AB: I am a big fan of your work and I really admire, as a fellow painter, how you have developed your own language. I think it is no easy task to portray complex, heavy imagery into these simple forms. I know you are a Graphic Designer. So I am wondering how you arrived at the imagery you are making now, was it more complex visually at one point?
CM: When I came out of college I actually was a super realist. The graphic design fell in when I went to MCA in the early 80’s. I went as a painter, and still remain a painter, but the ideology back then was you are an artist, you work as an artist, you sacrifice as an artist and that should be your only focus. I like to eat so… and I had a love for graphic design. I had an interest in graphic design, and so I went in to graphic design. In the 80’s illustration was very big and it still is but you know with all the stock imagery now illustration can go back and forth, but coming from that super realism you know air brushing, under-painting, and getting to this point now. I basically wanted to simplify it. I wanted to say everything that you would say in a realistic image but with less…less. I don’t want to say less effort, that sounds like a lazy artist. You know I’ve always been a big fan of Jacob Lawrence and a lot of the artists in the mid 20’s 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s when they were going towards this abstract theme and they were simplifying things. You know artists like Stuart Davis were expressing jazz in a very simplistic manor. So I loved that and I like color and I wanted to be able to take my statements, make any statement I wanted with a very simple image and so design played a little bit in that because you know I love that discipline of sketching it out, working it out…building your composition, it played a certain part in that but most of my images are still sketched out in detail even when I am putting them on canvas, and then I go in and start taking out sections.
AB: So are you, and this is totally a painters question but are you kind of figuring these images out as you go or do you have a specific image in your head and then you execute it?
CM: Its kind of funny that you ask that because one of the things that they really hated about me in grad school…I actually have titles before I do anything.
AB: Oh wow
CM: Right, I sit down…because its almost like writing a book. You know what you want to write about and so I know what I want to do a piece of art about. So I have a book of probably 200, 300 plus titles of work I want to do and I break them down into a body of work, maybe ten or five and I start sketching. So I guess you can say I take the illustrators point of view. I get my subject and I develop it out.
AB: That isinteresting that it starts with words.
CM: Yea, it starts with words. Well you know I do my research and my observation and then I go… I guess being a quote on quote social painter, its not hard to find subjects now and so I go OK this is in video, this is in the media, but I want to do my interpretation that can stand the test of time no matter when somebody looks at it. I think my most recent new body of work that I started the end of last year was the Rodney King piece. I sketched that piece about 10 or 15 years ago, if not longer, and it just sat in my sketchbook. It was in an old sketch book and I would tear it out when I would move stuff into a new one…images I wanted to keep working with. Then about 2 years ago I just started re-sketching and re-sketching it and of course with his death the meaning changed from what it was and even my idea and the look of it. I always associate the idea that you are going to do stuff when you are supposed to do it. So with that said, I started sketching it and sketching it, getting it on canvas. You start sketching and take out areas… that one I don’t know what I put so much effort in to it because it went through two or three color changes. You know everything that’s in the original sketch that I finalized is not in the final painting, and I even went so far as to scan it in, move it into illustrator and get all the lines perfect, get it exactly like I wanted….kick it back as a PDF and get a large scale print out of it. Then transfer it because I wanted it to be so specific.
AB: So you were sitting on that idea for a painting for a while.
CM: Yea, I actually have a lot of stuff in my sketchbook that I am waiting on… when I feel like I have a good concept for it. Along with titles, I always have something to work with, its just picking out the time to do it.
AB: So are a lot of these titles coming from the media, people in your environment, or just everywhere?
CM: You know I’m driving down the street and I see, most recently, I see a man with blue bag with yellow hat. That’s a title. I keep it on my cloud. I keep a long list on my cloud, and I have a printed copy that I update. Man with blue bag, I remember his posture and how unique…I think of a background, and I think of that social statement of…and its not always so beat down, it has to be a social statement, but anything that happens in the world is a social statement.
AB: Yea absolutely, so what are you working on now?
CM: I’m working on new work, its coming out slowly. It doesn’t matter how my intentions are; I’m going to whip out a certain amount of these in a certain amount of time…it never happens that way…Im to anal for that. You know…I have a children’s book I wrote 15 years ago, that I recently have rewritten the last four years… now it is time to illustrate it. Its time to do it. I took supposedly a hiatus the last two years. I have had life changing events and I was going to take a year, and the year ended up being just six months, because I was just going to do little rough sketches and make a list of things I wanted to work out and I thought this will just be a list of 20, 30 things, and its like a list of almost 300.
AB: That’s a good problem to have through.
CM: Right, and I was like OK I am just going to mark down a few things to work on, but the ideas keep flowing. I’m driving down the street and I see something, I see something in the media, or I just get an idea from 2 or 3 different variations and I go this needs to be a piece of work, so you know the hiatus ended fairly quickly.
AB: Yea, that’s good.
CM: So I am back to working, I’ve broken down some of my list into the bodies that I want to do in the next 3 to 4 months. I have some possible exhibitions, some nailed down. I’m curating a show in June.
AB: Nice, where are you curating a show?
CM: Its going to be at L Ross gallery. Its called The Man’s Show.
CM: Its a whole lot of dialogue…just off the titles, but I picked quite a few friends and artists I admire. The majority of them are over 40, because I wanted the interpretation of what man hood is over the last 50 years, so I got different race, gender, backgrounds, culture, you know and I wanted everybody’s view. We’ve met several times. We met this past weekend out at L Ross Gallery to look at the space and she was very interested, so she said why not have it here.
AB: That is great. It sounds like a very powerful show.
CM: I hope so. We are putting a lot of planning in to it so…we have some really highly skilled people in this show…
AB: I look forward to seeing it. When does it open?
CM: In June.
AB: Speaking of Memphis a bit, I saw on your website that you were born in Mississippi. How did you come to Memphis?
CM: I went to the Chicago Institute of Art first because my sister lived there and I went a year early to get college credit. They had a course at the time. Yea, this is…I’m old…1982. You could go and start college early and then you can go do your pre-admittance and all that stuff, and it was great. I loved the experience, I hated Chicago.
CM: I made the mistake of getting on the bus at rush hour once with my portfolio…it wasn’t pretty. I had a great time there and I went back, finished out my senior year and I had been contacted by…my sister gave me info for the Memphis College of Art. Then the Memphis Academy of Arts and I applied, they sent down a recruiter. I guess you could call them recruiters then, just somebody in admissions to look at my work and I ended up going there because it was closer to home. I was going to go to school here, graduate, and leave. Of course that never happens.
AB: Yea, that never happens. So you stayed for graduate school?
CM: Yea, actually I went to graduate school about 5 years ago…I went back.
AB: Oh wow, I didn’t realize that.
CM: Which is funny because I was like why didn’t I do this right out of the gate? I didn’t think the program was set up for…way back when….I’m not sure what the program was then… I don’t know maybe for painters or what, but I wanted to get out of school. I went to school for 12 years, then I went to college for 4, that’s 16 years. You want to just get out into the world.
AB: Yea, live life
CM: Right, but going back was more expensive. I was working full time and going to grad school full time. I did it in 2 years because I went during the summer.
AB: I think that’s nice though, going back when you are older. You have a different perspective.
CM: Well you are more focused. You know I have an 8 hour, 9 hour job so I need to do this. I don’t have any lag time, so that’s pretty much what it was. I didn’t have any lag time, leave work, go to class. leave class go to work,and you are in your studio till 2 in the morning.
AB: You were working as a graphic designer during this time?
CM: Yea, I still had my job.
AB: So you started doing that right out of undergrad?
CM: Yea, well right out of undergrad… I worked several jobs…even as a billboard painter. I discovered I was afraid of heights. On the job, you get over that really quick. You really never get over it, but you make it work. It was interesting. I worked as a layout, pay stub artist which is a lot different in 1988 than what it is now.
AB: I’m sure.
CM: I love it now. I use everything adobe makes and I love it. Back then using press type, and cut and paste was really cut and paste.
AB: Its changed a lot, I can imagine. So are you thinking about graphic design when you are painting?
CM: I think about art.
CM: To me, in my world, painting, graphic design, murals, web development…its all one big thing. I am an artist. I love it all. I make it all work. My paintings, if I have a sketch I really really like I will grid it. I still use the grid system sometimes on large work. If I have something that I really have exactly like I want it I’ll scan it, create it in illustrator, make it a PDF, take it to FedEx office, have them print it out to scale, the exact size, and then I transfer it. It still changes once I start throwing paint on it . I like the whole thing. for me as an artist, you should be familiar with it all. You should be familiar, you should be able to represent yourself…you should have a website. If you are a painter or artist and don’t have a website now …that’s an issue. You should be able to sell yourself, control how your imagery looks…control where it goes. So being a painter, to me is the creme dela creme, its the icing on the top. Then being a designer and being able to manipulate it, its great. I go in to Photoshop, I color correct my own stuff, fix my own website. You know if I’m working on a mural, I can go build a website for my mural project.
AB: I saw the mural you did in Cooper Young. Have you worked on one since?
CM: I’m working on one over on Barksdale. I started late and had to stop for the winter time, but I will probably start right when I get off from vacation in March.
AB: So are you painting directly on site or are you using poly-tab?
CM: I’m painting directly on site, I want to try poly-tab one day, but now I’m directly on the wall.
AB: Do you have assistants?
CM: I did with the one on McClain. I paid three assistants and I think I eventually had one who went through the whole project. The other two, it was dependent on their schedule. This one I don’t. I am kind of just filling it. I presented a design and now I am working with the design..but once you get out there… Ive already called them and told them the design is going to change…I’m actually adding more.
AB: What is the mural about? Do you mind saying?
I really can’t, not that I am hiding it. Its just about the community. The only nailed down thing is that the people who donated to the production of it have photos they want incorporated. I went and scanned those and worked them digitally in the design and those are going in, but everything else is kind ofjust what I am feeling.
AB: That is nice that you have that freedom.
CM: Yea, there are certain parts just promoting Memphis and the Cooper Young area. There are things about it that they did want but pretty much how I manipulate color and everything is up to me.
AB: I can see you your work would lend itself very well to murals. So I know you said that you planned to leave Memphis after undergrad, but how have you felt about the Memphis Art Community?
CM: I like it.
CM: Yea, I mean its one of those cities. I think when you get to my age and a city is a city. I mean there are great places you can go, but in all essence its like we used to go to St. Petersburg Florida at least twice a year especially in the winter time and it got to the point, once you stay there..we would stay roughly about 10 days at a time… but once you stay someplace more than 3 days you are not a tourist anymore. You start to see the city for what it is. Its a beautiful place, you learn where all the stores are, all the shops…it becomes a city. Its just another place you live. Memphis is Memphis. Are there are bad things about it, yea, are there good things about it, yea. I love the art scene here….it changes. I think in the last 15 years there are more artists here then there has ever been and they all are doing something. You know when contemporary art came in to the scene, meaning outside of the landscape, or still lives, it got creative, it got interesting. There is a lot of good art in this city. People who leave come back, some don’t, some do, so there’s always this constant change.
AB: Yea, I think there are a lot of really talented people here.
CM: Oh yea.
AB: And a lot of exciting things…
CM: Yea, good friends, who’s work I admire.
AB: I feel like Memphis is kind of on the cusp, in terms of the art scene.
AB: I definitely get a sense of that. I think Crosstown has a lot to do with that too.
CM: We have more art districts here, you know, Cooper Young is hanging in there…it will get rid of all its galleries like it did and then they’ll come back. Jay Etkin has kind of brought that area back in to play. You have South Main, Cooper Young, Broad Street, Crosstown, and you have the Marshall Arts area. You have all these art centric places….you can’t help but love it if this is what you do.
AB: A lot of really driven people here too, which I think is helping move that along.
AB: Are you planning to do more murals in the future?
CM: I’m playing that by ear, it depends, probably not any as large as the Cooper Young one. I love doing them and to be honest I’ve got to give a shout out to Jamie, my assistant, she was a fast painter. We had so many sections to do. We got a system of I would draw two sections and paint two sections. It got to a point, where she was whipping them out, you know everything has to be coated twice. Its just an anal thing with me. In my own painting, roughly five coats… so you paint it, she’ll paint one, Ill paint the other, then we’ll flip flop so we get caught up. She’ll put the second coat and and I’ll go and draw the other two…everything was hand drawn.
AB: That’s impressive. Usually when people do murals of that scale they use a projector or something.
CM: The cost that would have gone in to creating stencils…I like to draw. I just get china marker and draw it.
AB: Going back to your work a bit, how important is accessibility to you?
CM: Its important, understanding it. You are never going to get everybody to understand what you are doing. I always tell students, 98% of the time you are not going to be standing there with your work. So you want it to translate your message. Everyone is going to translate it differently. What you see as an antagonistic, image, someone else is going to say..well that’s kind of mild, and maybe think something else, so everybody is going to get something different. It is important that what I am trying to say in the work…if you come close to getting it, or something in relation to it.
AB: Especially since your work is so concept driven.
CM: Yea, it really is.
AB: So I know you said when you were driving down the street you saw a guy that immediately gave you an idea for an image…so are these figures in your paintings based on specific people or are they characters that you create based on situations?
CM: They are characters that I create. I do have a few media stories that are going to be fairly specific but its still going to be my interpretation. I used to paint oil portraits, many years ago and I kind of never want to do that again. I create my own, I guess, I don’t want to say generic, but I create my own figure to put in that particular situation, but we do have specific stories of specific subjects like Eric Garner, it won’t be Eric Garner’s face because I don’t want to do that, but the imagery will present itself like…I’m going to say Eric Garner’s murder, and because ofwhat I am trying to portray to the viewer is not necessarily specific…but they will probably relate it to Eric Garner. Those who don’t know that particular situation… I want them to look at the act that’s being committed as being wrong. I am not trying to give you the history of Eric Garner, but I am trying to let you know that this particular act is wrong, or it took place. This is based on a true story…I hate those moves, but…so the image doesn’t become generic, but the image becomes a representation.
AB: Yea, you don’t give enough specifics but its enough for anyone to be able to associate it with that.
CM: Right, and it may even be title driven. Unless you walk up and see the title Killing Eric Garner you can still step back from the painting and see this is a violent act, and by the colors, this is the victim, this is the antagonist, you can see who the players are and draw your own conclusion. See even with the painting Beating Rodney King you have the representative sticks, you have him in his crouched figure, you have the city behind him, if you don’t know who Rodney King is, and as I get older, I just turned 50… I am surprised, as I get older, younger generations don’t know who Eric Garner is, they haven’t researched it. Then I realize they probably weren’t born or they are kids and don’t know the story. Just like there are events that happened before me that I had to research. So you know in Beating Rodney King they can see these items that represent somebody being struck because there is an arrow based on where he was probably hit.
AB: Yea, well that is the power of art…to document these situations, so when someone younger approaches your work, it might prompt them to look it up.
CM: You know, Picasso’s Guernica would make someone go research it and see what happened.
AB: Yea, absolutely. You mentioned a children’s book, I think it would be great to portray stories through that…
CM: Yea, I don’t want to say too much about it until I…I have been rewriting and reworking it and its going to be a picture book, but it has dialogue. I think the only thing that has changed from my original idea…I went back to my history of illustration and started trying to come up with howI wanted to illustrate it, fast forward to now, I am going to use my style. I got these beautiful characters that are part of this little journey these two kids are taking but my style will work and I will just build these characters, simplify them…because the original sketches, 5, 16 years ago were very complex, they were very stylized, realistic and I guess that’s why I didn’t do them because I’m lazy..I don’t want to have to do 5 or 6 different styles, overtime I do something so if I decide to do a second children’s book, if this one actually works, then I have to go back to this style. I’ll just keep the same style for everything, then I don’t have to think.
AB: Well I think your style works.
CM: Thank you.
AB: I know you don’t want to give away too much, but do you see these children’s books being about social issues as well?
CM: The first one is not, its about reclaiming childhood. That’s what they mostly are. I think children are forced to grow up too fast now. My daughter is going to be 22 this year and just looking at where she is now, we made sure she stayed a child, and that’s why it is so perplexing that I can’t sit and talk to her, when we go out to eat, as my little daughter. I am sitting in front of a young women now and its just weird.
AB: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about that I haven’t asked you?
CM: I can’t think of anything. If I do it will probably turn out to be a long drawn out ramble. I’m not going to put you through that. I will say that I grew up in an era where there weren’t a lot of highly recognized African American artists, so my research came from Charles White, John Biggers, Jacob Lawrence, but not just them…I love Michelangelo because it was the perfect way for a figure to look. I think students should do their research now. I think the old masters are highly over done in magazines. Overtime you open up one, its like yea there is another Picasso. I think there are a lot of good artists out here and they should start featuring them. There is something to say for doing your research, looking at who’s doing what, and how they are doing it. That’s my spiel.
See more of Carl’s work on his website: http://www.carlemoore.com/about.html