“As a kid growing up in Houston I collected rocks,” says Christopher Cascio. “I also had a stamp collection and a coin collection and baseball cards, but really what I was into were the Mad magazines and Garbage Pail Kids. That was the stuff that led me to being an artist.” What began with obsessive-compulsive word drawings a decade ago grew into a collaged painting practice — one might call it an image hoarder’s bricolage — that incorporated everything from advertisements of amplifiers and actual clearance stickers to Budweiser labels and nightclub wristbands. They owe as much to the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers as they do to Mike Kelley and Fred Tomaselli. “I’m a huge fan of Fred Tomaselli,” says Cascio. “He literally puts drugs into his paintings.” More recently, the artist’s meditations on branding have led to two new series of camouflaged map paintings that put Warhol, Madison Avenue, Big Pharma and the shelf of the local marijuana dispensary into a blender. The result is a comical color field adventure; higher learning at its finest.
What was the impetus behind this body of work?
I did a show in 2014 at Peter Makebish’s gallery in New York where I showed these big colorful maps that had pharmaceutical drug brand names, generic names and pill imprint codes. The maps ended up looking like the drugs they were cataloging. The benzos were shades of light blue and the promethazine/codeine cough syrup had shapes of drippy purples that kind of resembled camouflage. They were a critical view of the pharmaceutical industry and how branding happens at that level. It dealt with a lot of socio-political issues. There was a Soma one, a Vicodin one, but I also did one with weed.
Why was that?
I was starting to think about marijuana and how the names of certain strains become that strain’s identity. They’re often given names that pertain to marijuana use, and because marijuana becoming legalized I was also using labels from actual dispensaries. This was 2014, so it’s come a long way in two years. My parents have a place in Winter Park, Colorado and during that time there was a dispensary many miles down the road from Winter Park. Now there are three dispensaries in Winter Park. I don’t do any pharmaceuticals anymore but I still partake in cannabis so it’s something that hits close to home. In my mind, I could always do a series just about that.
And that series is what you’re showing at Maitland Foley.
Yeah, the Drug Map (Cannabis) work from that show in New York is the inspiration. It was a six-by-eight-foot painting and it was a pretty popular piece, it was published in Sneeze, an international poster sized magazine, and it struck a chord with people in the way that the pharmaceutical pieces didn’t. It’s more celebratory.
Meaning that having brands is a win, of sorts, for the average pot smoker while pharmaceutical brands are an example of Big Pharma winning?
Right. And I’ve used all kinds of weed from street drugs to medical marijuana, I’m an equal opportunity-employer in that sense. But I don’t see marijuana in the same way that I see those [pharmaceutical] drugs. So when I was making that first weed painting I was putting in strains that were my favorite strains, making sure that it has more of a connection to my present than to a darker past.
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