the right path because those sensations are more of a universal thing.
"I intend to create that sensation in the viewer, and if it makes me feel a certain way, then I know I am on the right path because those sensations are more of a universal thing."
What does discipline look like for you in the practice of making art?
I’ve never had a problem with discipline as far as having to make myself get work done. I have a drive that is close to an addiction or compulsion to make art. I will sometimes go to the studio three times a day for an hour each if my schedule only leaves me small windows. Having a five-year-old has caused me to change my routine. I used to get a lot of work done late at night, and now I have more early morning sessions. I tend to forsake exercise and other responsibilities to make more time in the studio.
One thing I must discipline myself to do is to actually go out, see shows and make it to openings. The social aspect of being an artist is hard due to some social anxiety. Also, following up on emails and doing the proposals are things I procrastinate and sometimes need to force myself to do.
Shop Christopher Cascio's Prints
In addition to making art, you are also an art teacher. How does your practice inform your teaching, and vice versa?
The simple answer is that through my practice I get better at technique with materials and better at solving conceptual/aesthetic problems. I can pass that knowledge on to my students. I try to give them as much practical advice as I can, and I always let them know that they can ask me career questions as well.
One part of my job is to inspire my students, and that road goes both ways because their work inspires me, and they are always showing me things that I’m not yet aware of, particularly animation.
It’s great to be around artists who are not yet jaded and bitter. One thing that really makes me want to get into the studio and work is being around students who are working on their own art all day long.
Discover more at christophercascio.com