Interview: Rick Caughman

Last month, after a year of planning, Rick Caughman debuted  Exhibit Love: For land …form …and humanity. Individually, this exhibit brings together Joella Jean Mahoney’s signature Arizona landscapes, John Edward Svensons’ familiar sea sculptures, and a survey of Caughman’s recent work including acrylic landscapes, ink and charcoal figures, and mixed media pieces. As a whole the exhibit aims to honor each veteran artist’s love for their work and their surroundings that inspire them.  Rick Caughman took the time to answer a few questions about his art, process, and how Exhibit Love came to be.

dA: How did you first become interested in art? At what point did you decide to pursue a career in art?

Rick Caughman: I can remember as far back as a child having a strong interest in art. Primarily in drawing, I consumed doodle pads as if I had an investment in paper companies. All throughout my schooling, I have been known for my interest in “making pictures”. My parent’s were very supportive and encouraged me to follow my nature and to pursue a degree from a noted art school. From the moment I was accepted into Art Center College of Design to study Advertising Illustration, my career was set to follow two paths, the first being a commercial path in advertising and communication design and the second, traditional studio practices emphasizing illustration. As with many artists, my propensity to draw and make pictures from an early age could be considered innate.

dA: Tell us about your career as an illustrator and graphic designer.

RC: It’s never been secret, that if you want to truly live independently and creatively as an artist, you would need to be a bit pragmatic. Every artist makes choices, and during the early eighties choosing a commercial path was seen by other artists as “selling out”. I saw it as a way to generate income, employ people, build a studio, have a house, and feed my family. And with that, I have had the distinct pleasure of working for numerous institutions like Apple Computer, Los Angeles World Airports, The international Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Bonita Bananas along with a host of other notable firms.

dA: Your career as a college art instructor was unplanned. How did you end up teaching, and what influence do you feel it has had on your career as an artist?

RC: One of the biggest surprises I got fresh out of Art Center College was being asked to teach at two local colleges here in the IE—Loma Linda University (La Sierra) and Chaffey College. I was called in to meet with one, and then the other hired me. Still not sure how that worked, but I ended up teaching for both along with few other schools. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed it, and I kept a teaching schedule for twenty-seven years while running my design business during the day.

My daytime experience helped me bring real-life exercises into the classroom studio. Working with students, helped remind me of the amount of courage it takes to be an artist, and without a little humility, progress was a lot harder to come by. Some things should never leave you.

dA: Tell us about your experiences as a working studio artist. Did you always set aside time from your career as a teacher and graphic designer to work on your personal art?

RC: I have always found time to pursue personal works. In many cases, I produced commercial work in the same vein as if it were my own. As a trained illustrator it’s not a big leap to make going from a small conceptual acrylic painting designed for a third-party to a large painting in a gallery setting. I think it has a lot to do with— what you want to say, to whom, and what do you want them to be left with after they dialog with the work. Having my work speak to an audience in a way that reflects who I am is important to me so that they know who’s “speaking” to them. I have found that throughout the years my commercial and fine art pursuits have become intrinsically connected.

dA: What are your favorite mediums to work with?

RC: This is a difficult question to answer because I am always exploring with new ideas. Fundamentally, I love to draw the human figure using charcoal, gouache and ink on duplex paper, painting with acrylics on different surfaces but mainly on canvas stretched over doors. From those, I continue to look for new opportunities to exploit materials and techniques, color, staining and glazing on MDF panels, glass, wood etc.

dA: You previously described your body of work as having more of a “look” than a style. Can you elaborate further? What are the common themes and stylistic qualities that are present throughout your work?

RC: Apart from my traditional style of narrative drawing, my “look” stems more from my approach than anything else. I spend a lot of time using my imagination through visualization and then transferring these thoughts onto paper in the form of thumbnail sketches. From these sketches, I go directly to full-size work. I feel, the more time I spend refining these ideas, the further away I get from what I would consider fresh and sometimes raw. I do not want to find myself conforming to too many artistic norms.

“I Surrender” by Rick Caughman

dA: How did you come into contact with John Edward Svenson and Joella Jean Mahoney for this exhibition? Did you know both of them prior to this exhibition?

RC: Last year in July, I curated an exhibit on the works of Albert Stewart renowned for his sculptures. Being that Stewart was John Edward Svenson’s mentor, I thought it important to enlist John’s help in providing accurate information on the Stewart’s work and history. Once the exhibit was successfully launched, John invited me to show our work together and have me curate the exhibit. Having a tremendous respect for John and his career it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Joella Jean Mahoney was enlisted through the efforts of Marci Swett. When the thought of John and I having a show together was brought to her attention, Marci brought Joella into the fold, making it an exhibit not to be missed. Ironically, I was exposed to Joella’s work when I was a student. Seeing her work early in my career gave me the license to be bold and work intelligently.

dA: You mentioned that Exhibit Love is about expressing love through your work. What inspired you to curate this exhibit? How do you feel you have expressed your love through your pieces?

RC: During the development of this exhibit my world became completely unglued due to the unexpected passing of the love of my life, Jennifer, my wife of twenty-three years. She was very excited about my opportunity to curate and exhibit with John Edward Svenson and Joella Jean Mahoney and many of our close friends and family encouraged me to go on with the show. By dedicating the exhibit to Jennifer and by the common experience that John had with loss of his wife Lou Ann the Theme of Exhibit Love was created. The more consistent part of the exhibit comes from the love we all share for the work that we do and for those who have been near us during the process. Subsequently, we have a love for land with Joella’s love for Arizona landscapes, form with John’s love of form and nature. And then finally, my love for humanity, form and nature.

There are two pieces of mine where the love theme is very intentional. First, “A Leap of Faith” was painted using bold colors and at a large-scale of almost to allow the viewer to jump into the work and then walk away with a positive, energetic and hopeful feeling. The alternate name for the piece is “Jennifer”. The second piece, also a trip tic is called “Residual Love”. This piece literally came to mind when I was struggling with Jennifer’s absence at home during a very difficult moment and needing her presence. Exhausted and troubled, I closed my eyes slightly in order to relax. With each and every exhale I would get a calming purple residual image. The more I relaxed, the more visible and lasting it became—to the point I was able to capture it.

“A Leap of Faith” by Rick Caughman

dA: Your installation “Uneasy Chair #2” attracted a lot of attention. What was the inspiration for this piece?

RC: “Uneasy Chair #2” is part of a continuum. When my wife Jennifer and I first bought our home we had no more money to spend—so we started looking for some cheap alternatives for furniture. We paid $19.50 for an unfinished chair, brought it home into our empty dinning room and then sat on it. OUCH! We kept it for twenty-something years thinking we’ll use it some day. Tired of looking at it shoved away on the back porch, I had my daughter paint it black (no longer unfinished). Then I took it outside to get an accurate shadow pattern that I could create in graphite. “Uneasy Chair #1” was exhibited last August in the Gresham Galley at San Bernardino Valley College placed twenty feet up a structural pole by ship’s rope with the graphite shadow below. It played into my show theme of “Every Which Way” inviting the audience to look up and all-around. As a “continuum”, there will be a different rendition of the “uneasy Chair” installed in following shows. The next will be “Uneasy Chair #3”. I call the “Uneasy Chair” series a “transitional Installation”.

Gallery shot of Exhibit Love

dA:  Do you have any upcoming exhibits or projects planned?

RC: For now, I’ll need to take a little time to regroup. I have some design projects to finish and possibly a small book. Along with those projects, I have a few ideas that will need to be flush out in the studio. I sure hope that I will have the opportunity to show soon, and I appreciate everyone who has supported me during this Exhibit.

Thank you for your interest!

Don’t miss Exhibit Love on display through July 28th at the dA:

The dA Center for the Arts Presents:

Exhibit Love: For Land…Form…and Humanity | June 9 – July 28, 2012
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