Member Spotlight: Kimberly Callas

Kimberly Callas is a sculptor and Social Practice artist working in both Maine and New Jersey. Callas received her MFA from the New York Academy of Art and her BFA from Stamps School of Art at the University of Michigan. Her work has been exhibited internationally in galleries and museums, and has received national and international grants and awards.Recent grants include a Pollination Project Grant, an Urban Coast Institute Grant, and a Monmouth University Summer Faculty Fellowship. Recent exhibits include the Summer Exhibition at Flowers Gallery in New York City, 9×12 at Dual Galleria in Budapest, Hungary and Crossing Boundaries: Art and the Future of Energy at The Pensacola Museum of Art, Pensacola, FL.
Callas uses both handmade and emerging technologies to combine the human body with patterns and symbols from nature focusing on the idea of an ecological self. Callas often creates within community; her Social Practice community project, “Discovering the Ecological Self,” was recently featured in the Huffington Post. She is an Assistant Professor of Art and Design at Monmouth University.

Callas grew up in northern Michigan and moved to New York City for graduate school. After witnessing the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, Callas and her husband, George Callas, moved with their family to MidCoast Maine and built an in-ground, stone house and then co-founded a sustainability institute. It was this work in sustainability that has led Callas to her recent artwork focusing on the ‘ecological-self’.

1. Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist/ scholar.

I come from a long line of mother artists but I was the first one to be able to go to college and study art. I did my graduate work at the New York Academy of Fine Arts in Tribeca. NYAA is a graduate school that focuses on the figure. My work is very figure based. I’ve always loved how the body is used in art to express ideas about being human.

I lived in Jersey City after grad school and had a studio overlooking the World Trade Center. After living through 911, my husband and I started to get really serious about environmental issues. We moved our family to Maine and built and in-ground stone eco- house and then cofounded a sustainability institute. I have some blog posts about that on my website that have more images. I also have portfolios on the site of artwork I made when I first started focusing on the ‘ecological self’, a self that still knows itself as nature.

At the institute, I worked with a lot of interns that were interested in sustainability but spurned technology (in many cases understandably). I was concerned about this though, since to ‘change the world’ we don’t just need new ways to garden but a whole new economic system based on renewable resources. A new system will require lots of new businesses -meaning we need entrepreneurs on a grand scale. So I got involved in the creative economy movement and joined a non-profit that ran the Juice Conference. Juice brought together arts, business, and technology to foster innovation in the state of Maine. It was through Juice that I got entrepreneurship training for our interns and created a relationship with the University of Maine’s new Innovative Media, Research and Commercialization Center (IMRC). It was at IMRC that I did my training on CNC, laser cutters and 3D printing and scanning.

In 2011, I became the founding director of the Belfast Creative Coalition (BCC), a creative economy initiative for Belfast, Maine. At BCC, I was able to work with artists to help them see themselves as entrepreneurs and small business owners. I decided that I wouldn’t ask any artist to do something that I wasn’t already doing. So that really upped my game with getting my own artwork out there and I started to exhibit more.

In 2016, I was hired at Monmouth University to take on their 3D program in the Art and Design Department. Monmouth is really supportive and I was able to work with a couple faculty members and we built a new makerspace. I’ve been developing curriculum for our new program that helps my students work seamlessly between the handmade and the digital. I find this is how I’ve had to figure out how to work with new media, but it’s not always a seamless process. If you’ve worked in a sculpture studio like this, you know the issues of running between the clay and plaster and the computers and tech. It will be worth it though when we can email our sculptures to the foundry, instead of shipping them.

2. What are some of your main influences?

Certainly many figurative artists. Right now, I’m obsessed with Alison Saar’s work and Thomas Houseago. They’re both so bold, but in radically different ways. If I find I’m having a hard time getting started, I’ll put in a Housegago talk. He’s picked up that American Cowboy spirit and combined it with his ‘f-you’ Leeds background to make some pretty dynamic work. Saar deals with issues of race and gender in such a visceral way – I understand myself as a true, physical body (with all that can mean depending on the/whose body) when I am with her work. When I’m in museums, I always find myself in the African, Oceanic, and Native American sections. I’m fascinated with artists that still use the earth as a medium, and any attempt to communicate the sacred. As far as new media influences, I really love being inspired by my local community. I think that’s how new media should travel – locally in makerspaces or in online communities.

3. New Media is …….

An inclusive way of working with new tech and emerging technologies that focuses on innovation, interdisciplinary communities, and continuous learning. What I think is most meaningful about New Media is how it can bring the tools of industry and the artist into the hands of the public, especially through makerspaces and fab labs that have an open community element. I was in a lab recently making sculpture, sitting next to a guy, in a wheelchair, who was working out some engineering problem, while a nursing student was using a resin printer to prototype a fix to a tube distribution issue on an already existing piece of medical equipment. Pure heaven.

4. What is your typical day like?

My day changes based on my class schedule, but I tend to be a very goal oriented person. After having children, in order to keep making art, I had to become super organized. So I follow non-profit/entrepreneur models for goal setting – you know, the basics: establishing an overall vision and mission; setting yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals. I’m a real geek about it. I start my day with my goal sheets and make a plan. You might not know that I’m organized, based on my office’s appearance, but that’s because I’m always putting way too much on my plate. So, day by day, I don’t actually make it through my goal sheets, but over the years as I can see the goals I’ve accomplished and that keeps me going.

5. What are you working on now? What’s next for you?

In 2018, my Social Practice collaboration, Discovering the Ecological Self (D-Eco-Self), did a 3D printing eco-mask project based on the theme of ‘Ocean’, partially funded by a Pollination Project Grant and a Urban Coast Institute Grant. There’s a great video of it, made by eco-activist Joy Morgan, on our website. I was so inspired by the student and participant work from the project, I wanted to do my own masks, but make them more eco-portraits – using portraits of specific people (both scanned and hand sculpted) that I combined with patterns from healing herbs, such as yarrow, calendula, valerian root, etc. I received a Monmouth Summer Faculty Fellowship for the work and it’s now becoming a series of painted 3D prints, cast sculptures and drawings.

Next, I’m doing a series of full, life-size body prints. I’ve been working with re:3D, makers of the Gigabot 3D printer, to come up with the best strategy. These works will be focused more around tree imagery and using patterns from trees- branching, wood cells, more roots. ‘Tree’ is our 2019 D-Eco-Self theme.

“Nurture Me” over life size arm study using patterning from trees, including wood cells, for my upcoming life-size series of 3D Prints.

6. Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?

D-Eco-Self is a huge collaborative effort. We’re working with a local non-profit, Aslan Youth Ministry, science and professional counseling faculty and students at Monmouth, as well as my own students, and student and community volunteers. I’m also running an interdisciplinary 3-D printing collaboration project through my Sculpture I course, which is always bringing in new collaborators, so that’s great. But I don’t want to start any new collaborative efforts right now. I want to strengthen the ones I have, particularly getting more of an ongoing volunteer arm for D-Eco-Self, since students come and go, but the project continues. This last year, we built the website to hold the story for D-Eco-Self, so participants can contribute and share easily and also look at what’s going on before and after them. I hope it becomes a good way for alumni of the project to stay involved, share their eco-work, and follow the project as it develops.

7. What is the most recent thing you’ve learned?

My new favorite toy is in our Artec Scanner. I’ve been practicing with it and learning its software. It’s a higher resolution scanner then I’ve been working with so I’m trying to see what kind of results I can get out of our 3-D printers. I’m also exploring new hand build materials. I’m experimenting with a plaster-like cement called Winterstone. Winterstone can be built up on an armature or cast. It can also be displayed outside, so I expect I’ll be making molds from 3-D prints and casting them for outdoor exhibits.