CHECKING IN WITH JO ANN CALLIS

ART IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
April 17, 2020

What have you been up to? Tell me about how your days have been.
I’ve been thinking a lot about art making, which is very different than actually making it. I have made some moves in that direction, but I find it difficult to concentrate as there is so much I need to do to keep my entire household afloat, the mundane things: the cleaning, the shopping, getting some exercise. 

I like to be with other people, but honestly, I feel like this time is somewhat of a pause from the pressure of weighing priorities. It’s, in a sense, a break from juggling the many responsibilities that come in life.

 

From the  Ballast Series , 1984

From the Ballast Series, 1984

 

Have you had any space to think about past works or ongoing projects? What are you thinking about?
Well, I’m thinking about these found photographs and what drawings I want to make to go with them. I feel like I am very close to being able to really sit down and assign different ideas that I have with each of the found photographs that I am working with. So, that’s the very concrete thing I can do and want to do and I’m kind of I'm holding it out there as pleasurable reward for doing all the things that I have to do. 

 

Can you describe a visual of what you’re thinking of with these vernacular photographs?
What I was thinking of was having two things: the photograph by itself — because I decided I did not want to draw or paint over it, at least for now — and then a discreet drawing next to it. The two, like a diptych, would go together. They could exist on their own but together they make another meaning or just enhance the narrative that I want to give it.
Previously, I made similar works by overlaying designs onto found photographs from the 1960s of rooms that were in the San Fernando Valley.  Engaging with the styles of that era was, to me, a portal into the emotions of that turbulent time. With the decor, my mind conjures the textures of this period and the history that existed alongside these styles. I would look at the rooms in the photographs and I would try to think: what would go with that room? What would enhance it and evoke that era?

 

From the  Decor  series, 2005

From the Decor series, 2005

 

In these new works, there’s the vernacular photo and then a design, drawing or photograph of my own making that would add to the image. The drawing would relate but it would be something different that would still pertain to the photograph. So, it’s not easy to figure out, but it’s fun. It’s like a puzzle.

That’s a great idea! 
Oh yeah, right  — ideas are like when you're on your honeymoon. It’s the honeymoon of art making. You have these great ideas and they're just perfect in your mind. It’s only when you start to make them… and oh, the honeymoon is over! Here we go! We gotta figure this one out.

On to another note, have you found solace in any works or art — whether its a book or any show? What’s keeping you occupied in this time?
I actually get a lot of enriching things from my niece, Meriellen, who is a wonderful artist. It turns out that everything is already pre-selected since her taste in art is similar to mine. She is always scanning things, not just from art magazines but also from The World of Interiors, which is a magazine she subscribes to and loves. She sends me things from Maira Kalman and Saul Steinberg and just all this eclectic visual stimulation — she’s like a scout for beautiful and interesting things. 

Do you have a daily routine you adhere to?
Yes, I take a walk and I do some dancing and I've also been fortunate enough to still teach, albeit on Zoom. I love the engagement with younger artists, whom I teach at CalArts. Just yesterday I had four meetings that all felt quite satisfying.

 

Is there anything you're looking forward to, if we get through all of this?
I would love to go to a restaurant and have somebody serve me great food and a stiff drink. That would be a great pleasure. I'm also looking forward to going to an art museum; I would love to go to one right this minute. 

 

From the  Cheap Thrills and Forbidden Pleasures  series, 1994

From the Cheap Thrills and Forbidden Pleasures series, 1994

About the author

Sophi Winnikoff

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