Briefly describe the work you do.
Imagine, at this very moment, you find yourself looking for something of the utmost importance. Suddenly, you realize you have forgotten what you are pursuing and cannot even recall whether it is a thing, person, or idea. Maybe you start to doubt you ever knew what it was in the first place.
In an effort to make sense of the situation, you start documenting your experiences in a notebook. Images appear and instantly, naturally, transform into something else. Things you see in the corner of one eye flash across your vision to linger in the corner of the other. You fill the last page in your book and continue on top of what you have already demarcated, new layers obscuring old.
At some point, you realize a note on the bottom layer of page six is critical to make sense of what is happening, but have marked over it so many times it is now impossible to read. You take your pen, write down what you think it may have said, and continue on. As you search flailingly, these pages do not become maps, nor pieces of a puzzle to be later assembled. They become a record of a search for something unknowable, bound by neither space, time, nor place. Your eye never rests and there is no way out: only in, through, and back in again.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I grew up in the suburbs, which instilled me with both an insatiable wanderlust and a knack for finding wonder and beauty everywhere. I learned to read because my mother wrote down words and would let me draw pictures of them if I knew what they meant. I survived grade school by filling up every single inch of my margins with doodles. I made it through art school by putting that notebook marginalia on the walls.
I’ve tried my hand at being a baker, attorney, web designer, illustrator, and teacher, among other things, across ten different states—but in the end always come back, eyes a little more open, to artmaking.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I don’t have a studio practice separate from my daily life. I travel often, so I try to be able to switch in and out of making mode on a moment’s notice. I always carry a manual-controls camera and a small book in my pocket where ideas for both new and ongoing pieces get tucked away. I guess “being in the studio” most accurately describes how I feel when I’m trekking up and down Wyoming mountains or across Oregon beaches.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
At some point (and maybe still) as a maker, I loved the idea of spending my days in the studio toiling away at paintings. I quickly realized, though, that I also needed to be a publicist, became a curator, publisher, photographer, writer, and, essentially, anything anyone needed. Even if I had NO idea what I was doing, I had to be able to say yes without hesitation, learn how to do whatever I had just said yes to, and do a very good job at it on the deadline that happened to be in place.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
Before we were all connected to everything all the time, I found the best, most focused time to make art was during primetime television with the set on as background noise. The TV provided just enough distraction to keep my attention focused on making, without my mind wandering to something else that required me putting down my pencil and heading off in pursuit. Since then, with the advent of television on demand, I can recreate those happy primetime hours of yesteryear on a moment’s notice. I especially enjoy running through a season of television while making in the middle of the night, free from phone calls, emails, and other worldly interventions.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
In grad school, after my first year in the painting department, I had a review in which the professors informed me that perhaps I did not need to make any more paintings. I took that to heart and have, since then, been a mixed-media artist who employs whatever medium best suits the idea I am pursuing. Now, fifteen years out of grad school, I have happily returned to painting—for as long as it makes sense to do so.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Because my art is rooted in experiencing life, my interactions often find their way into what I create. Whether it’s collaborating with other artists, working a dinner conversation into a painting, drawing a Fukurokuju mask onto a character, or borrowing a thought from Camus, it all works its way into the making.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
No. All my interests are tied to artmaking. Sometimes I wonder if that makes me boring or limited? In the end, I guess it just makes me me. I like walking and driving, thinking about art. I enjoy a good beer and dreaming about future projects or talking about what might be. A dinner with creative people, of whatever field, is especially delightful. (I guess I do, unrelatedly, very much enjoy racquetball.)
Corwin Levi is a mixed media, project-based artist. His undertakings include looking at ruptured walls and finding faint fields, investigating gin piles, capturing the insides of eyelids, pulling moments from the void, and seeing how long people can hold their breath for shine. Corwin has shown across the country from Portland, OR, to Kansas City, MO, to Washington, DC. He has wandered about various residencies including the Roswell Artist in Residence Program, Elsewhere, the Millay Colony, Willapa Bay, and Ucross. Corwin has a BA from Rice University, an MFA from the Tyler School of Art, and a JD from the University of Virginia.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.