Calli Moore is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work deals with the physicality of paint as both material and form. Moore’s paintings are thick and heavy, expanding beyond the boundaries of the panel to create dense sculptural forms. Incorporating a variety of materials into her practice, Moore’s abstract pieces extend the vocabulary of painting by experimenting with different techniques of mark-making within the pictoral frame. Moore’s works appear to be living beings of their own. They are alien and biological, layered with woven paint, geode rocks, and foam.
An Iowa native, Moore received her BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Iowa in 2014, continuing on to American University where she earned her MFA in 2016. Moore has shown work across the United States and has held residencies at GlogauAIR in Berlin (2015) and at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, NY (2016). Most recently, Moore’s work was included in a group exhibition this past fall 2016 at the Library Street Collective in L.A.
How did you first become interested in art and start creating work?
I’m from Iowa, I’m from the Midwest, which basically means that unless you’re travelling to Chicago or Kansas City, there’s really no way to be exposed to art in a present, physical sense. When I was a senior in high school, this really young, hip art teacher got a new teaching job at my school. She really opened my mind to contemporary art and poured her knowledge into us students and I think that was the first time I started to really delve into making art and studying it. I had always been drawn to art, but I never thought that it could go beyond being something like a “Sunday painter.” When I graduated high school I went to the University of Iowa and I took an Intro to Contemporary Art class. The adjunct that taught it was absolutely amazing and I was blown away, so I started taking more art classes. The University of Iowa has an amazing painting program with phenomenal facilities. It’s a rigorous community and you’re surrounded by students who are just as passionate about it as you are. So I think at the end of high school and the beginning of my undergraduate career was when I decided to make it my life.
What drew you to painting specifically?
In my freshman year of college I went to the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time. Seeing the Gerhard Richter paintings there, the Rothkos, the Cy Twombly paintings, those works really excited me. I was so drawn to the idea that you could make a completely abstract painting and the paint just acts as paint, but it’s also something else – it’s form, it’s movement, gesture... There was something that really inspired me when seeing those Richter squeegee paintings, the physicality of the work really moved me. I fell in love with abstraction after that visit to Chicago.
What is your process for creating these works? What tools and materials do you work with?
I’ll start by spraying insulation foam on a surface, usually panel, to make the initial form of the piece. After the foam hardens I’ll come in the next day and start cutting and molding the piece until I get a shape I’m happy with. It’s pretty labor intensive, additive/subtractive process, there’s a lot of trial and error. It takes me a while as far as getting the surface down before I can start building the paint over the foam.
I also have been using fabric in my works now, too. Alexander McQueen is so amazing and I’m so inspired by his work. I want to make paintings/sculptures like his dresses. They’re so sculptural and sexy. Implementing fabric into my work adds more mystery to the piece, the more I mask the work and layer it, the harder it is to tell where it begins and ends.
There are distinct foregrounds and background that get developed in your works. How do you initially plan and execute these pieces?
A lot of it can be happy accidents, to be honest. There’s this green painting I made called Nest; it initially had a lot of very thick woven blue paint on it and overnight I mistakenly left the panel sitting upright. It hadn’t dried all the way so gravity had it’s way with the paint, but it left this really cool skeletal-looking surface from how the paint slowly fell off the panel overnight. I decided to work with it and piped paint over it which created this crazy texture and foreground / background. So that worked out in my favor and I actually learned a lot from that piece. I don’t really plan too much before I make a piece; I’ll do some quick sketches before I start to build, but that’s it. I enjoy problem solving in the studio, not having a solid plan opens up more room for discovery.
I also like to have some type of geometric forms within the work. They’re not perfect geometric shapes because I’m not measuring anything, but I do try to bring in a hard edge. Otherwise the work is too chaotic and a little hard to make sense of. I think a hard edge is very necessary within the forms I make with the foam, the oozing paint that I pipe out can then live within that structure and the two have a nice relationship/dynamic.
Do you start with a specific color palette?
I do. Before, I didn’t really plan out my colors and it would be a total disaster. Color is so hard, every time I feel like I have a grasp on color I realize I actually don’t. Now that I’m incorporating rocks and gems into my pieces I usually pull a color palette from them.
Why did you begin incorporating rocks? Are you looking at found materials?
I was looking at mineral rocks for inspiration. The forms and colors are so intriguing. Then I decided to start putting them in my pieces. At first I was really skeptical about putting them in my work but I feel like I’ve found a way to make them work really well in the pieces. Instead of doubting myself I just follow my gut. I’ll be like, I really want to do this – I really want to put rocks in my paintings... So now how can I do this in a way that is intentional, meaningful, thoughtful etc.
How long does it usually take to finish a piece?
My studio time is very limited because of my job/life obligations. I’m hoping I’ll figure out a way soon to be in the studio more and work less to survive in New York. The struggle is real, I think we all feel it as artists. I have to usually carve out one or two days a week where I can have a solid 8 hours of uninterrupted studio time. Luckily I work quickly so I can get a lot done in that time. But the pieces usually take a few 8-hour studio days to complete.
There’s also a sense of potential energy in these works. Is that something you’re interested in?
Yeah, I feel like there are endless possibilities with the way I am working right now. There are so many ways I can expand on the work, implement new materials etc. I would really like to try my hand at doing a full installation piece, or make a work that is covering a whole wall… I’m so excited about my work right now and where I’m at mentally when working in studio, I think my excitement and positivity in the studio has been directly translated into my work. I’m in a really good place with my work currently.
What informs your work?
A lot of contemporary art. Just living in New York alone is so stimulating. Fashion. Geological forms. It changes a lot, having access to all the museums and galleries in the city has been really fantastic for getting the gears turning in my head.
Do you see your work moving towards something else in the future?
The work I’m making now feels to me, the most genuine and “ownable” work I’ve made thus far. I’m listening to myself and making the work and not really asking a lot of questions until after the pieces are finished. I’m not making decisions now based heavily on other’s opinions or suggestions. If people like it, that’s awesome. If they don’t, then that’s okay too because I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my studio. I believe this work is the beginning of my trajectory in painting/sculpting, I think that it’ll change because as I grow as an artist the work will change with me, but I don’t see myself completely abandoning this way of working, only expanding onto it.
What is the most challenging part of painting?
I think breaking habits is one of the most challenging parts of painting or making any kind of work rather. I’m always fearful that I’ll get too stuck in my ways and make work that is derivative and uninteresting. I never want to be too comfortable- I can always get better, work harder etc.
How do you decide the scale of your pieces?
To be quite honest, I think the space that I work in dictates their size for the most part. My studio isn’t huge. Right now I’m making medium-sized paintings. They’re easier to manage and I can really get into them and spend time with them. When they’re larger it becomes quite a daunting task, piping paint on a piece that’s larger than 4 feet is a huge time and money commitment. I’m finding that working with these medium-sized pieces, around 26x24 inches, is perfect for me. I can work out all my new ideas and create a decent sized body of work.
How do you describe your work and aesthetic?
What I’m most concerned about is painting as form, as object, as painting. What is painting now, and what can be a painting? Almost anything can be a painting. I’ve been playing around with that idea a lot lately. The pieces I’m making are paintings just as much as they are a form or an object. They’re sculptural paintings that straddle the world of painting and the world of sculpture. Painting sculptures. And my aesthetic is very much about excess – the excess of paint, the lushness of the paint as form. I’m marrying odd materials to make something beautiful, perhaps celestial looking, or alien-like.... The weirder the better.