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.
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.
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.”