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Mandi Caskey

She works on the top floor of a tower in the sky. The panoramic Columbus skyline surrounds her office, the sun shining fervently onto the ants below. We are on the 40th floor of the Rhodes Tower—the observation deck—and for months, Mandi Caskey has been working on a 26-foot-long commissioned mural for the state. Her [...]
Danny Hamen

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She works on the top floor of a tower in the sky. The panoramic Columbus skyline surrounds her office, the sun shining fervently onto the ants below.

We are on the 40th floor of the Rhodes Tower—the observation deck—and for months, Mandi Caskey has been working on a 26-foot-long commissioned mural for the state. Her workstation is closed to the public, sectioned off by a white sheet and a crudely drawn sign that reads, “Artist at work, do not disturb.”

This is the story of an art school dropout.

Caskey is wearing a floral black and yellow sundress; dried paint flakes carelessly fall from her clothes and fingers when she moves and speaks. Her oversized glasses slump off of her face as she greets me with a giant hug.

Caskey first moved to Columbus from Lima, Ohio when she was 18. She describes her childhood as void of culture, the only influence of creativity coming from her grandmother.

“She used to put me in a box and threw all these colored pencils and painting supplies and just let me go at it. And I would sit in there all day and just paint the entire inside of the box, you know? That’s all I did as a kid, drawing and painting, drawing and painting.”

Living in the sticks created an odd relationship for Caskey and the world around her. As the only artist in her town—not to mention the only child in her suburb—she admitted that she had no friends, spending all of her time honing her craft. When she was a sophomore in high school, her father died of a stroke after the removal of a grapefruit-sized brain tumor. This distorted her whole world.

“It happened in a period of, like, a week. It turned my world upside down. It definitely changed who I was, ’cause going into high school, I was always in trouble … kind of a rambunctious asshole.”

Due to the newly fashioned familial obligations, Caskey opted to stay in Ohio for art school, attending her first year at CCAD in 2012. To add to her destitutions, she had to make it out to Columbus and pay for school on her own.

“When I came to art school, I was just in a mode of ‘I don’t care who I meet. I don’t care who I talk to. I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to make art and be top of my class.’”

She was. Then, the second year hit and her enthusiasm for art academia began to wane.

“In my second year, nothing changed. I didn’t see progression at all. I wasn’t pushed like I was in high school. I didn’t have anybody lighting a fire under my ass, so I just got more and more depressed—especially paying it on my own. I had no money, and paying for this college that is literally showing me no outcome at this point. I just knew I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. That was not the direction that I wanted, so I halted it.”

“Halting it” turned out to be the exact opposite for Caskey’s output as an artist.

After a brief hiatus, Mandi started doing street art, using Instagram as a mechanism for advertisement. People took note of her delicate attention to detail and stunning hyperrealism, her handle @miss.birdy now boasts over 4,000 followers. This is how she got in touch with the surrounding artistic community, landing her her first gallery show at Tacocat at 20 years old.

I met Caskey for the first time about a year later. We went on an excursion to an abandoned steel plant in Zanesville where she and her partner at the time, Jacob Tanner, lit up the decomposing factory walls with colorful murals just for practice—and, you know, funsies.

A lot has changed since then. Separation from a partner can be emotionally excruciating. For Caskey, she looked at it as an opportunity to flourish independently. She admitted to being less of a homebody, allowing her more time to make the connections necessary to make it as a professional artist.

“I just, like, needed to get out of the house. I needed to get my mind off things, and so I just kept finding new jobs and going to new events. So oddly enough, that’s what did it.”

Caskey “doing it” is exemplified in this moment, our meeting at the tippy top of Columbus’ tallest tower, creating art for the state. The mural incorporates all of Ohio’s state symbols, from the cardinal to the trilobite. At its heart, the mural is a nature scene, integrating Ohio’s four distinct seasons from left to right, while also transiting from evening to morning; the shadows in each section changing slightly to account for the sun.

Director Robert Blair, the big boss man, enters through the white sheet, inadvertently interrupting our interview. He apologizes profusely, compliments Caskey on her progress, shakes my hand, and exits. I look at her and smile. Clearly, she is in charge here.

Between her paid commissions—from construction spirit animal murals at Pins, Independents’ Day stage installations—and passion side projects, like tiny paintings on a single brick on a large building; and time working as a shop manager at Memento Tattoo, Caskey is busy.

“I wake up sometimes at like 6 a.m. and don’t go to bed until 2 a.m.—it’s exhausting, and I’m honestly afraid that I’m gonna overwork myself to the point where I can’t move, you know? Shit gets real, and hard, and scary, but it’s in those moments that you realize who you are and what you’re capable of.”

Considering all the shit Caskey has gone through, it is exciting to see what she will be capable of next.

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Arts & Culture

Maker’s Space: Kato Mitchell

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Following an initial disastrous experience with attempting to refurbish a personal pair of sneakers with acrylic paint years ago, a friend noticed Mitchell’s persistence, aiding him to perfect his craft. Though he began with primarily focusing on restoring his friends’ worn-down sneakers, Mitchell’s business, Work The Custom, has expanded to designing apparel in any range.

Just months after being highlighted as cleat designer for Braxton Miller’s Charg1ng summer football camp in Dayton, Mitchell’s clientele has accrued some big names in the sports world, and he has no intention of stopping. (614) caught up with Mitchell to learn more about Work The Custom, and his hope for reconstructing apparel in Columbus and beyond.

(614): When did you decide to transition from football to design?
KM: I’ve always had a passion for drawing and art, [but] I just lost my vision when I took actual art classes and didn’t like what we were doing. After college, I didn’t get any NFL calls, [and] I was trying to figure out what else I would love to do every day, and fell back in love with art.

What was your leap from “this thing I do” to the thing to do? How do you promote your work? After I realized how many people wanted to show who they really are with art, and I was someone who could help do that, that was my ironing point. I promote my work through Instagram and Facebook for the most part, but I do go to sneaker events from time-to-time to pass out business cards.

Is this your primary gig, side gig or hobby? How did it come to be?
It’s my side gig for the moment, but trying to grow and learn to make it my full-time career. I had a pair of shoes that were beat up and didn’t want to buy more so I painted them, but one of my friends taught me the game and how to prosper from it.

What life changes do you feel have propelled your work? How have your customizations evolved? Playing football for a place like Ohio State and doing work for Buckeyes in the NFL and for the OSU football team has helped grow my work faster and further. My customs have evolved just by me growing up and seeing different things, learning different things, practicing everyday, and being able to adapt.

Do you have a specific audience that you want to appeal to?
I want my work to be for everyone. My work can range from baby shoes to youth high school players of all sports, to walls of homeowners and businesses, to shoes for pro athletes.

What ingredients come together to make Columbus a fertile ground for makers, designers and creatives? Columbus is a growing market and very friendly. It has new businesses starting every week and everyone is trying to help everyone else.

What’s your six-word creative story?

Work The Custom is coming fast!

To get in contact with Mitchell, or to see more designs, follow him on Instagram at @katowork19.

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Gallery Space: Feeling emotion through Craig Carlisle’s newly-opened exhibit

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When approaching the canvas, the first thing that expressionist painters attempt to draw from their audience is emotion. Whether it stems from Disappointed Love by Francis Darby, where a forlorn lover is cast off into a forest to wallow in grief, or anxiety-riddled painting The Scream by Edvard Munch, painter Craig Carlisle has challenged his work for years to portray similar elements. After 30 years of creating thousands of paintings through the study of expressionism, Carlisle’s focus is generally based upon meditative habits as observed through his signature Big Head series.

“Evoking emotions from the viewer is one of the more important components of what I feel is an effective work of art. Is the artwork immediately drawing me closer or pushing me away and why? Possibly, [when] the colors chosen by the artist stir up my emotions, even in a minimalist painting, I feel that is possible,” says Carlisle, noting Agnes Martin as a ‘master colorist’ with a subtle tug at his viewers’ emotions. “Upon signing the painting and releasing it into the world, I truly believe [that] whatever emotional message the painting is meant to serve will be captured by those who need it. However, as the artist, I deserve to express what I am feeling without limitation. Every painting has its soulmate and eventually it will rest in the perfect hands.”

In his prime, Carlisle was deliberately fixated on creating optimistic paintings, with subjects depicting happiness, but later found that his audience gravitated towards honest interpretations. This also broke Carlisle out of the routine of being bound to artistic recurrence, having the ability to grow beyond his previous limitations. Intentionally leaving his Big Head subjects as genderless, as his subjects usually have oval-shaped heads and doe-like expressions, Carlisle uses the background of the painting to construct where the subject’s real emotion may be analyzed. These paintings often have neutral expressions, but the framework for each one is ever-changing.

“My personal relationship to removing gender in my artwork today is the same as it was with my first Big Head painting in 1992. If I choose to show gender, then the viewer immediately begins down the road of judgement,” Carlisle says. “Everyone deserves a stage to express their freedom, mine happens to be a canvas. For those defining their gender today, I hope they say let me choose, let me learn, let me grow, let me fall, for then I will succeed.”

Raised in Oklahoma in his formative years, Carlisle repetitively drew superheroes and made red clay sculptures, as his mother, also a painter, ensured that her son was always creating. Carlisle also observed his grandfather building furniture and even creating artwork with stones and gems. Building an aptitude for art, especially painting, Carlisle relocated to Columbus at 12 to further his art studies.

After graduating from CCAD in 1989, his original Big Head paintings in 1992 to 1995 were painted above subliminal messages on the canvas, regularly created at the former Buggyworks Studio warehouse. Steadily transitioning to different studios in New York, San Francisco and later, Los Angeles in the early 2000s, where he painted the Pink Monsters series as a response to the 9/11 attacks, Carlisle’s work became redefined as he adapted to each environment. With Nashville, Tennessee as the home for his 19th century farm and studio in the countryside, this month, Carlisle will be returning to Columbus for his first city-based solo exhibition in five years, this time, at the Sarah Gormley Gallery.

“I not only wanted a chance to reconnect with my many collectors in the city, but I knew Sarah’s gallery would give the opportunity for me to showcase my new larger paintings.

These works include hands overlapping the faces of the Big Heads,” Carlisle says. “In the early 2000s, I did a series of red gloves and began to understand more in depth that for me they symbolized protection. The hands, or gloves, were always placed in my paintings during times when I personally needed to feel a stronger sense of protection, especially from God. The paintings in this exhibition are not documented as “the hand of God” but it’s what I tell people when they ask. Think of it also as a guardian angel; maybe it’s there to stop something negative from entering, or it’s protecting me from myself.”

Choosing bright reds and oranges in a majority of paintings showcased at Sarah Gormley Gallery, Carlisle is challenging himself to push the extremes, considering all his work to be self-portraits. As a portrait technician, Carlisle also assumes responsibility as a provision for Columbus art, celebrating the city’s constant growth in tandem with an understanding of his own work.

“I was part of the art scene in Columbus in the 80s and early 90s, so I have seen many changes. One thing that has never changed is the incredible support the city provides for the arts community. Having lived all over the country I can easily say that Columbus is one of the most supportive cities in the country for artists, especially young artists,” Carlisle says. “For people who are just witnessing my work for the first time I wish for them to be able to experience emotions. I don’t need them to analyze what they think I was feeling at the time I created the artwork; rather I ask the viewer to listen to their own reactions or feelings and know that is why I made the painting.”

The Sarah Gormley Gallery is located on 988 N High St. Carlisle’s exhibit opened Nov. 1.

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Gallery Space: Maya Lin, Ann Hamilton and Jenny Holtzer: HERE

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Visual artists Maya Lin, Ann Hamilton and Jenny Holtzer have respectively crafted world- renowned legacies that have brought them back to their native state. Challenging viewers with an intentional focus on Ohio’s constant adaptation, both environmental and ethical, each artist will make visceral connections with guests of HERE, an exhibition that brings together three significant Ohio artists whose work has stood the test of time, and who have finally come together for the first time.

“While I and others at the Wexner thought about an exhibition that featured other Ohio-born artists, these three just seemed to make sense, aesthetically and in terms of their ideas and their potential relationship to the galleries of the Wexner Center,” says HERE curator Michael Goodman. “I started to think about this place in terms of the Wexner’s 30 years. About that time, I saw a set of Jenny Holzer’s benches from 2017 at Art Basel in Switzerland. This work used language by the Polish WWII-era poet Anna Swir. I was really moved by them, and it occurred to me that Jenny was from Ohio and that a good portion of her career matched the Wexner’s 30-year lifespan to this point.”

Along with Holtzer, Goodman had aligned his sentiments with the works of Lin and Hamilton, thus spawning the aesthetical collaboration with The Wexner Center. While each artist has their own personal style that is imprinted in their art, they have an interdependence that has lasted throughout their careers.

“While there is some commonality in why these three artists think about and use materials, what has become more interesting is how the accumulation of materials seems to have, at least in part, come to define how they all thought about this exhibition and about the galleries of the Wexner Center,” says Goodman. “All three have literally accumulated massive amounts of their chosen materials—posters, language, glass marbles, map pins, images—to create immersive worlds for our patrons to think about and, hopefully, to carry away with them into their lives. As viewers walk into the Wexner galleries this fall, this will be immediately felt. I think the exhibition feels like a world, and also like the world.”

Specifically addressing Ohio’s environmental issues, Maya Lin’s nail installation Pin River: Ohio Aquifers will represent Ohio waterways. In tandem with another piece by Lin, a glass-beaded “map” of the 2017 flood between the Ohio and Wabash Rivers speaks to the impact of global warming. As an in-depth look into familiar home objects scattered across Ohio, Ann Hamilton’s on view placement will be on the walls of the Wexner Center overlooking Ohio State’s campus. Her project when an object reaches for your hand, is a collaborative effort with The Thompson Library, a meditation on the perception of objects, and how they’re ingrained in our lives. Engaged with themes of universal humanity, Jenny Holtzer’s direct immediacy of Truisms and Inflammatory Essays will surround viewers with verbal adhesives.

“Choosing the work for the exhibition was largely about these three artists doing what they have consistently done well—thinking about the emotional and physical engagement that views have to an exhibition space and applying these concerns to the Wexner’s spaces specifically and then doing so in terms of what they are thinking now,” Goodman says.

For those who are unfamiliar with Lin, Hamilton and Holtzer, the significance of their work will be instantly recognized upon entering HERE. As Goodman’s curation relied heavily on emotional and physical engagement, his focus also opened a conversation of female visibility in the art world.

“Simply put, women have been under- represented in museum exhibitions. I think everyone at the Wexner Center feels a responsibility to not continue this myopic way of thinking and working. These three artists— who really have played a substantial role in defining what contemporary art is—happen to be women,” says Goodman. “We are happy to recognize all they have done to shape the contours of how we think about art because women really have done so much of this work; most of it, actually, over the last 50 years or so.”

Formatively shaped by the metamorphosis of home, the art of HERE defies both time and space, foreshadowing inevitable environmental changes and its effect on the community’s spirit. “One cannot help but feel the weight of what [the artists] have contributed. The importance of what they have done can quite literally be felt as you enter these spaces,” says Goodman. “As you feel this, you also know the importance of the Wexner Center, what it has contributed to Columbus, Ohio and the world. In this regard, these three artists and their ideas are a perfect match to this place and this time.”

HERE will run at The Wexner Center for the Arts from September 21st to December 29th.

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