Now Featuring Brian Caraway
Brian Caraway’s practice is a precise, incremental exploration of color. Building from one painting to another, Caraway deftly reveals the way colors influence each other in juxtaposition, and in doing so reminds us of the inexhaustible pleasures of seeing.
MH: Can we start with talking about what abstraction means to you? I can see an interest in pattern in earlier work that is more representational, but the past seven or eight years you’ve really dived into abstraction.
BC: For me abstraction is all about the freedom of expression. That might seem ironic when you look at my work—my mark making is pretty controlled, and highly thought out before being executed. I guess what I mean by that is that the only parameters that are in place are ones that I have imposed upon any given composition. My form of abstraction is to create some sort of order in the chaos that we all face on a daily basis.
I have always been attracted to patterns in my compositions ever since I really began painting seriously. There came a time when I decided to focus purely on that aspect and leave the representational side of art making behind.
MH: I’m interested in the way your practice seems to have evolved, over several years, from exploration that foreground line and pattern into pieces that really emphasize color relationships. Am I right to see this shift? How do you see it?
BC: You are absolutely right about the shift. As I continue down this path I have chosen, I become more fluent in this particular language, which I am on one hand trying to learn and on the other making up as I go. With each new painting I achieve a better understanding of the relationships of color and line. Once I have made the decisions needed to start a painting, the color choices begin. I lean on previous color choice to determine the next. I see it one painting at a time.
MH: What’s your studio process like? I’m curious how you begin to plan or compose an image. Does it relate in series to other paintings or do you clear the decks and start from scratch each time?
BC: My process is somewhat linear, no pun intended. My investigation of pattern comes largely from my environment. That is to say, inspiration hits me from being out in the world. There is also a lot that comes from looking at what other artists have done before me. Some of that inspiration is subconscious, and other decisions are more deliberate. I never set out to flat out plagiarize but, sometimes I love the look of something so much that it finds its way into something that I am making.
On the whole, my next painting will in some way relate to all, or most, of what came before it. I have not started anew since I diverted from the horizon line in the landscape paintings that I was making up to about ten years ago.
MH: How do you think about color? Your work makes me think back to Josef Albers’s classic book, Interaction of Color, in the way you both play optical color tricks but also reveal enough about what’s going on that the viewer feels in on it.
BC: I think about color ad nauseam. I am flattered to be referred to in the same breath as Albers. He was a god in the exploration of color, and a hero of mine.
I am always looking. I find patterns in just about everything. What really gets me going are specific color combinations. We are lucky here in the Bay Area with the natural colors in our environment. I can’t say that I have traveled a lot but I have traveled a bit, and have seen different parts of the world. I am convinced that a sunset over the Pacific Ocean is one of the most beautiful that one can see anywhere.
MH: Can you tell me about how you title works? Your titles are sometimes a little funny, and sometimes a little inscrutable. Are your titles there to convey information or feeling or to perhaps confuse?
BC: I take pleasure in the creative license that I allow myself with my titles. This is an opportunity to take any given piece to a higher level, and perhaps have some fun along the way. I like to think of myself as a fun guy, so why not let that side of myself into my studio practice? It can balance the relatively rigid side of my personality that comes through in my paintings.
As far as being able to interpret them, well, I am not sure that my paintings are really meant to be understood. It is more of a feeling or an experience offered for your brain. There is a specific correlation with the title and the image for each piece. Sometimes that correlation is a bit more cryptic than others. I often draw from lyrics and/or titles from music or lectures, as well as passages and/or titles from books and essays (often altered to fit the piece).
MH: What are you working on now that has you excited? Are you looking at any other work or artists for inspiration as you move forward?
BC: Currently I am working on a series of paintings on shaped panels. I have worked on shaped panels in the past but this is a departure. One shape is like a lozenge, and another is verging on the third dimension, where the face of the panel is curved.
However, that doesn’t quite answer the question, does it. I am always looking, that much is true. I take a great deal of time to look at other artists’ work. I recently saw the John McLaughlin exhibition at LAMCA. Great show! I would be lying to you all, myself included, if I didn’t admit to the obvious influence shown in a very recent piece I made titled, Take a Chance.
I have been deeply inspired by Agnes Martin ever since I first saw Falling Blue at SFMOMA. There is currently a great room at the museum with seven Martin paintings that I visit as much as possible. I recently saw a retrospective of hers last year coincidentally at LACMA, in the same exact galleries as the John McLaughlin exhibition. I bought the catalog from each of those shows and have been looking a lot at those images.
I went to see the Frank Stella exhibit at the de Young Museum. I am always floored by the protractor paintings, along with just about anything else from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Some of the later stuff doesn’t really do anything for me. But those earlier paintings are really fantastic.