IN THE HOUSE / INTERVIEW: WALT CASSIDY

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Words and Photographs Justin Fulton | waltcassidy.com

Positively personifying the phrase “my work is my life,” Walt Cassidy, also known as Waltpaper from the heyday of 90’s New York nightlife, opened up the doors of his sophisticatedly spartan home, which he aptly deems “HQ”. Upon my arrival, Walt was in the midst of a jewelry fitting with towering blonde goddess and long time friend April Palasthy at a massive yet non-intrusive worktable set up in a sun drenched room sprawling with wires, raw metal, glass and stone. I was allowed to wander about and got an immediate sense that for him life and art are one and of the same. It wasn’t until we found ourselves seated and Walt began to speak, that it became clear to me that this man’s personal journey continues to be his greatest work.

JUSTIN FULTON: Though the medium has taken a shift since your club kid days, I can’t help but notice a similar visual language in your current work in terms of interconnected line and other formal qualities. What influences your aesthetic sensibilities?
WALT CASSIDY: I always refer to my work as narrative abstraction. It’s diaristic. An organization of motifs and patterns put together to tell a story. I think of my life as a singular artwork, and the objects that I make are residue of that one master work. I’m influenced by the elemental, and the paradoxical. My inspiration comes from the experience of allowing my soul to evolve, and the occasional love affair.

JF: With a body of work so autobiographical, what personal narrative do your most recent works tell of in relation to who you are now?
WC: The idea of obstacle is ever present in my work, with lines and forms attempting to navigate obstructed pathways. The struggle to invoke chrysalis upon a seemingly restrictive form. Hope is always built into the work with the potential for escape through transcendence. Take this sculpture [behind me], called Tomorrow (We Will Meet Once More), named after the Nina Simone song. It’s a piece about having to say goodbye to someone that you know you will never ever see again. In the sculpture, the journey of two souls is illustrated by the fluid black power cords that climb the apparatus, a metaphoric ladder, to arrive at a final point of illumination. The layers of brass dripping off the top wooden panel succinctly call up references of surrender….the sea, fountains, tears. My work tends towards romance and allegory.

JF: How do you think others relate to your personal narratives?
WC: We all go through the same archetypal struggles in life. When I look at art, I experience it as an emotional map. Dave Hickey defines the notion of good art, as that which is familiar. I take emotional responsibility in the work, anointing it in specifically tuned frequencies from my experiences. My hope is that others can relate intuitively, and that the objects call up a sense of perseverance and balance.

JF: What compelled you to make jewelry an extension of your art practice and what talismanic qualities do you see your work take on when in the context of personal adornment?
WC: It has the same effect of familiarity through navigation that the other works have, and within that lies serenity. Jewelry worn for ritual has a utilitarian quality to it. It serves to protect, uplift and cleanse, equally regal and humble. My sculptural work is jewelry-like, and two years ago I was approached to do a collection for a company. When I started developing the test pieces, I couldn’t let go of my hand in the work, and my materials of choice could not accommodate mass production. I was unwilling to make the compromises necessary for the collaboration, but continued building unique wearable pieces on my own.

JF: So I take it you don’t necessarily define yourself as a jewelry designer.
WC: No not at all. There is a tradition of artist’s jewelry that I enjoy being contextualized within…Robert Mapplethorpe, Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder. The focus for artist made jewelry is different than a designer or jeweler. What interests me, primarily, are the materials. I often bypass function or comfort to honor the materials. Scavenging around for bits of brass and glass is what drives me. I use camel bone, ostrich egg shell, salvaged glass from abandoned archeological dig sites. I love materials that have been lived in.

JF: Who is your muse?
WC: Who ever I’m sleeping with (laughs). The only person that truly knows me is the person waking up next to me. I do however have some great women in my life. There is April Palasthy, who’s been a lifelong friend. We are often confused as sister and brother. Whenever I’m making a piece for a woman it always gets fitted and tested on her. Juliana Huxtable is another great muse and friend. She represents the voice of the younger generation. I like the way she tackles the gender spectrum, and the idea of being an artist in New York. I learn from her. She reminds me that I too am teachable. And, she connects me to the work I used to do as a club kid.

JF: It’s summer in New York. What are you looking forward to?
WC: I drop everything and I go to the beach. That’s where indigenous New York culture still exists for me. Maybe it’s because of the economic situation over the past couple of years, that there has been a resurgence in beach culture? Jacob Riis and Fort Tilden Beach have a renegade quality to them. I enjoy the mixture of ethnicity, gender, body shape, old and young that exists on the local beaches. Diversity has always been the appeal of New York City to me, since I first came here in ’91.

JF: Describe your summer style.
WC: No clothes (laughs). The only thing I wear besides a white tee and a pair of jeans, is a bikini. Some people get into shoes or hair, but I’m all about swimwear. I spend so much time at the beach, and I like a good tan line.

JF: I see that you don’t steer far from this edited t-shirt and denim uniform. How did this paired down look come about for you?
WC: It came about as a result of many years dressing up and executing different looks. I had a sense, when I was younger I would eventually subscribe to a uniform. I always liked William Burroughs, the way he dressed, the styles of Fran Lebowitz and Jackson Pollock. It’s archetypal. I feel that, as I get older, this sort of approach works. I’ve reached a point in my life where there’s nothing left for me to be, except myself, flesh and bones. It goes back to the idea of materials. I love white cotton and denim, the way they absorb and reflect life. The stains from the gym, sweat and sex, and the holes from constantly stretching the necklines. When I was a kid, I used to sleep in my father’s white t-shirts. So, perhaps it connects me to a sense of security, as well.

JF: What is one song you can’t live without?
WC: Song To The Siren by This Mortal Coil.

JF: A friend of mine who paints for a living once told me that your daily practice, or what you do everyday, is your religion. What is your religion?
WC: My religion is my work…and whoever I wake up next to.

Artist’s Site: waltcassidy.com

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