Conducted by Tara Eshghi
Visual Artist. Workshop sewing and screening instructor. Heavy metal mermaid. There are many ways to describe SF native Caitlin Mattisson – and she’s got no shortage of verve to back it all up. No matter the endeavor, Caitlin comes at it with her unmistakable energy. Her latest series of paintings, Kallisti, will be on display at Salon Miel December 14th – February 14th. You can find Caitlin online at Blackmagus.com
What are your classes like at workshop?
So I teach screen printing and sewing at workshop. I’d say the sewing classes are more of a structured tutorial because each person uses their own machine and they are each working on specific projects, and I think theres a lot more information that I’m trying to instill in people because we’re using a machine that a lot of people really don’t have a clue how to use yet, and there’s just so much information to pack in and so many rabbits holes you can go down.
I feel like the screen printing class is a bit more relaxed. Every now and then we have someone who’s really really serious about learning the process. But a lot of times it’s people who come with a friend or a group, and they’ve either done it once before or kinda get what’s going on and they just kind of wanna have fun and hang out and learn something new and work on something fun. But it’s not as intensive because people are going more at their own pace.
Tell me about Black Magus.
So Black Magus is a company I co-founded with my best friend, Diane Berry. We met in fashion design school, and we always talked about how cool it would be to have our own brand. But we didn’t just want it to be a clothing brand, because I was more into drawing and she ended up getting her masters in writing. We wanted it to be more like a fashion, lifestyle, and art magazine. So we created Black Magus as a vehicle for us to showcase what we’re doing and what other people are doing that we’re into.
Where are you at with your illustration work?
I’ve been working on becoming very specific and precise. I’ve been doing a bootcamp training with myself without letting myself use white-out, so there’s no going back. Like with the tarot deck I’m working on. So I’d sketch them in pencil. But as soon as I would draw them in ink, if I messed up I’d have to figure out how to fix it.
So after the bootcamp, because those drawings were so labor-intensive, I wanted to loosen it up more, and allow myself to make mistakes and be able to go back and re-work things. With these paintings, I used a gloss medium as an in-between so once I do a layer and i like it, I’d put the medium over it and it creates kind of a workable surface again that I can go back to if I don’t like what I put over it.
What’s the story behind your latest series of paintings, Kallisti?
My muse for this series is the goddess Eris. She’s the the goddess of discord, and where the philosophy of discordianism comes from. The symbol for discordianism is a yin yang with a hexagon and an apple, and the apple is inscribed with the word Kallisti, which means “for the fairest.” The funny thing is, I added hexagons into the paintings but didn’t realize it they were a symbol of discordianism. I was just thinking of her putting hexes on everyone. So I painted them with light beaming into them to create a hexagram. I pull from a lot of mythological and enchanted references or old symbolism and stuff like that.
How long did it take you to complete the series?
This series took me three months, from conception ’til now.
You do a lot of screen prints of your drawings. Do you approach a drawing differently if you know you are gonna make prints from it?
I do because a lot of time when I make graphics that I’m gonna screen print, they are commissioned by someone who wants to print them on clothing. So I think about wearability and how it’s gonna look from a distance, and how I can accomplish the look I want without sacrificing too much detail. I definitely make sure that my line quality is gonna show well, so that everything looks nice and clean when I print it.
Last year, your illustration was chosen as winner of the SF Center for the Book’s Wildcard contest. How did you approach that project?
I heard about the contest while I was living in LA from an acquaintance who was working at the SF Center for the Book. They had chosen their juror’s picks already and they had one wildcard artist that they were gonna pick from an open call for submissions. The winner, along with the juror’s artist picks, was to carve the design into a 3 x 3 block of linoleum to use as a giant stamp. I didn’t hear about it until a day or so before entries were due, so I didn’t actually have time to conceptualize a new piece with them in mind. I had never been to that festival either, so wasn’t even really clear what they were looking for, and the artists they had chosen already were super diverse.
I took one of the drawings from a series that later turned into tarot cards. That drawing didn’t end up making it into the deck. The drawing is of a young girl who is looking up with the moon behind her, and she has a little headband on that has horns attached to it. I really liked that drawing and I felt like a lot of other people really liked it too, and I hadn’t actually used it for anything, but it reminded me of San Francisco is this kind of like art-deco, sweet, nostalgic way. It kind of made me miss home. I was kind of longing for San Francisco at the time, so I felt like the way she is gazing up sort of echoed that.
So I took the image and resized it. The image ended up having a lot of detail, so it was kind of an overwhelming project. Before they chose me, they came up to me and were like “are you sure you can actually carve this into a 3 X 3 block of linoleum?” Once I agreed, they went with it. We pulled the prints on these giant steam rollers to render the final print. It was a great experience, because I had never worked on something that large.
How do you juggle all there different projects you’ve got going on?
That’s a really good question, and I’m in the process of figuring that one out. I have this mentality where its good for me to have deadlines , like having a show where I know I have to have the paintings done by a certain time. If I don’t have deadlines it’s very hard for me to finish things. So right now in my mind I’m trying to do that with the commissions as well, to etch out a timeline to get it all done. So that’s something I’ve been working on for the coming year.