How did you first get involved in art?
Since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with gadgets - and cameras became an object of obsession for me. I remember drooling over the new cameras behind the glass at Service Merchandise, dreaming of a time I would get to play with my own. It really was a tactile thing, at first, spinning the dials and pushing the buttons has always been really satisfying; using the camera became a puzzle I was determined to solve. I read as many books as I could find on the subject and taught myself how to shoot, process film, print in the darkroom and use Photoshop. I shot as much as I could and eventually started taking classes in community college which quickly led to me transferring to the Brooks Institute (RIP). The school had a very technically-oriented curriculum and that helped me master the craft and also led to a successful career in commercial photography. I wanted to teach and that brought me back to Brooks for my MFA.
That experience revolutionized my world and it was there I began to really think and feel like an artist. I wouldn’t say my earlier work wasn’t art, but it was far more process oriented than the work I’ve made since my MFA program which is far more aware of subtext, symbolism, metaphor and narrative. The other major transition was from making images for other people to making them for myself.
Do you have any other art-training or art education?
I’ve taken classes at Lansing Community College in Michigan, which has a fantastic photography program, and then earned both my BS in Professional Photography and MFA from the recently departed Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. I truly am a student of the discipline and I’m always learning new tricks from a variety of sources. For the past two years I’ve been on the faculty at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and I’ve learned more from that experience than almost any other. There’s something about taking your knowledge, distilling it down and clearly communicating it to others that embeds it so much deeper in your mind. As an artist and eternal student of photography, teaching is my dream job.
Where & from do you draw inspiration?
The geography of the places I live, have lived, and have visited are by far the most influential on my work. Looking out the window during road trips sets my mind wandering and that is reflected strongly in my work. I’m proud to say I’m also a huge aviation dork and that contributes to the importance of skies in my work. Clouds are like temporary geographies loaded with symbolism and they play a critical role in the mood of my imagery. Home has been a source of tension and joy in my life and frequently makes it’s way into my work in the form of various houses and structures. Even the simplest house can evoke a powerful visual response. Many of the structures in my work are found on road trips or inspired by those I’ve seen.
When it comes to other artists, I find more inspiration in painters. In particular, I love the uncanniness of Rene Magritte, the repeated use of symbols by Marc Chagall, and since moving to North Carolina, I’ve been strongly influenced by the moods created by Bill Dunlap and his use of farmhouses.
How did you discover the Foundry Art Centre?
I discovered the center through a call for entry. The facility looks incredible and I love the history behind it. I haven’t been, but I certainly will be stopping by the next time I’m passing through the area.
What are you currently working on?
For my current series, “Curb Appeal”, I’m creating narrative images that address the gap between outside perceptions and the internal realities of home. My mother was a hoarder and my childhood experience was extremely difficult, but from the outside, all was well. This obviously had a profound impact and continues to be, as one of my mentors aptly coined it “psychic manure” for my work. The source images for the work were taken mostly in North Carolina, with some others coming from trips back and forth to Michigan. The images are heavily influenced by the hills and dynamic cloudscapes of the Appalachian Mountains as well as the isolation and vast spaces of the Midwest. An important element in all of my recent work is the desire to tell a story. I want my images to feel real, but I don’t like the constraints of a straight photograph. Rarely, if ever, do the clouds, landscape and structures align to my satisfaction. But they do in my mind, so that’s what I make.
How do you connect with people through your art? Why do you create art?
I make sure my students know what I am working on at any given moment. I want them to see that the process of photography, and any art for that matter, is a process of trial, failure and repetition. I’ve made so many bad pictures in my career, but they’ve all helped me to get better over time. Failure can be devastating to young visual artists, so I try to re-frame it in a positive way. I love failing at things and I do it often, sometimes spectacularly in front of them! I want them see that’s normal. I spent most of my career making work for other people and that can lead to burnout. Even though I teach in a commercial photography program, I want my students to see themselves as artists and that a key to success, and personal fulfillment, is the incorporation of their unique personal vision in whatever they’re photographing. The reason for my creating art is tied to this statement. I create art because I am an artist and photographer, and that’s what I do. Regardless of the activity - be it photography, ceramics, or gingerbread house building with my family - I’m driven to express something. If I’m not making something each day, I feel unaccomplished. I’m not directly creating art for art therapy, but for me, all making is therapeutic. In the end, I make art because I have to and if someone else is moved by my art, that shared experience is wonderful and makes the world feel a little smaller.
What do you enjoy doing aside from art?
In my spare time, I love to read and write both fiction and nonfiction. I love being with my family and playing with my two amazing daughters. I also love taking on home-improvement projects that are miles above my pay grade, banging my head against the wall when they go south, and then ultimately celebrating when I somehow manage to pull them off.
Andrew Caldwell's award-winning artwork is on display through Friday, July 28 in Gallery I of Tell Me A Story at the Foundry Art Centre. Follow him on Instagram for more insight into his work and see the work of his photography department.
Article by Jillian Schoettle.