Interview with Ethan Caflisch

Ethan Caflisch is an Oakland based artist whose practice encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, art direction and design. Across all disciplines, his work explores the beauty of raw materials and is personified by bold linear and organic forms, interspersed by a graphic use of color. His arts education began at the California College of the Arts, where he graduated with an Individualized Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Visual Studies Minor in 2015. His work has been exhibited in many esteemed institutions such as Petzel Gallery in New York, Hubbell Street Galleries in San Francisco, and the Oakland Museum of California.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Of course, my last name is pronounced (cuh)(fleesh). I’m a bay-area based artist making paintings and sculptures. I also take a lot of photos and sometimes do art direction for films.

Where did you grow up? 

Born and raised in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in art?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a school district that had a pretty robust art program. it still kind of shocks me how much art training I had access to at an early age. In addition to the departmental support, the teachers within them and my parents were all very supportive in the pursuit. But the moment moment was probably in high school when I found my first mentor, Mr Brabender who really enlightened me to see a pleasure/skill relationship that drives a lot of art making.

How would you describe your creative process?

Fluid. I like constantly working, but it has to be on one piece at a time. when I’m not “making”-making, I’m thinking about new ideas, titles, relationships, and then doing more office-stuff which I fortunately really enjoy.

I’d also say that I have a pretty addictive personality, and am realizing more and more that my process is similar to that of a designer; which is a “holy shit” moment I’m going through right now. I prefer sketching by shooting photos or mocking up in Photoshop; that said, I still do a lot of quick sketching on paper with a v5 pen or contractors pencil.

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual? 

Absolutely, same with other cities.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Oakland? 

Definitely the social/work balance; it’s easy to work too much and easy to socialize too much.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in Oakland?

The Oakland arts commission does a lot of great work, but the bay’s art scene as a whole feels like a family. It’s super supportive, has a lot of white-wall galleries and diy galleries that get equal respect. There’s a lot of change happening to all the cities in the bay, but the leaders in the art community are holding their own - I give a lot of props to southern exposure and Minnesota street project in San Francisco.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the designer/creative to improve the quality of peoples lives in their city?

I think that’s a responsibility for everyone to be present, help improve, and progress.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

I just wrapped up a busy summer and fall where I did a bunch of large-scale commissions and a partnership, while sneaking in a few trips and making my own general work. The partnership was with Parachute (based out of L.A., brick and mortar all over the US, and online everywhere) where I made a quilted linen edition in two sizes which I’m more than ecstatic with. I’ve also got a 1-month residency in L.A. lined up early next year that just needs details ironed out.

What is the one thing you can’t live without in Oakland?

Dinner - food culture in the bay, in general, is on par with the best foodie spots in the world.

If you could add or change something about Oakland, what would that be?

The preservation of my Alma-mater California college of the arts’ Oakland campus. It’s historic, beautiful, and totally anomalous in an urban city. It’s going to be sold off fairly soon, and I hope the new owners don’t level it for more expensive condos.

Describe the perfect day for you in Oakland.

A little breakfast at pretty lady, hit the studio with a couple studio visits with friends and curators spaced throughout the day, skip lunch, drive over to SF for an opening, then end the day back in Oakland for a late dinner at boot & shoe with a nightcap glass of natural wine a few doors down at Ordinaire before a solid 8 hours of zzz's.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

I’ve really been wanting to have a show with a photographer where we show a diverse body of work, but mostly to highlight the processual that doesn’t normally get shown or seen - I have some things in the works, so hopefully next year something will come to fruition.

What do you do to switch off?

I never really get to a point where I feel like I need to switch off, I think I pace my days pretty well. I do love obsessing over topics and objects, so doing lots of research, reading forums, watching videos, seeing what’s available it’s always satisfying.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Oakland evoke a personal smell to you?

I’ve got a pretty sensitive sniffer, but nothing comes to mind. This isn’t romantic, but the one smell that hits hard coming into town from SF on the bay bridge is from the wastewater plant next to the MacArthur maze - stings the nostrils a bit.

What is your favourite time of the day?

The end of day golden hour.

If you weren’t living in Oakland and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

Right now I’ve got to say London but Tokyo and Lake Como for the tri-fecta.


A selection of places in Oakland - recommended by artist Ethan Caflisch. See all of Ethan's favourite places here


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