Phoenix artist Christine Cassano has turned extreme pain into inspiration for her current body of mixed media sculptural work, blending biological and organic influences with technological themes. A hiking accident 10 years ago resulted in a hip dislocation, hip socket fracture and full hip replacement for Cassano a few years ago, while she developed an auto-immune thyroid condition the same time as her accident that only went into full remission last year. Now, the 40-year-old Phoenix resident says she feels healthier than ever and is thrilled to focus on her art, having had eight exhibits the past year alone, as well as her freelance work as a graphic designer.
See Cassano’s work as part of the Tempe Mill Avenue post office installation in December, and check out her 150-piece wall installation at Tempe Center for the Arts for the venue’s biennial through January 31.
Cassano explains the inspiration behind her art below, and you can also watch a video of her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’m from Virginia Beach, Virginia. I graduated from art school with a BFA in studio art from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia in 2001. I wanted a different life and contrast from the ocean where I grew up, so two months after graduation, I packed up a moving truck and drove across the country.
What’s your first memory of being interested in art?
It goes back to as far back as I can remember, drawing when I was little. It’s always been the way I viewed the world, being able to articulate through my hands visually what I interpret. I drew for quite a long time and moved into sculpture and building things later on in my teens. My BFA was a concentration in oil painting, but I also used all different materials in college as communication vehicles.
How would you describe your current work?
I would describe my current artwork as mixed media sculptures. I use a wide range of materials: everything from concrete to metal, to certain types of plastics, with objects embedded in those materials. My work has always been about exploring contrast, whether it’s logic versus emotion, or industrial versus organic. Through the transition of my health, out of that, now I’ve been exploring biology and technology and how those two work together, and don’t work together, and everything in-between.
Why is having a contrast in your art important to you?
I think primarily because I feel that’s the way my life is. It’s always been an extreme contrast personally. The pendulum seems to swing pretty far in either direction, and I think that’s inherently how we learn and how we experience the world. You can’t understand certain things without experiencing the opposite.
How have your health issues affected you as an artist?
They’ve had a huge influence not only for me personally, but also within the contrasting relationships I was examining in my art work. Through the experiences I went through and the information I learned on a biological level through studying, I was able to understand biology in a different way than I had before. It really impacted the art quite a bit.
I’m now hand-forming materials like industrial plastics to create strange bone-like sculptures. I’m working with pieces that are referencing biological organisms, shapes and patterns, but they’re made out of man-made, industrial materials.
What do you hope people take away from your work?
I hope it creates a dialogue and that people are able to appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into the fabrication and the ideas I am exploring. I hope they can see the passion in the work. I hope I’ve created something that can resonate with people. but it’s OK if it doesn’t.
How would you describe the materials you use?
I use a lot industrial materials, like circuit boards. I do use some found objects, but with those types of things, it’s always about what they’re communicating. I’m using a lot of circuitry patterns, because I think there’s a correlation between what a circuit board does and our cells. Our cells are programmed and have a trigger or set of rules to transfer data, and I think there are similarities between the biological process and the technological process. I’m interested in exploring that more.
There’s always a push-pull for me. For example, I’ve created pieces with real animal bones in them, which also contain a metal replica of the bone I cast in aluminum. For me, that’s the representation of the biological part and industrial part. I’ve learned how to cast aluminum to articulate the different types of bone structures. I also sometimes hand-form the plastic that’s used in 3D printing.
As someone who uses technology in her work, do you see that becoming a more prevalent trend in the art world in general?
I was just talking with someone about that the other day. Especially talking with people who are doing 3D printing art, I’ve ran into people who are exploring similar things. We’re at that edge. We’ve been there for a long time, but there’s this huge leap we’re getting ready to take. I think it can’t be ignored anymore.
Part of that was my own experience with my hip replacement. Just the medical and technological advancements that have happened in just the last 10 years from my injury to my actual surgery, the whole process is so different and is moving at such a rapid rate. You look at 3D printing and the capabilities each one of us has as individuals, and there’s that overlaying of biology, where it’s exactly the direction we’re heading. It just makes sense it’s more actively explored.
Are there any other trends you anticipate for modern art?
With the widening gap of income equality and the over-saturation of luxury goods, I’m wondering if we’ll see more of a “war on want” reflected in art as a response. There’s so much stuff we can’t afford but over-extend our finances to get. There’s so much stuff we don’t need, yet use credit to own. There’s so much stuff to buy, yet it’s all cheap junk.
We’re constantly bombarded through marketing about all these different things our lives need to have. I feel at some point, society will start to become fed up and begin to simplify “wants.” Microdwellings are a perfect example. Life is about experience. You don’t need all this stuff around you all the time.
I wonder if more artists will begin exploring this. You already see it in certain ways, with anti-consumerism themes. In some ways, (graffiti artist) Banksy is already doing that, making art that explores economics by taking it out of the gallery or museum through vandalism, while making his art available to the public at large.
What are your goals?
As an artist, the only goal I have is to continue to push beyond my own comfort zone and create strong work and a better dialogue.
How would you characterize the Valley’s art scene?
It’s interesting because the scene is just as spread-out as the city is. I come across other artists I’ve never heard of before who are doing amazing work, who maybe haven’t had exposure. Downtown has a vibrant scene, but there’s a lack of galleries who offer artist representation. There are great spaces showing work, but there is no longer gallery representation where collectors are able to go to a gallery to seek out works by specific artists. I think that could enhance the art scene.
That being said, there are a lot of interesting things happening, and these spaces downtown that are mixed use art spaces do allow for a lot of flexibility and creative freedom.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Be committed to the work, and spend time in your studio — a lot of time. Not everything needs to turn into art. Some of the best ideas come from just working with materials and being present.
I would also say have a good website, artist statement and materials for submissions.
Learn about other Valley artists:
Learn more about Phoenix artist Hugo Medina here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Steam Crow artist Daniel Davis here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about artist Sebastien Millon here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about artist Alexi DeVilliers here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about artist Nicole Royse here on Phoenix People.