Visual artist explores how people curate their living spaces in exhibition opening at the Cultural Arts Center on Friday
Todd Camp has been working with interior design companies for about 15 years. It usually goes like this: He creates a piece and sends it to a design firm in Austin, Texas, or California, which then reproduces the work on giclee prints. Those get distributed to retailers all over the country. And then Camp gets a check.
“You still retain the original. However, that image could be anywhere and anything, including a rug or a Kleenex box or a shower curtain,” said Camp, assistant arts administrator at the Cultural Arts Center. “I thought, ‘Well, this is a way for somebody who can't afford the original to be able to have really nice quality prints.' I mean, if you didn't know, you would think it was the original. They're signed and numbered. But I've seen some of my pieces on Overstock and at Walmart.”
There are some built-in limitations to this type of work, too. “They send you a color palette, like, ‘These are the colors for 2020,’ and then everything else is designed around that — wastebaskets at Target, clothing lines. They all fit into that very specific pantone range of colors each year,” he said. “There's a group of folks in New York who sit down and say, ‘OK, these are the colors.’ They're probably working on 2025 right now.”
Often, Camp’s vision for a piece becomes altered in the process. “I have seen where they took one of my pieces and then put it on canvas when it was on paper originally. And then somebody else put a glossy medium over top to make texture on it. It changed the whole intent of what I was originally doing,” he said. “It's strange to think of somebody sitting at a factory somewhere, painting over your work. But you sign that away when you get involved with this.”
Sometimes Camp wonders where his pieces end up after a corporate office or a hotel lobby is finished with them. A consignment shop? A yard sale? A Dumpster?
Being an artist within the interior design industry’s commercial ecosystem has conjured up some uncomfortable feelings for Camp, along with plenty of questions regarding how people curate their own living spaces. Camp explores those ideas in “Does This Matɔh?” opening at the Cultural Arts Center on Friday, Feb. 21, and remaining on view through April 1.
In one of the show’s mixed-media installations titled “Deconstructed Construction,” black and white stripes cover parts of a loveseat that sits on a striped platform in front of a similarly striped wall adorned with found art that Camp manipulated. A framed portrait is obscured by solid blue paint. In another, a black dot covers a girl’s face.
“I found this one at a consignment Dumpster, and I painted stripes on it,” Camp said, pointing to a print of multicolored flowers that would look at home on Target's shelves. “This is an image from that design world that was being distributed all over — Hobby Lobby and all those places. So I just took it, and it felt good to paint those stripes on there. … It's contradictory, in that, I was so upset about [people manipulating my work], yet now I did it over top of somebody else's work.”
Elsewhere, a towering stack of partially painted furniture cushions plays off colors in the nearby wallpaper and in one of Camp’s large paintings. “Here's something that's typically soft — you sit on it, and it's comfortable. Now, stacked together, it becomes more sculptural,” he said. “Are these comfort objects, or are they visual objects? What is their purpose?”
Camp admitted that, of the stuff he submits to design firms, it’s “probably stuff I wouldn't choose.” He keeps the rest of his art separate from those reproduction pieces, and the standalone paintings in “Does This Matɔh?” are a good window into the creative process for the more artistically rewarding side of his work.
Since graduating from CCAD in 1990, Camp has held various arts-related jobs at the YMCA, the King Arts Complex and the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, which manages the Cultural Arts Center. Camp went to school for photography, then worked almost exclusively with clay for 20 years. Now he focuses mostly on painting, using hardware stores for his art supplies and for inspiration. Lately, Camp has been incorporating materials such as house paint, mastic, spray paint and tar into his pieces.
“There's really nothing that I won't try to combine,” he said. “I'll start out with a wood panel, and I cover it with tar paper. Then I just start adding layers of different things and splashes and lots of action. That's where I find the beauty. I really enjoy just seeing what happens. I'm not caught up in what's going to happen at the end.”