Inaugural Artist Feature. Celeste Carballo

No Heaven / No Earth. 2011 performance. Backdrop acrylic on paper. Celeste Carballo, left. Accompanied by Cassandra Jenkins on vocals & synth, right; Mathew Petronelli on synth and percussion

As mentioned before, we have decided to incorporate a series of Artist Features- an exchange of words and images with makers we enjoy. Our goal is to approach these q&a's informally as to not exclude anyone in the discussion. 

I met Celeste in college. My memories of her work are that of the personal and historical, intimate and dark, "simultaneously beautiful and macabre" as she reveals in her statement. She captures a stillness with such care. I am happy to introduce the talented and beautiful Celeste Carballo- painter, musician, installation artist. 

If I remember correctly, you went to study in Glasgow after you graduated right? Can you speak to that experience a bit in terms of how jumping from the immense art world of New York to Scotland affected your work and/or ideas. Furthermore, how has it felt returning to NYC?

Yes, about three years after finishing my undergrad studies at NYU, I went to The Glasgow School of Art for my MFA . Living and working in Scotland was a very welcome change of pace and rhythm altogether. In many ways it was refreshing to be in a city where the art and music community is more close-knit and intertwined than it is here in NYC. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that Glasgow is a much smaller city than New York, but regardless, it certainly seemed as if there was more support rather than competition within the creative community. Glasgow has a reputation for being an underdog city, and I think they're quite proud of that, which is great, because it means that there's less pretense going on. It doesn't have the rich and glamorous art world of NY, but it's got grit and character and a talented pool of local and international artists.

In regards to the ideas for my work, I grew more and more interested in the mythology of the American West. Which is funny, considering I had left the US, and the landscape in Scotland is something else altogether. But part of me also thought that that might have only added to certain romantic notions that I had in the first place. Because even when I was back home, I was in New York City, which also couldn't be farther from the American west. I liked to think of Henri Rousseau, who made all those beautiful jungle paintings even though he had never left France.

I've been back in NYC for over a year now, and I've found it challenging to readjust to life here. Patti Smith was quoted as saying that NYC has basically closed itself off to young artists, which I agree with. However, I've been lucky in that I've got my family's support, and since I've grown up here, this will always be the home that I come back to. At the moment I share an artist's studio with some friends in Bushwick; I had worked in that space for a couple years before I left for Glasgow, and was welcomed back when I returned. 

I think Patti is right as well. As I’ve spent most of my life in the American West, it’s so interesting to hear that you have romantic notions of it. Are there any moves West in your future or would that perhaps obscure the romance?

   As of right now, there are no plans to leave the east coast; although I don't believe that it would 'obscure the romance,' as you put it. I'm fairly certain I will always be attracted to the mythology of the American West, no matter where I am living...

What are you working on now?

Right now I'm working on a couple of things. First of all, I'm in the process of getting some research and preparatory work together for a residency which I will be undertaking later on this year in France. I submitted a proposal for a project that examines ritual behaviors associated with death and re-creation, and aims to draw aesthetic and symbolic parallels between pre-Columbian civilizations and early 20th century movements such as Suprematism, Constructivism and Bauhaus. The piece is going to involve an installation and music performance.

I've also just started working on some paintings that are based on my recent trip out to Joshua Tree. I took a bunch of photographs while I was there with this great old Polaroid land camera, so I'm using those as image sources. I'm trying to get back into oil painting, which I haven't done in a while; it's been mostly watercolor and gouache the past few years. At the end of the day, I always gravitate towards figurative drawing and painting.

I am very interested in the jump you've made from working in 2D to performance and ultimately melding the two. In doing that, it feels that you are supplying a sort of cinematic experience for an audience. DO you think about or use cinema in your process?
I've been playing music for a number of years now, so in a sense I've always given thought to the visual components involved in a live performance. Although there are some films that have influenced my work, it's safer to say that I think more about music when it comes to piecing together a performance. There is something about the transcendental effect of experiencing live music that doesn't occur in the same way with visual art. And because I've always felt strongly about the two, I thought it'd be an interesting challenge to combine them. I consider it a work in progress, still.

What live performances have given you that transcendental effect you mention?

I really like shows that involve an element of performance or that incorporate visuals in a thoughtful way. I've seen a few in the last couple of years that I thought were really brilliant: Rufus Wainwright, Swans, and Spectrum are the ones I can think of right off the top of my head. They were all completely different from one another musically and aesthetically, but I can honestly say that they were the kind of shows where you could lose yourself for a small moment in time. 


There certainly is a kind of ceremonial or ritualistic aspect to No Heaven / No Earth, yet I would also call it a song. How do you go about writing and arranging these works?

No Heaven / No Earth was my first attempt at writing music that didn't fit into a 'traditional' format. I definitely had ceremonial and ritualistic themes in mind, and would agree that it is a 'song,' or  a cycle of songs, rather. There were three main ideas which were repeated throughout the piece, which ultimately formed a twenty minute performance. The act of performing repetitive music was a reference to a pre-Columbian notion of time, which was not considered linear, but was rather seen as a continuous present. 

I came up with the basic ideas on guitar and vocals and brought the whole piece together with my boyfriend, Mathew Petronelli, and my close friend Cassandra Jenkins. They played a couple of analogue synthesizers for full droney, atmospheric effect (which unfortunately did not translate well in the video excerpts). Mat also added a little bit of percussion, and Cassandra joined me on vocals. I wanted it to sound full, yet sparse and minimal at the same time. The words were adapted from poems based on the texts of Chilam Balam. I chose these texts because I am interested in the theme of duality: life and death, creation and destruction, lightness and darkness...etc. We've since recorded the piece, but it has yet to be mixed. 

Can you describe any moments that led you into transitioning to performance?

I started transitioning to performance when I was in Glasgow, as I found myself growing more and more interested in the idea of the diorama as this contained and constructed moment in time. I liked the notion of an alternate reality occurring within a confined space, and for a limited amount of time. I had always been in love with the habitat dioramas at the Natural History Museum here in New York, and they made me want to create backdrops for music-related performances. I also met a lot of talented musicians in Glasgow who were game to try something a little less traditional, so that was encouraging, too. Occasionally I like playing in spaces that are not necessarily venues; it's good to change things up a bit.

Any artists you a really excited about these days?

When I was in LA recently, I visited one of our old classmates from NYU, Rebecca Kolsrud. I had fallen out of touch with her, but last fall she had a solo show in NY and sent me an invite for it. So I went, and it was good to catch up with her. I've always been a fan of Becky's paintings for a couple reasons. For one, she's got a knack for making things look really effortless, and for another, she's got a subtle sense of humor that I really appreciate. 

Becky's currently finishing up her MFA at UCLA, but I don't think she has plans to return to New York. I think she's happy to stay in her native southern California for now.

Will you discuss your dream type scenario as an artist- perhaps in terms of who you would collaborate with, where you would perform/install or what you would create with unlimited resources?

At the moment, I'd really like to find some like-minded musicians to work with (surprisingly enough, I've found this to be quite challenging since I've been back in New York). If I had unlimited resources, I would love to organize a show in a less conventional space- like maybe a barn in upstate New York. It would probably involve large scale drawings and a music performance. Unlimited resources would mean that I could give a lot more consideration to things like framing and lighting and clothing for the performers. It would also mean getting new toys in the music department...

Dear Celeste,

Photographic study on layers of tracing paper with colored pencil.

 In direct response to you, your work and ideas here is my image. This was made using the only image I have ever seen of my mother with her father- a man whom is a part of my 'mythology of the American West'. The son of a medicine man, my grandfather has always been a mystery to me. Thank you for sharing Celeste. 


See all of Celeste's work

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