Q&A with Cassidy Cole

What's the typical process for you on a painting? Do you start with a finished image in mind? Do you work on one piece at a time?

Sometimes I’ll have a painting flash in my mind mid-conversation and I'll jot it down quickly to remember it for later. Other times, I'll stare at a blank canvas until I start mixing colors and play around to see what works. Some I finish more quickly and some live with me for a while until I figure out how to find their fullest expression.  I can’t tell you how many random pieces of paper I have with little descriptions of paintings or images on my phone that I took because I loved the color palette or texture of a wall.  In all of it though, I am present. I once learned in an acting class that you must do all the necessary script analysis and character work beforehand, so that when it’s time to perform you can forget about everything and simply be present. That’s how I currently feel when I am painting. I am trusting in the many years of foundational learning, listening, researching, observing, practicing and developing to be there so that when I walk into the studio I can forget about it all and just paint.  

How do you feel about Nashville as a creative community?

I feel spoiled by Nashville, honestly.  When I moved here for college, I had no idea the kind of community I’d get to experience on a daily basis. From musicians to writers, visual artists, filmmakers and designers, I’m consistently inspired by what is happening around this city. Even when I moved to New York for a stint, people were talking about Nashville!  There is a unique energy here filled with possibility, true collaboration and a healthy dose of underdog mentality.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it fed a certain romanticism in me wishing I were among the members of the “lost generation” in Paris in the 1920’s. We are proving, though, that we don’t need to move elsewhere to make good work because the opportunities are here, we just need the city to keep recognizing the importance of supporting artists so that remains the case. 

As an emerging artist, what have you learned about your work and about being an artist since showing work in a gallery?

I have learned that a good framer is worth the investment and never drop off work to a gallery without properly wiring it! Ha!  But seriously, I have learned so much. Getting to see your work hanging in a space where people can see it, discuss it, enjoy it or ignore it is exhilarating and vulnerable at the same time. I’ve heard complete strangers praise my pieces one day and then others absolutely destroy them next.  With every experience I’ve had to reinforce my own belief in my work - it’s an opportunity to grow, agreeing when it feels true and agreeing to disagree when it doesn’t.  As an artist I feel like I have a responsibility not only to my gallery but also to those who collect my work and the general public who views it.  If I don’t show up and paint honestly than how can a gallery get behind my work and sell it? Similarly how I expect a collector to invest or the general public to take the time to even look at it? It’s a symbiotic relationship and important to take seriously.

What is your biggest inspiration?

For this particular series, Interactions, I am fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of how we interact with the world around us. The way color interacts with energy; people interact with nature; thoughts interact with emotions. It’s ever-evolving and multi-faceted, completely dependent on the underlying elements. This series reflects the experience of these interactions, using layers of different mediums to capture how quickly a dynamic can change once something is added, diluted or subtracted. The goal is to find balance and create a cohesive visual movement that relies heavily on each element of the painting - no one part more important than the other. 

You use a lot of different media in your work--how do you decide what medium best serves your piece? Is it all experimental?

In the beginning my experimentation was more out of necessity and a lack of formal studio art education than anything else. I remember seeing the tan color of what I now know as just raw canvas and wondering why the canvases I kept buying didn’t look like that. I ended up staining my primed canvases with black tea to get a similar look and funny enough that has now become a staple in my larger pieces because I loved the results so much!  I am constantly experimenting, and increasingly I’m developing a sense for what worked and what didn’t, how to course-correct a piece that isn’t feeling right and how to know when to stop when it does.  As an artist, I hope to keep evolving and hopefully in doing so, my work will reflect that. 

Your titles seem very emotionally linked to each piece. Artists deal with titles differently--for some, titles come first, or they have a list of phrases they save to use as titles in the future--what's the process for yours?

I tend to title my pieces after certain interactions, experiences or feelings I observed either before, during or after painting them. So, yes, they are definitely emotionally linked to each piece! Sometimes with commissions, though, I will ask specific questions before getting started to guide me in the right direction and those words end up becoming the titles. 

Who are some contemporary inspirations? Historic inspirations?

I’ve always been inspired by those do what they can’t help but do because it’s just who they are and it’s how they experience the world. Whether that be painting, filmmaking, designing, cooking, bike-riding, etc. the passion is tangible and permeates through whatever they are doing.  That inspires me to keep pursuing what I need to do because I believe that passion is not just for my own benefit.  When someone is living truthfully or making art made without apologizing, they’re giving others the courage to do the same.  Just look at the news today and see those creating change by using their talents and voices for good - that’s inspiring! 

Historically, I’ve always been drawn to Picasso. (Maybe it’s because we share “cass” in our names?)  I’ve followed his art all over the world and am consistently surprised by not only the vast amount of work he put out but also the diversity in medium and style. No matter what he did, though, there’s always a through line or fingerprint letting you know he made the piece.  In my mind, he made art because he had to and I assume he made lots of it without worrying whether it looked like anyone else’s because he didn’t have time to think about that.  I had an eye opening experience in Spain when I visited his famous Guernica painting a few years ago. Right around the corner there was a gallery full of Picasso paintings copying Velázquez’s Las Meninas. With each one, I could see his mind transforming the subject into his own style and language. That was a refreshing reminder to see art begetting art even for a master.