Walt Cassidy is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn, New York. His explorative and allegorical work incorporates photography, drawing, sculpture, painting and jewelry. He utilizes a wide range of materials, imbued with the talismanic, emphasizing elemental principles through narrative abstraction, aestheticism and conceptualism.
His work has been exhibited at Mass MOCA; Paul Kasmin Gallery; Deitch Projects; 303 Gallery; Torrance Art Museum; Watermill Center; Vox Populi; Natalie Kates Projects; Leslie-Lohman Museum, and Invisible Exports.He has collaborated with the Brazilian brand Melissa, produced editions with The Long Life China Company, and designed the jewelry for Derek Lam’s Spring/Summer 2016 Collection. The jewelry works have been featured at The Limited Edition Miami Beach, Laloon and The Feathered Mexico City. Publications include Vogue, Elle, Artforum, The Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal Magazine, In Style, The New York Times, Style.com, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan and Harpers Bazaar.
You started out being called Waltpaper and now you are a multimedia artist. Tell us a little bit about your journey.
I moved to NYC when I was 19 years old as a young painter and illustrator, and after a short time found myself living at the Chelsea Hotel. I had a very extreme look at the time, and began working in the nightclub scene of the early 1990’s, which was thriving. These ‘mega-clubs’ were reigned over by a group of young mischievous creatives, who quickly became my peers, The Club Kids.
The name Waltpaper came about as a reference to the drawings that I was doing at that time, which reflected my explorations of gender, street culture, fashion and nightlife. The Club Kids were hyper aware of ‘personal branding’, as were street artists. The first step of that process was creating a name for yourself, or a tag, that gave some insight into your identity and character, and had a good hook to it. During those years, in addition to my painting and drawing, I treated my body and identity as an artistic medium.
In the early 2000’s, I moved to London and began traveling extensively around Europe. I picked up photography as a portable medium because it could be produced anywhere, and didn’t weigh me down with a heavy physical archive, aside from a box of film negatives and work prints.
I began doing a series of still life photographs, which eventually led me to sculpture based work. I wanted to create the physical content in the photographs, without using the found objects that I had prior, so began to create disposable sculptures that I would shoot on film and then destroy.
When I settled back in NYC, I began to make sculptures that would exist as works on their own. I found myself using a lot of jewelry making tools and techniques, and that began my journey towards jewelry making.
What is your creative process when completing a project? And how has it changed over time?
I treat my work as a journey, and explore territory that is unfamiliar to me, whether is be through materials that I have never used before, undeveloped skills or emotional terrain that has yet to be cultivated. I love the thrill of going into the dark, uncovering something, and dragging it into the light. This metaphoric process fuels the allegorical aspects in my work, and also reflects my interest in illumination.
The primary objective of my process is to give my objects a soul and a narrative, so they feel occupied. I am not at all interested in vacancy or sterilization. I want the residue of life to be present in the things that I make.
Over time, what I have realized is that even before I knew I had a “process”, I was already living that process intuitively. For instance, I was never conscious that I had a strong interest in jewelry, but now I look back at early club kid pictures of myself, and I see that I was exploring jewelry from the very beginning. What has changed, is that I have developed more confidence, comfort and awareness about what I do as an artist.
What has been an epoch-making experience in your career?
There have been many along my path. Within the past couple years, the most axial shift came when I was embraced and featured in Vogue, and met Mark Holgate, who has been a wonderful friend and advisor ever since. His dedication to authenticity and integrity within the industry is truly inspiring.
I have heard some artists say that he/she is influenced by nature, others say human emotion or the human condition. What is the source of your influence?
Artistically, I see myself as a diarist. My work is highly autobiographic, chronological and linear. One piece leads to and informs the next. I like the idea of ordering emotion chaos, in an effort to find balance and centeredness. I use narrative abstraction to code and create ambiguity around the biographical details in the work. Their essence becomes ambient, but the sense of order, and subsequent resolution of the journey remain on the surface.
My life is my greatest influence. I’ve said before that an artist’s life is their actual artwork, and the things that they create are residue of that one master work. So for me, the most important creative focus is just living my life, and experiencing as much as I can. When I leave this present life, and head towards my next one, I don’t want to be carrying over any karmic baggage.
Name three artists you have been inspired by and hope to be compared to?
Agnes Martin, Robert Mapplethorpe and Alice Neel.
What’s integral to your work?
Emotional honesty, vulnerability, order, occupancy and triumph.
You were spotlighted in an article for Vogue’s 2015 issue where it talked about your use of pairing varied materials to create your custom made sculptures that make people say, “I just want to put it on!” How do you know what works and doesn’t work? What is your underlying focus for your use in these varied materials?
There is a balancing of tension that is achieved when a work is successful to me. The juxtaposition of materials, references, and objectives is what informs this tension within a work. Balance allows the piece to exist in a space of presence, much like hitting a musical note in tune, it resonates. The power of objects stems from how they are occupied on an energy level. I am responsible, as an artist, for building that occupancy, and also making sure that it is in tune within the object.
For me, there is an intuitive point when the object becomes “full”. You might compare it to a flower blossoming or an animal bursting forth from it’s skin or a shell. The fullness initiates that launch forward into the next stage of evolution and awareness. It’s that moment of chrysalis and transformation that I refer to in my work as “the blossoming cage”.
Do you have specific themes you pursue in your art?
I am in constant pursuit of authenticity and evolution. The ideas of illumination, endurance, paradox, and allegory run concurrently through my work.
Some of your pieces have been featured on the runway and in fashion magazines. Is that an industry you would like to break out into?
Coming from a contemporary art background, which at times, has felt very claustrophobic, I am enjoying the freedom that seems to be coming with the exploration of design. Design is allowing me to color outside of the lines a bit more, to have fun and connect to a different network of people, which I find invigorating.
Your collaboration with Derek Lam was spotlighted in a recent issue of Elle magazine. How did the collaboration come about?
Derek Lam discovered my work through the feature that was done on me in Vogue. He seemed very drawn to the colors and materials that I was exploring, and the urban undercurrents of my work. There is a renegade quality to what I do as an artist, that created a nice contrast to the precision and temperament of his work. We were somewhat an unlikely pairing, but I was very pleased with how the collection turned out and had a great time working with his team. I grew a tremendous amount, as a result.
The article talked about how you designed the collection using twos vs odd numbers making it unconventional. How did you come to design your work in the collaboration in such a way?
Derek had initially mentioned a reference to Spanish culture that he wanted to address in the collection. In my research of that culture, what first caught my eye was the presence of blood, whether it be through bull fighting or crucifixion imagery.
I asked myself, “How can i connect to the blood lines in the body?” I came up with the idea of trying to place stones on top of the jugular veins on both sides of the neck. That immediately created this formal obstacle of using only two stones, which excited me. From there I began to investigate the meanings of the number two within the context of Numerology, the Tarot and Chinese Medicine, and from there the energy and references began to align. With necklaces it’s much less effort to create balance by using odd numbers. The sizing is much more flexible, and odd numbers easily find their rightful place in a structure that has a front vs. back construction. By using two stones, it requires much more precision in terms of tailoring and draping.
Commercially, I think most jewelry designers lean toward solutions that work for a broad range of sizes and body types. For me, jewelry is so intimate, much like a tattoo. The more I necessitate customization and tailoring for one particular individual, the stronger the piece becomes. It is this type of thinking that perhaps makes me more of an artist, than a designer. I factor in a certain amount of self-sabotage in my creative process. For me, that is what gives an object fire. There has to be a sacrificial element.
You often use varied materials in your work. What materials did you use in the your collection for Lam?
I used bull horn, pink coral, glass, pyrite, black onyx, ambronite, sodalite, vinyl and brass.
What inspired your use those particular materials?
My launching point was primarily Derek’s color palette for the collection. I began collecting materials that would compliment his selection of ginger, lemongrass, cobalt, indigo, black and white. I also considered his Spanish reference. In addition to the bulls and the blood, I was looking at tapestries of the Spanish Monarchy, the works of Miro and the sea themed paintings of Picasso.
What does “body beautiful” mean to you?
Presence, Alignment, Acceptance, Strength, Discipline, Diversity and Grace.
What has been your scariest moment in your career? And how did you move past it to where you are now?
As an artist, I am constantly diving into this great sea, and swimming and swimming and swimming. Occasionally there are moments where I find myself much further out than I realize. I stop and look around, and there is no one near me. There is no safety net and no hope of rescue. It’s easy to panic, but I have learned to rest, catch my breath, and find my way back to shore.
My father, who passed away many years ago from cancer, comes to me as a spirit guide in my daily meditations. When he first presented himself, I was walking through a vast empty green field. I walked up to his spirit, and he was putting these sticks into the ground in rows, as they do in orchards for young trees to grow up.
He said to me, “I have laid everything out for you already, just follow the lines. Your creativity is your gift and it will get you over every obstacle you come across in life.” I carry this with me as a mantra, and it helps me navigate any difficulties that arise.
What do you wish you knew when you started that you want other artists to be aware of?
I wish I had known about the power of daily meditation.