1xRun Thru Interview
This Is America by Adam Caldwell
1xRun: Tell us a little bit about this piece, is the original still for sale?
Adam Caldwell: The original was sold in a show at White Walls gallery a couple years ago. I’ve waited my whole life to create artwork that incorporated my grandfather Erskine Caldwell’s work. The show at White Walls was the perfect chance. He was the bestselling author of over 50 books including “Tobacco Road” and “God’s Little Acre”. The show was about my grandfather’s work as a writer and my step-grandmother Margaret Bourke-White’s photography. This was the center piece of the show and was used for the postcard as well as advertisement for the show.
1xRun: When was this piece created and with what materials?
Adam Caldwell: Summer of 2011, it was an oil painting on canvas based on a photo-collage.
1xRun: Tell us how the idea and execution came about…
Adam Caldwell: I was painting a series based on the novels written by my grandfather Erskine Caldwell. I was using as sources the lurid pulp cover depictions of seductive southern women on his paperback editions, and the photography of his second wife Margaret Bourke-White. I was interested in his critically acclaimed, socially conscious portrayals of the economic and social conditions of southern share-croppers, and how his publishers marketed his paperback books as soft core semi-pornography detailing the sex lives of their characters. Margaret Bourke-White’s photos also display an intense interest in race, class, and social problems.
I juxtaposed her positive images of women with contemporary and modern depictions of the stereotypical, southern, white trash seductress. I layered these over images of ancient ruins, social protest, war, and architecture. I want to explore the tension between Margaret Bourke-White, an amazing 20th century photographer who made it in a man’s world, and the depiction of sexy, southern, white-trash women who are descendants of the characters created by my Grandfather. Ellie-Mae Clampett and the other Beverly Hillbillies are all directly based on the characters from his novel: ’Tobacco Road”.
1xRun: How long did the piece take?
Adam Caldwell: About three weeks, I was working on several pieces for the show at the same time.
1xRun: What is unique about this piece compared to some of your other work?
Adam Caldwell: Its almost all black and white except for the large female figure. Its got the feeling of layers of history peeling off and revealing the present.
1xRun: Why should people buy this print?
Adam Caldwell: It’s a powerful image and it’s got some real historical and literary background. Anyone who loves photography or novels should buy at least one print.
1xRun: Describe the print in one gut reaction word.
Adam Caldwell: AMERICA.
1xRun: Tell us a bit about how you go about painting in these contrasting styles on your pieces, do you start with a sketch or is it a bit more free form?
Adam Caldwell: I have a basic idea of what kinds of ideas I want to incorporate, I like to just doodle and sketch for a while. Then I go hunting for reference. I set up photo-shoots with various models, I spend endless hours surfing the internet. I buy lots of old magazines. I haunt used book stores. When I have a critical mass of images, I start making rough collages. I spend lots of time randomly sticking stuff together. Later I have to decide what’s working and what’s not. I start looking for strong design and a clear focal point. So I use strategies from still-life and landscape painting to create eye movement, depth, balance, and focus. Often it’s really just a gut feeling. If I keep trying different combinations eventually some good ones pop up. I try to be really open and ready when they do. Then I have to just trust my instincts.
1xRun: Do you do any physical collaging or is it just mentally laying out sections?
Adam Caldwell: I used to just start from one piece of reference and then add figures and elements in a free-form way. I’d let the composition work itself out. Eventually my pieces started getting more complicated so I would print out all the reference and physically collage the elements together first. Now I use the mighty Photoshop.
1xRun: Do you work from reference materials or photos?
Adam Caldwell: I used to be pretty free in borrowing anything for reference, now I am doing pretty elaborate photo-shoots for all my figure reference. I still use lots of historical photography and bits of backgrounds and buildings and stuff. Once its all together I use classical oil painting techniques.
1xRun: What have you been up to since your last release, what has been keeping you busy?
Adam Caldwell: I’ve been jammed with shows and commissions. Thinkspace gallery has kept me super busy. I’ve been doing lots of photography and I’ve been taking masterclasses and training as much as possible. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of the possibilities of painting.
1xRun: What is coming up for you as we get into the fall of 2014?
Adam Caldwell: One piece in a show at Hashimoto gallery in San Francisco, several pieces going to Miami for Aqua and Scope art fairs, and then a small solo at Thinkspace in Los Angeles. Next year I have about one show every month for the whole year including a solo show at Shooting Gallery in San Francisco.
1xRun: Anything else we didn’t touch on that you’d like to talk about?
Adam Caldwell: As Slate writer Dwight Garner puts it, reading Erskine Caldwell is still a sort of startling experience: “Caldwell’s id-his naked obsessions with sex, class, and violence-cuts the surface of every page like a dorsal fin. You can’t stop turning the pages, because you want to see how much further your jaw can drop.” If you’ve never read my grandfather’s work now is a good time!
I also have an upcoming show this December at Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles. You can find out more at Thinkspace.com.