The work of Walt Cassidy could be described as a curated collision of photography, sculpture, jewelry and illustration. Taking inspiration from his explorative past as a 90’s Club Kid in New York City, playing with colorful style creations and flamboyant behavior, to his transformation and self-evolution into the much-acclaimed artist he is today.
Using his art as a method of self-expression, he creates unique objects, infused with themes of violence, struggle, love and healing which are showcased at top art institutions, including Mass MOCA, Paul Kasmin Gallery, Deitch Projects, and the Watermill Center. Beyond his art, Cassidy also designed the jewelry for Derek Lam‘s Spring/Summer 2016 Collection, collaborated with the Brazilian brand Melissa, and has produced editions with The Long Life China Company.
In our latest series edition of Creative Inspirations, MiND had the pleasure of talking with the Brooklyn-based artist, to uncover and explore more of his unique history and personal insights towards design.
What inspires/influences you in your artwork? How do these inspirations translate into your work? – culture, background, daily life, imagination, people.
WALT CASSIDY: Creativity has never felt like a choice to me. It’s always arrived as an unsolicited intuitive experience.
At the root of my artistic expression, I see myself as a diarist. I work in an autobiographical and linear structure. One piece leads to, and informs the next. My process is one of ordering emotional chaos to create balance and presence within an object or image. Most of what I create is allegorical and talismanic in nature. Struggle is often prominent, and while heavily coded, it serves as an ongoing antagonist. Tenderness and brutality are salient, but always directed towards transformation. These components are anchored with, what I imagine to be, a utilitarian sensibility.
Much of the tension and energy of my work is built around the notion of the paradox. I find myself most engaged when there is a truth to be uncovered between two opposites, a duelling transmutation between illumination and sacrifice. In a purgatory of water and fire, there is always a blossom to be cultivated.
Being an artist, what is your personal outlook on life?
WALT CASSIDY: I believe there is a purity scale within an artist’s journey and it is based on their willingness and ability to tell the truth. Honesty requires vulnerability, and that can be difficult to uncover, both in people and objects. I don’t believe all artistic expression requires this commitment. There are many different ways ‘artistic’ energy can be applied in life and work; however, I do believe that when approaching art from a purist standpoint, the most elemental gauge of this, is honesty. Within this type of frame work, courage becomes a key principle.
A ‘pure’ artist practices their art whether they want to or not. They cannot help but approach life artistically. This type of work is about being tuned to a frequency that facilitates high, and at times, painful levels of reception and response. I don’t believe that art has to be painful to be authentic, nor do I believe that an artist must live a tortured existence. But, the reality is that when you hyper tune yourself to the kind of sensitivity required to create pure art, you sacrifice the comfort of pedestrian living. You step inside a flame that burns in ways that only other artists, who stand inside those same flames, can truly understand.
What role does art have in society?
WALT CASSIDY: To create balance through inspiration and affirmation.
Do you believe art can be an inspiration in the retail industry and environments?
WALT CASSIDY: Sure, but it requires courage and an adventurous spirit. Some historical examples that come to mind are Fiorucci, SEX by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, BIBA, Keith Haring’s POP SHOP, and The Shop created by Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas. The thing that separates these examples from most retail scenarios, is that they launched from a conceptual vantage point, as opposed to one dominated by commerce. In today’s landscape, everything is so steeped in the desire for financial gain, that a lot of creative potential never sees the light of day. Everything gets buried in the fear around commerce and attending to the most common denominators in the market. This isn’t just for retail, it also goes for galleries. Art is specialised and specific, it’s never truly effective when rooted in commonality. So there is an inherent conflict there, but the right combination of forces can surely overcome that.
What is the conceptual content of your artwork? What word would you use to describe your work?
WALT CASSIDY: I describe my work as Narrative Abstraction. As I mentioned before, the talismanic, allegorical and paradoxical hold prominence at the conceptual root of my work. At the moment, I am particularly interested in how those relate to functional objects.
What piece of your artwork do you most identify with or defines you as an artist?
WALT CASSIDY: My life and the people that I love.
What would you like to achieve/ make people feel when they view your artwork?
WALT CASSIDY: A sense of occupancy, truth and presence. A collector once told me at a gallery opening, that my work felt “lived in”. I found that to be the greatest compliment.
What do you believe creates a value in art? Aesthetic, craftsmanship, the gallery, relevance to the market, reputation etc.?
WALT CASSIDY: Honesty and vulnerability.
How do you see art evolving?
WALT CASSIDY: Art was born out of the need to survive and communicate. You show up and participate, and the evolution takes place on its own. Our yearning to survive, will always push us towards evolution. There is a natural gravitational pull as we continue to cycle through the archetypal experiences of life, much like a stone or piece of metal that is polished in a tumbler. We fumble through various experiences, each one making us a little shinier, more informed and refined.
Best piece of advice you have ever been given…
WALT CASSIDY: My father always used to recite this Matthew Arnold quote to me when I was growing up…
“Resolve to be thyself: and know that he who finds himself, loses his misery.”