Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Caitlin Cali in Convo with Sara Wintz

For this next series of Storefront Window Installations we'll be pairing our exhibiting artists with other artists and curators for interview conversations. This spring we were pleased to host Caitlin Cali's installation .

Caitlin Cali has been living in Providence for 12 years, and in that time she has been a mentor and teacher at wonderful places like New Urban Arts and AS220 Youth and she has worked a million different other jobs too. Lately she draws and paints and just started making some etchings. She lives with sweet earth angel cats. She makes art about the dark side and how it makes everything you love so special and precious and hilarious. 

Below is a convo between Caitlin and author Sara Wintz.


SW: What’s the title of this installation? How did you start thinking about it? How did you make it? 

CC: I didn't come up with a title for the installation. I thought about the cars and people going by and what I wanted to say to them and I felt like people might like to see creatures and colors and the message of "i love you". I used foam core and an Exacto-knife and cut out big creature shapes and then painted them with acrylic paint and then drew the black lines on with a fat marker. 

SW: How did it feel to make something on a larger scale? What was that process like?

CC: It took longer. It was fun to see things in the end, but more work physically than compared to just drawing small stuff in a sketchbook.

SW: All these characters seem very happy to be partying in the storefront window, smiling at Olneyville Square. In some ways, it’s like a mirror or a portal. What’s your relationship with Olneyville Square and Dirt Palace been like over the last 12 years? How have you felt about either or both of those spaces? 

CC: Thank you! I wanted them to be happy, early summer feeling,  bright and sparkly. I love Olneyville Square, I have lots of memories, especially early ones of when I first moved to Providence and met so many cool artists and people and a lot of them lived around there. And so many art shows, experiences, memories. It makes our little Providence so special. And it is a big satisfying feeling and an honor to be a part of the long line of art shown in the window! 

SW: I like the portraits that you’ve been making recently of people’s houses. When I look at them, I always try to guess who lives inside the house you made. What inspired you to accept commissions for house portraits? What’s that creative process been like? How has it changed the way that you think about structures like home? 

CC: Thanks! I like the feeling of being inside, being safe and cozy. It's a luxurious feeling and I think houses or homes are sometimes entities of their own, like the house is a creature. People usually say they want something specific like their pets in the window, or a certain plant or a time of day, or something specific to add into the house portrait. The structure comes alive with the other beings it houses. 

SW: Tell me about your ideal home? Has that changed over the course of your life? 

CC: I just want somewhere safe and simple and basic and cozy. Small. Snug. I want a garden and I want basic stuff, no bells and whistles, nothing fancy or techy or advanced.  And I want privacy and I want my house to be tidy and colorful and full of good smells and food cooking and friends stopping by and my cats lounging around in the sun. I want to take care of things. Keep stuff running and clean and cared for. 

SW: In your work, there are often these detailed, other-worldly creatures: a smiling butterfly, a cat smelling a flower, a cool mermaid. How do you think of, imagine these creatures? Do they have names? Have they always been a part of your work? 

CC: I guess I like creatures haha!! I don't know where they come from. They do not have names usually. They have always been a part of my work. I used to have a sketch book when I was a kid and I had sections that were like chapters and they were like "giants" "ghosts" "monsters".

SW: Pippi and I are wondering about your Instagram alter-ego (“Caitlin Cali’s Shadow”), mentalpus. What’s the plus side of posting art on social media under an alter ego? What’s the down side? Pippi says “...the black and white drawings ARE SO BLEAK!!! Like gut wrenching. It really is my favorite thing… I wish she would make a zine of those like 40 or so black and white drawings. Because I want one!” Is a zine in the works? 

CC: I just figured I would keep my crappy over-emotional sketchbook diary separate from my other stuff. I wanted a page that was just for dumping my emo stuff. I guess the downside is that I shared my ugly mentalpus! Yeah, I can get so deep into the emotions of life! It is actually so helpful to be able to draw how I feel because sometimes there are no words. No zine in the works! 

SW: When I look at your Dirt Palace installation from the sidewalk, I can’t decide which character I like the best: the tall, smiling pink tulip or the smallest smiling green leaf in the window, or the sun-like creatures who say “[eye] <3 u.” Why and how does the sun have so much love to give? If it’s not for the immediate viewer, who is the sun giving its love to?

CC: Aww, thank you! The "i love you" things are kind of sun creatures! I had not thought of them as creatures but more like decorative word bubbles. The sun is pretty nurturing though! And its cool that you perceived them as creatures too! The love is meant for everyone! We need so much love. 


SW: When I look at your Dirt Palace installation while driving by in my car, I wonder how the rest of the drivers feel about this installation. Is there a message or a feeling that you hope to convey with this work? Something you hope that drivers experience when they pass by? 

CC: I hope some whimsy, some inner smile, or a little curiosity or even just the nice eye feel of looking at bright colors and sparkles. And LOVE!


Sara Wintz is the author of Walking Across A Field We Are Focused On At This Time Now (Ugly Duckling Press), an epic poem about histories, and a chapbook called The Lauras (sus press). Watch me read poems at Tupelo Quarterly or BAM/PFA. More interviews and articles at The Creative IndependentThe Poetry Foundation, Art Papers, and Open Space.

This installation and interview were made possible in part through support from the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism.

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