Artist Feature: Douglas Carsson
Douglas Carsson is an American artist based in Bristol and today we had a conversation about his work, inspiration and things that are going on in the world.
How are you? I'm really good. Just gearing up to go to America for my cousin's wedding. A bit daunting as it our first time flying with our 17month old and its an 11-hour flight! Will be great to get there thought. Oh nice! wow that's pretty long for a baby to sit still for I know right! We'll walk him the aisles when we can. How about you? Hope it'll all go well and the journey goes smoothly. I just got back from uni in the rain. The weather yesterday was awful. I know but sometimes its nice to get all geared up and go for a long walk in the rain (did that this morning i must confess. Nope, it was Sunday. It hailed and rained heavily and I didn't have an umbrella so I was soaked. But anyway... Freak hail storms are always intense. Right, what can I do for you? Yeah my face felt like it was being stabbed multiple times by hail lol. I'm trying to remember the description you had of how you became an artist? I think you had an accident or something? It was a sports injury in fact that really turned the tide (of course I didn't know it at the time). I can't remember but just tell me how you became an artist and what made you decide to pursue it Sure. Right, I didn't grow up being a painter (writing and music have always been in my life but there was no art education in my town at all). I'd planned to go to law school and be a judge. When I was 20, I fractured my spine playing rugby and it meant that my whole life and perspective/priorities changed as sports were out of my life for a few years then. I was dating a girl at the time who was an artist and she encouraged me to try my hand at painting so I did. I realised fast that I find creativity and visual art really direct and engaging and took some works out on the streets of New York to see if they'd sell. Sold 7 of my first 9 paintings the first time I was out. Had a solo show at a local gallery by the end of the month but didn't really turn into anything major. Spent the next 10 years getting better at painting (continuing my output) then about 5 years ago (after some yoga training and soul searching) I took the plunge and started going for it full time and full energy. Moved to bristol 2.5 years ago after 18months travelling and have been creating here since. Hmm I see. Were you devastated that you couldn't do any sports during that time or were you more interested to see where art could take you? But like I said I didn't really see or learn about art when I was a kid. I still remember the first time I "saw" art. I'm too stubborn to be devastated. Ijust pretended like nothing was wrong and made some questionable decisions. I took the entry test for law school and had the admission paper in my hand for George Washington Law (top 10 schools in US) but just realised it wasn't right...how much the art had to do with that, it's hard to know. That period of my life is all a bit hazy, I wasn't exactly drug free at the time. 20 years old, coping with constant pain, working as a bartender at one of the hottest clubs in NYC, I was coping the best way I could. Art was an outlet, a constant, it took a few years to understand what being a professional artist is and finding my true voice. My first step away from law school was to go to Pastry School instead! I worked as a Michelin starred pastry chef for 5 years! And when was the first time you saw art? What was it? I spent a semester abroad in Italy when I was 19. I remember walking around the uffiizi in Florence and being completely blown away by what humans could accomplish. Then in New York I was exposed to modern art at the MET and MOMA and I went as often as I could. It was like a secret had been kept from me my whole life and I was just learning for the first time. Then in London with the Tate, Tate Modern and all the other galleries, I just soak it up as often as I can Birth of Venus by Boticelli is the first piece I remember really "seeing". Yeah it can be really inspiring to see all these works of art that maybe people might dismiss as they see them every day. Apart from your ex encouraging you to try art and start creating, who would you say has inspired to keep going in your work? My wife is a constant supporter. She is really my biggest fan but really i haven't had that much outside encouragement. It was and continues to be a internal fire to a large extent. I've had people who have inspired me in terms of how to live but creation and creativity are built in with me in a way that is directly to my core essence. Are there some things that hold you back? Being an American who is not exactly modest but lives and works out of the UK holds me back. And the fact that I create truly original work holds me back, This is a very conservative country when it comes to new work. And I don't mean in the sense of nudity or prudish, but it takes a long time to change British people's minds By conservative, do you mean close-minded? If so, in what sense? There is a narrow definition of where new work in this country is meant to fall and I would argue that outside London, people only buy things they have some point of reference for. My experience is American's buy what they like in a much more emotional response. British people are fairly institutionalise and normalised by the overwhelmingness of British culture. Hmm interesting point of view. But here, once you're in, you're in. Whereas in the states, the tastes change with the weather. There's a down side to that as well.
I think it depends on the people too. People my age tend to steer towards art that they respond well to, can connect with and maybe send a strong message that can be quite controversial Might be true but not enough people our age have enough money to support artists in any professional capacity. True. Apart from broke students I guess. But even they find a way to invest in something... You mentioned you were taking some time to hone your craft. What did you do during that time? Was there a specific moment where you thought you've found yourself in the art you create and just continued from there or was it more experimental? Let me just say that a lot of art is controversial for the sake of being controversial and a lot of people create drama in their lives in our generation to generate a sense of self worth and struggle. The original reason for abstract work was to express Truth that was beyond the ability of figurative power's ability to express. I believe that ability for art to be transcendental in it's experience is somewhat lost now. I learned, I explored my own techniques, I studied a lot (books, biographies, documentaries). It was when I really started to explore the links between the Truth as I discovered through Yoga and the Truth expressed through art that I knew that was my purpose for being alive. To share that knowledge visually and in a new and engaging way. I meditate every day and examine my life and existence regularly and come back again and again to the passion and drive I have towards creating art. And I take it that yoga really helped you a lot, not just with creating art but with how you live day to day? It was instrumental in my recovery from injury. My mom is a teacher and after my neck i wasn't able to do any active sport so started doing yoga. It actually corrected the nerve injury about 4 years after and is still very much a part of my life. Yoga and art come from the same Truth as far as I'm concerned and great art brings the viewer closer to some level of Truth than they were before. I should say the receiver because great art is not only visual, of course. Of course. Yoga and art came into my life at the same time and they are forever inseparable to me. Yoga [sometimes] gives me the strength to express really honest emotions and the groundedness to be fearless in my expression. And you mentioned about not being drug free at a certain period in your life? Did yoga help you come out of that? Tell me more about what was going on back then Yeah, I mean I had a lot of emotional baggage from my childhood and had borderline a borderline personality. Yoga and my Guru in particular helped me learn to live in an elevated state and how its easier to do that consistently without drugs than with. Has some of your work been inspired by events in your life? I'm much more consistent now in every way and enjoy life a lot more. That's good! I mean, I'd say all of my work inspired by my life and life events. It was Louis Bourgeois who said "we never really escape our childhood". Some works are more personal than others. When i learned I was going to be a father, I did a large piece with an androgenous figure with it's hand's over it's crotch and called it "He Wears Her Hair Like a Helmet". It says in big letters "Daddy is a Prick"
It's a reflection of my thoughts on how Freudianism has interjected into society's role in raising children and that no matter what I do, I will never be perfect. Its a way of making peace with the fact that my children might very well think I'm an asshole and that isn't something to be afraid of. Just do your best as a parent and the kid's gotta make their own good life. And what is like being a father? All and all it's great but it brings up a lot of difficulties as well. I love my son and I'm glad I have such a good relationship with him but I pretty much had to pause my career for almost two years as my wife is the primary earner. It brings up a lot of feelings of emasculation in the modern world and frustration and I try never to direct that at my son but really its great overall. I'm really lucky to have a wonderful family. But its' also frustrating because part of me know they are a distraction from the goal of being a very successful artist. It's a struggle every artist has to deal with on some level. Love of Art and love of family. There is no clear answer except make your own reality.
Hmm... But are you able to balance all aspect of your life now? Or is that still quite challenging? Maybe it gets easier when they're grown up It does become easier. He just started nursery 1.5 days a week and it's like an explosion of cool stuff has just happened because I have got a bit of time back for the first time in years. Plus, because he has always known me to be working from home, he's really self sufficient. He's been playing quietly next to me the whole time we've been talking!! That's great! That does help a lot
I even changed a nappy that point where I didn't respond immediately. Haha! Smooth Hehe
Would you encourage him to go into the art industry as well or just let him do what he wants to do? I would let him do what he wants but if he wants to get into the art industry it will be a whole hell of a lot easier for him than it is for me cause I'll have laid all the groundwork already but I would probably steer him away from it all in all. It's a tough business and there is no security. If you make your living as an Artist, you have to exist somewhat emotionally raw. You have to be emotionally vulnerable all the time. Professional people don't have that. I started doing it because I had no choice and eventually I grew to love it but for almost 10 years I hated being so drawn to art as I knew what a struggle it is as a lifestyle. I've made my peace with that but wouldn't encourage it. I think for anyone wanting to be in the creative industry, for any sort of discipline, salary shouldn't be a focus. It's never a set thing, especially if you want to create whatever you want instead of working for a client. It's a tough industry Exactly. I'm sure you know all about that. Starting a magazine is no joke but I think people believe it's tougher now than it used to be. I would argue that the norm is that it is tough with small unsual pockets where it is relatively easy. I mean, Mozart was probably murdered by a competing composer because he was too good made the rest of them look bad. Talk about cut throat! I probably won't be paid after I graduate. It will take a few years of working free (interning), which is always a concerning matter for people in fashion. But yeah running a magazine basically doesn't get me anywhere financially Yeah definitely. I mean magazine ads eventually do come through but the amount of work and time it takes to get started is no small feat. There wasn't much of a competition back then? And with the rise of social media and technology, it's more about popularity and who you know, how many followers you get instead of actual talent. It's rather sad. We are going back to the norm of human society, the small group at the top and then everyone else. Either the top group takes you in or you have to struggle with the masses. But with the fall in manufacturing and regular jobs, I can see why do many people are going for celebrity, its probably more secure than driving a taxi. Being an artist is people making things for other people. That's the only machine-proof industry. Hmm My only hope is that humans can transition without massive violence Maybe all those regular jobs like being a taxi driver is getting old. I think the "violence" will be in the cyber world which is pretty scary. I think it will be more than that. When driverless cars come (within 5 years), that's 10 million drivers who have no other training and no other opportunities. All that money will then be focused in the hands of 200-500 people who control the means of production. It's pretty scary. I hope not but my gut says this automation will not be without consequence that 10 million desperate men who aren't educated who can't feed their families and that's only in this country. In the US, it's closer to 25 million and a lot of them are ex military. Sorry, I don't mean to be doom and gloom. Yeah and it's sad to see a lot of them end up on the streets
It's sad and dangerous No it's fine. It goes with the whole weather situation at the moment haha Ha! It's one of the reasons I want to be on the big main stage. I've got something to say and hopefully but saying it and seeing it we can do something to stop it or at least make it a little easier. It gives us a chance. Yeah I do really want to help those people out but I guess I can bring more awareness to readers through magazine etc. I'm sure they have skills to bring. It's a shame that they might feel hopeless.
It's a complicated issue. Its hard to argue with replacing them with machines. They are safer, more efficient and cheaper. Like I said, i think its one of the reasons for the move towards "celebrity". I think a lot of young people get that "work" as we know it now is quickly disappearing so will need to find another way to find worth amongst being human. Like I said as well, it's also one of the reasons a lot of people create artificial struggles to give their life meaning. My work is a cry against that in many respects I do see that in social media. But why do they do it? For the attention? For "work"? Cos they're bored? I just don't get it. It's a confusing generation Fighting an "enemy" is one of the easiest ways to believe you are doing something worthwhile.I hate morality and people who use it as a weapon to hold over other people. It doesn't mean I don't believe in right and wrong but moral high ground is a way for people to feel separate when in fact we are all in this boat of being Human together. People feel "i'm a good person because I believe this and behave this way" but we are all equally shit and equally good and by acknowledging that we are all human first, then we can start to work together as one. I truly believe that all human ills and pain come from a misunderstanding and misperception of our reality and if I can do a little to help spread truth, then I am doing what I can to help. Social media can become a tool to make feel shit though, just showing off the good things that they've been doing and you just sit there feeling helpless Social media is a tool. Like any tool, some people abuse it and some are very good with it. A hammer is useful to drive nails but can also be a powerful weapon But it's hard to get people to see we're all equal, maybe it's a status/class thing. True I know, its always been hard. We are all equal in the greater scheme of the universe but we are not all equal in our value to humanity as a whole. But the problem is you can't have a judge/jury deciding on who is more valuable because that is a dark and dangerous road so we have to just try to elevate the best and help the rest along as best they can. All humans assign value to the skills they are best at and would pick those skills so we just try and share truth and self awareness so people are more compassionate to each other. So back to your art work... What medium do you use? Do they relate to message behind it? I use acrylic or ink mostly.
On canvas or?
Acrylic on canvas normally and ink on Bristol Board (a heavy graphic card). All the works are about sharing Truth and bringing people together in our commonalities instead of separating but that is against the tide in our current times where lies and separation are so prevalent. I hope my works relate to the message behind it! Else i'm not doing my job right. Haha I'm sure it does but I guess depends on whatever views the person has when they see it. I think maybe that's all the questions I have for now. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and have a discussion on other things! It's an honour! Thanks for being interested and asking good questions, and letting me ramble on despite my controversial opinions hehe. No problem! It's been a pleasure.