Nick Cassway merges a fine arts practice with commercial design, iconography, and illustration to create vibrant works with bold and impactful imagery. Coinciding with the 2016 Philadelphia Open Studio Tours (POST), Above the Sound of Ideologies Clashing is an immersive room-sized installation of a custom wallpaper pattern involving 80 sequential drawings that progresses and ultimately repeats over the four walls of CFEVA’s gallery space. In this narrative-based wallcovering, a fraught encounter takes place between a stage magician and a sorceress and erupts into a confrontation between their distinct approaches to using magic. Above the Sound of Ideologies Clashing brings to the foreground a conversation about the coexistence of oppositional forces, which is especially necessary in this politically- and ideologically-charged time.
The drawings in Above the Sound of Ideologies Clashing were derived from a commissioned performance by Aram Aghazarian and Johanna Kasimow—two Philadelphia-based performers and theater creators. Cassway tasked Aram and Johanna with creating a performance that would only be seen as wallpaper and would never be presented live. They were given the further restriction that the action had to end where it began. The narrative depicting the confrontation between the stage magician and the sorceress was originally 6-minutes long, and from that, 80 frames were selected to represent the story.
Cassway's drawing process is akin to film editing. He draws quickly using brush and ink and traces photographs over a custom digital light table made from a Raspberry Pi computer and salvaged LCD screen. Multiple drawings are created for each frame (typically 6). They are then scanned and select components from each drawing are used to create a seventh composite drawing. The artist's goal is to create drawings that are accurately rendered yet appear to be made with immediacy. Photoshop is used to create color separations and ultimately arrange the repeat.
The wallpaper was printed through the online service Spoonflower.com as a series of 40 individual, connected designs.
The wallpaper in my childhood bathroom has been one of my greatest artistic influences. Besides Mad Magazine and Captain America comic books, it was this incredible wallpaper—a beautifully rendered circus scene, complete with lion tamers, acrobats and clowns, complemented by a fantastic early ‘70s color palette of green, blue, fuchsia, ochre and purple and arranged in a mind-boggling complex repeat pattern—that inspired me. Throughout my artistic development, I often refer back to this design in my work—its stylistic line work, the narrative and the color palette. Exploring surface design as an artistic platform was an inevitable progression.
As I experimented with and explored repeat patterns, I began considering the metaphoric possibilities of wallpaper. In this narrative form of surface design, commonly referred to as conversational style the story elements never progress; they are snippets of time, frozen in endless unyielding repetition. For me this makes a curious analogy. By utilizing a motif that explores a concept or situation that never resolves, it creates a compelling commentary about history repeating itself or about how the more things change the more things stay the same. This possibility prompted me to consider not limiting the story to a handful of repeated components but to expand the narrative and turn an entire room into a repeat; that there could be a lot more to the story, but it will eventually come back to the beginning. These loops and cycles can then expand the analogy and be used to represent culture, politics, election years and the waxing and waning of political and personal ideologies. In this installation, the rhythms of ideological conflict—the staking out of territories, the assertions, enticements, and grandstanding, the arguments and counter-arguments, the agreements, divisions and ultimately homeostasis—forms the design components that cycle throughout the room.
In my childhood bathroom, the wallpaper was intended to serve as the backdrop despite how bold it was. It existed to fill in space, add color and texture and endlessly fascinate anyone enjoying their periodic repose. With this installation, however, the background becomes the foreground, forcing the conversation into the middle of the room. And this conversation, at this particular place and time, is one we cannot afford to ignore.
Story Devised by: Nick Cassway, Aram Aghazarian and Johanna Kasimow
Story Performed by: Aram Aghazarian and Johanna Kasimow
Photography by: James Wasserman
Wallpaper Installation by Greg Tefankjian
“Above the Sound of Ideologies Clashing” is a lyric from the Billy Bragg song Ideology from the album Talking to the Taxman About Poetry.
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Nick Cassway is the Antonia W. Hamilton Fellow at The Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA) and artist in residence at the TaconyLAB (a partnership between Philadelphia Mural Arts and the Free Library of Philadelphia). He is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Computer Graphics, Editorial Design, and Brand Identity in the Design and Merchandising program at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. Mr. Cassway received a BFA in painting from the Tyler School of Art in 1990 and has exhibited his drawings, prints, and site-specific installations both locally and nationally.
Photo: Above the Sound of Ideologies Clashing (detail), digitally printed wallpaper, dimensions variable