Callie Thompson is an Austin-based artist and pattern-maker who comes from a family of makers. Nature is always close to Callie's heart and is the backbone of her creative endeavors.
Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in the woods of North Florida, in a house my parents built by hand. They were back-to-the-landers in the style of Helen and Scott Nearing. My childhood gave me the reverence for the earth that I have today. I’m also a sixth generation Floridian; my great grandmother’s grandmother was a pioneer and my great-grandmother went to town for supplies by buckboard but was also sassy and married a Lithuanian Jew (a big deal at the time). I get great strength from the land, which I always feel comes from those powerful female ancestors. I’ve lived in Austin since 2008. Austin is a mixture of North Florida, Mexico, New Mexico, a desert, and an oasis. The pace and quality of life in Austin, especially in the springtime, is idyllic.
The artist's home via Apartment Therapy
What's your background? Did you study fine art?
I did. I did my undergrad at Dartmouth and was a studio art major, though courses in geography, interaction design, filmmaking, lit theory, and women’s/gender studies all played into my work. One art history course I took, “Bad Girls: Offense in Contemporary Feminist Art” showed me there were others like me! I also did a semester at Cranbrook in the Print/Media department before moving to Austin. Really though, my mother, the artist Harriet Huss, deserves all the credit for arming me with the skills to make things from an early age. Growing up, she always let me play in her clay studio and painting studio. She also taught me craft skills like how to weave baskets, carve wood, and sew. My dad was so supportive too. So really they gave the initial boost of creativity and my schooling just built on that.
Mammoth Lake I & III
Your work in this show is quite multi-dimensional. How were the pieces made?
The Mammoth Lake pieces are pattern repeats printed onto heavy paper, with Sumi-e ink and gold pen painted on top. The pink pattern is a section of one of my paintings (Annapurna) repeated exponentially from piece to piece. Mammoth Lake I has just one section, Mammoth Lake II has the section repeated six times, and Mammoth Lake III has the section repeated sixteen times. The Friend series are the same Sumi-e ink and gold forms painted onto watercolor paper.
Friend No. 1- 9
What inspires you to create?
Peacefulness and a very quiet mind. If I’m frantic or stressed the work reflects it and then I’m not providing a service to anyone. Making art for others is a huge privilege and I want to be giving work that makes people feel good. Being present, expanded and meditative before working is important. I’m super playful about it- it isn’t serious- but it is clear-headed. Music fuels a lot of my work and listening to fun music can keep thoughts at a minimum and allow me to be more present with my painting. Especially since I work in an improvisational way, it’s important that I am feeling clear to best develop the painting as it goes. New patterns emerge every time I work. Something will come out on the page and if I like it I just keep making that shape or pattern. Pretty soon I have a whole new rubric of patterning that I’m doing, hence this series for BSDA.
It seems nature is always at the heart of your work. Would you say that's true?
Yes definitely. Nature is at the heart of everything.
The artist with her textiles at Salt Flats.
You also create patterns. How's that going?
It’s wonderful! Each repeat is a surprise and I love having a working method that produces visuals that surprise me. It feels collaborative, like I’m collaborating with some of the basic principles of life around us. Leaves and flowers have repeating patterns- one petal would pale in comparison to the beauty of a full flower. So when I repeat a pattern segment and make a full pattern out of it, I feel like I’m collaborating with that construct - that repeated things often create more powerful visuals.
BEAM Textiles by Callen Thompson scarf.
What can't you live without?
I wouldn’t want to experience life without my sense of feeling. Not tactile feeling like with one’s hands, but the feeling of emotional resonance and connection with my surroundings. There’s a great Dalai Llama quote that says it better: “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
Sarah Brenneman with her series “It Was Like a Growlin’." Six of the ten pieces of this series are available on Buy Some Damn Art.
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up in Southern Ohio in Middletown a small town that, when I was there at
least, was mostly a steel town with lots of farming families.
I currently live in West Orange, New Jersey. After eleven years in Brooklyn I
moved here last year. It is about 40 minutes from Manhattan but it seems like
worlds away. When I first moved here I felt like I was at an artist residency. My
mind seemed so clear and focused in the studio. A year later I still maintain that
feeling in the studio. It is as though the chatter is gone while I am working. This
reinforced that it was the right time to leave the city. Although I am still in the city
every week, it feels wonderful to come home to our little house with a nice yard
and a garden.
Aqua Snake (detail)
Tell us a bit about this work.
I enjoy working in a series of small works. These aren’t always the same
theme but are created one after another until they seem to make a completed
statement. These paintings are part of a series of ten paintings that I titled, “It
Was Like a Growlin’.” This title came from an interview with a woman who was
describing what a tornado sounded like in the recent storms in the South.
There is collage in some of these works both from older paintings like in, “And
I Quote,” and “Game Theory,” and with cut white paper over the painting like
in, “Love Beads,” and “First Goddess.” I also employ the use of patterning and
watercolor techniques to create images. This series is playful and a bit free. They
all sort of came to me easily and gave me their titles and imagery. There is a
snake like image in, “Aqua Snake,” and a depiction of a booming sound in, “Star
Starter,” among other images.
First Goddess (detail)
You've been using watercolor for 10 years. What about it appeals to you in your
Since my first watercolor course in undergraduate school I have been in love
with the medium. In fact it goes back even further than that. My Mom taught me
her skills from a watercolor class she took in town when I was a child. I still have
a banana painting somewhere that I made with her. I love the fluid immediacy
of watercolor and am also infatuated with paper. The history of watercolors as
studies for paintings has always appealed to me too. I like taking it further into
the realm of being paintings themselves. I never think of my work as drawings or
studies even though they are on paper. I’ve always thought of them as paintings.
I have had many flirtations with other mediums over the years but I always come
back to watercolor as my main squeeze.
The artist's studio space.
I noticed that your earlier work had a softer color palette. Was the shift to bolder, more saturated colors a conscious one?
I suppose a risk with watercolors is that they can get a little pretty or precious.
For the past couple of years when I think of a word to describe the palette I am
aiming for “electric” comes to mind.
An example of Brenneman's bolder colors: Salmonoid Shift, 2010.
Are you involved in other creative practices or projects besides painting?
I have tried and failed to write poetry. Instead I often start a painting after reading
a poem and have made many works this way. I am always thinking about
language with my paintings and am constantly writing down things I hear and
phrases I read that may lead to a painting or a series.
As far as other projects I recently did a sketchbook exchange with another artist,
Barbara Campbell Thomas. We each started a sketchbook and then sent it off for
the other to finish. This was her suggestion which I am truly grateful for. It seems
to have opened up a new way of working for me which I am just now starting to
see the fruits of.
Star Starter (detail)
Some artists work very much on their own and really limit the influence of other
artists on their own work, while others are much more wrapped up and influenced
by those around them. Where would you say you fall?
One of my teachers once suggested to me when I was right out of graduate
school and moving to New York to ignore what was in the galleries for a while
and concentrate on what was at the Metropolitan and other such museums.
Although I wouldn’t say I ignore what other contemporary artists are making I do
tend to favor a trip to the Met over a trip to Chelsea. Although there are many
painters that I really admire, I am not really thinking about their work in the studio
nor am I looking at their work for ideas.
What things can't you live without?
My red Webster dictionary
My Father’s circa 1980’s Ray Bans