Q&A: Les Caison III on ‘Looking Up’


Lovey Cooper

Since December, artist Les Caison III’s work has been on display in the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, a space that did not exist when he graduated with a Bachelor  of Fine Arts in studio art from Appalachian State University in 1998.

Gerrit Van Genderen | The Appalachian

His most recent collection contains paintings constructed with multiple layers of oil paint and graphite illustration. The overarching concept of “Looking Up” revolves around the notion of moving two steps back, with one’s best foot forward.
“These paintings explore using whatever we have to go forward. Sometimes carrying on is as simple as acknowledging the heavens,” Caison said in his artist’s statement. “Sometimes we are celebrating life and our spirits are light-footed. Other times we are overflowing with contemplation and seek solace amid whatever environment we can find. We just have to keep Looking Up.”
Thursday, he returns to give an artist’s lecture at 7 p.m. in the Turchin Center.
“All of the lonely figures in Caison’s new series ‘Looking Up’ are engaged in a private dance,” curator Mary Anne Redding said in the gallery guide for this exhibition. “Even the couples appear solitary, lost in private reverie, looking to the stars for inspiration, listening to music only they can hear.”


The Appalachian: Tell me about this exhibition. How is it similar to or different from your other work?
Les Caison III: “Offering stories is my mode of operation. It is a goal to engage the audience as if they were walking into a story in-progress just before or slightly after something has occurred. The stories change with each new body of work.  Technique-wise the intertwining of graphite drawing and oil painting is ever constant.  The topics explored with each series definitely change as does the color palette.  “Looking Up” cascades with pinks and periwinkles as the concept of “hope from your own devices’ is explored.”

TA: How has it been received in the time that it has been at the Turchin so far?
LC: “Folks are picking up on the ‘oohs’ behind the depictions of clouds.  They’re also expressing ‘aahs’ from experiencing the warmth in the Turchin upon entering from the cold. “
TA: How does the “two steps backwards with your best foot forward” idea relate to your own experience?
LC: “It’s an illustration of perspective. What one would normally experience as detrimental may be sincerely positive, if one can simply get past their own biases and preconceived notions.  That is often a daily experience for me. Some days it’s a struggle, other days it’s viewed as an opportunity within myself and/or amid interactions with others. I believe if one is able to truly see something in a positive light, then that filter colorizes the experience and not soon after comes the smile. In that manner it does not matter where one is traveling as long as they are doing the best they can.”

TA: Tell me a little bit about your artistic process. How do the methods you use relate to the concepts in this collection?
LC: “It’s like a faucet. The floodgates open up to receive ideas, inspirations, and pulp that relates to the topic being explored. During that period of time, mental and sometimes subconscious notes are made concerning color choices, emotions to express/explore, and music echoes about – serving as the coach with a bullhorn on your back. All are sought to help get the creativity to flow and the paint spread.  I employ what is around me to create and move forward.”

TA: What will your upcoming lecture focus on?
LC: “The lecture will provide an opportunity to consider how the world about me influences the topic explored in a given body of work. The creative process for “Looking Up” is documented in-progress with the ease of contemporary technology and images from the trusty sketchbook.”

TA: What do you feel you have to teach students here?
LC: “Not sure. I do hope to receive an opportunity to interact with the students through discourse either in the gallery or the classroom. It has been a treat thus far when strolling through the local spots to chat with folks — students and otherwise — and feel the sincere interest they show when they learn about “Looking Up”.”

TA: As an Appalachian graduate, what is it like to return to the university to show your work? What has changed? What drew you back?
LC: “I am grateful to exhibit with ASU. The Turchin is a beautiful facility and hosts numerous fantastic exhibitions. Turchin wasn’t here back in the day. The art students mounted exhibitions in university-sanctioned locations, but also in non-conventional places — like Wey Hall’s elevator. We didn’t have this level and quantity of guest exhibitions to consider. ASU helped me hone my ability to live creatively in a variety of ways. “Looking Up” is a way of saying ‘thank you’ while continuing to more forward.
It’s hard to say what has changed — obviously the lay of the land has a few more buildings and several businesses have changed owners. The wide-open desire to learn seems consistent though. The students have time and interest to hear what each other has to say and they give themselves an opportunity to contemplate.  Upon further interactions with the university next week it is a goal to observe and glean a more informed point of view.
There will always be a piece of Boone with me. So many firsts occurred for me here: submersion into the beauty of life as a student; a first time dweller in a hill town; a young artist full of drive and piss and energy — these are portions my history and will always strike a resounding chord with me. “

TA: What about the university, if anything, has influenced your work in the long term?
LC: “If you have to speak at length about the artwork in order for others to comprehend it, it is failing at visual communication.”

TA: What’s next for you?
LC: “Back to basics: drawing from life. Getting more familiar with white conte [crayon] on tinted paper.  Atypical flesh tones.”

Story: Lovey Cooper, Senior A&E Reporter

Photo: Gerrit Van Genderen, Managing Editor