Inside Artist Calethia DeConto's Inspiring Studio
To view the work of Los Angeles-based artist Calethia DeConto is to immediately understand that this is a woman tremendously inspired by nature: the human form (often her own) is frequently depicted amid trees, interacting with plants, or near breaking waves in her photographs and mixed media pieces. But even when it's not, the body is treated with the same sense of awe and curiosity that most of us feel in the presence of an epic landscape or sunset. That said, it makes sense that the Enid, Oklahoma native—who grew up in about a dozen different cities throughout the United States and Europe—has chosen a serene, tree-shaded oasis in Studio City as her live/work space.
Upon entering her studio, the breadth of projects DeConto is working on at a given time is impressive: a hand-woven textile borders the room, a carefully organized pile of indigo, hand-printed fabric cyanotypes cover a tabletop, a tiny collage casually leans against a glass bottle that holds a leafy sprig. And all around are her hauntingly beautiful black and white prints, many of them manipulated by hand a number of ways. Even places where her work isn't, there's inspiration in the form of art books, crystals, and plants everywhere. We stopped by just before Calethia headed to Portland to open "Gently Wild," a solo show at Wolff Gallery (it remains on display through the end of September) to learn more about the many things that influence her work, the artists she admires most, and what she needs to feel productive.
What's your earliest creative memory?
Asking my little friend and neighbor to pose in my new white bed (picked from a Sears catalogue) when I was nine years old. It had a canopy of mosquito netting and I used my pink 110mm camera. I have no idea what my inspiration was, but it was my first foray into creative direction rather than documentary photography as a child. She was sweet and laid down like a little angel. I remember the feeling; I still get it now as an adult.
You work in a number of mediums, even within photography: collage, text, analog, book making. What do you love about getting your hands in all the different processes as opposed to staying in one lane only?
Self expression for me feels limitless. I follow what moves my spirit but when I look at all my work collectively it makes sense. What I love the most is the "high" I get while in the zone regardless of the medium.
Who have been your biggest muses and inspirations?
Mother Nature! But also Andy Goldsworthy, Maya Deren, Francesca Woodman, Kiki Smith, Shamanism, Vedic (Indian) philosophies and Yoruba (African) cosmologies.
What would you say are some common themes in your work?
Nature worship, divine feminine, sensuality, spirituality and some mysterious stuff I can't quite explain because it's a a bit beyond my own comprehension. But I'm trying to understand.
What are some must haves when you're getting shit done in the studio?
Black tea with honey and milk, plants, natural light, laptop, music, and solitude.
What do you do on a regular basis to stay creatively sharp?
Marvel at the wonder of nature usually in my little garden. I love to drink chai on a bench in my yard, meditating listening to birds and wind in the trees. I often have music on in my studio and loop the same album or song repeatedly especially when I am in a groove.
You've worked quite a bit with self portraiture. What's satisfying (or difficult!) about exploring yourself that way?
I like it because I'm always available. I think it all started with just wanting to test some ideas without being beholden to having to edit and release the photos to a model. Often I see a patch of fleeting light or magic so I set up my tripod to capture what I see. I prefer figurative work so that's where my "self" comes in to tie things together. I feel that it is less self portraiture and more a case of convenience and sometimes paralyzing introversion. I'm an only child but often wish I had a sister. I bet that would make it easier and less awkward when people say "Is that you?"