An ongoing series introducing Greater Lowell’s creative minds
By Tory Germann
If only we could live in Frank Casazza’s world. Surrounded by vivid colors and friendly creatures that wave as you walk past, what could go wrong? Sure, the acorns have moustaches and the clouds have teeth but every world has it’s quirks, right?
Casazza has lived with such strange and wonderful creatures for quite some time now, sketching the prototypes in his second grade classroom much to the delight of his classmates at Tewksbury Elementary. The 41-year-old artist took inspiration from his days as a skateboarder in Lowell, when graffiti artists like Dondi and Casazza’s own hero, Keith Haring, reigned supreme. Since 2006 Casazza has called Western Ave. Studios his home, forming Eyeformation Studios with help from his wife, Ellen. And his one-of-a-kind character art can be spotted on everything from buildings and vehicles to sneakers and throw pillows.
Q: What is Eyeformation?
That’s kind of difficult to explain, I just live it. There’s so many different elements of what I do but essentially it all comes down to these characters. One day it’s digital illustration, the next day it’s 3-D sculpting or wall painting, or showing work in galleries. There’s no limit or cap on creativity. I think it was really in defiance to art school and having people tell me you have to have one specific thing you do and sell just that one thing. Why limit the potential or possibilities?
Q: Does having such a unique style make it easier to experiment with different mediums?
I have this creativity in me that wants to experiment with different mediums. Those core elements of the characters I can take and apply to anything from a 3-D object to a simple outline and have that be attached to a phone case, sneakers or whatever.
Q: Did you know early on that you were going to be an artist?
Yes, I did, probably from around mid 1st or 2nd grade I knew that this is what I was going to do. I remember other kids telling me ” you’re an artist.” I was like “ I am?”
Q: What was it that tipped them off?
I can still clearly remember drawing this character I had come up with and they would all come up to me with their piece of paper and I would draw the character for them. I can remember the person who told me I was going to be an artist. I can remember his name, it was this kid Joey Hubbard who was just another student. It was strange, when he made note of it all of a sudden I realized I was doing something not everyone was doing.
Q: So we have Joey Hubbard to thank for your career?
Yes Joey Hubbard, second grade, Mrs. Shutes class.
You know growing up my family always provide me with art supplies for Christmas gifts. And every year it would be something different. One year I got a pastel kit and I would do that for a while, one year it was a calligraphy kit. I guess it was always in a sense still illustration, I would be drawing these same characters just in different mediums.
Q: Do any of your current characters stem from illustrations that you’ve been drawing since childhood?
To a certain degree, yes. I have always been character orientated with my work. Probably the oldest character I have is City Bird. That is the oldest thing that I came up with that I still use today. City Bird grew into its own thing in a sense. I had done youth workshops and gallery installations using a template-based project where I had artists from 18 different countries design their version of City Bird. And then I would take those and do installations in the gallery with them and workshops were kids could come and work on them.
Q: Do you like working with young artists?
Yes, what I found when I would start a workshop is that there would be a certain percentage of kids who couldn’t get started, because they didn’t know what to do. So I would set a clock for two minutes and everyone would work on a drawing for two minutes, pass it to the person next to you and it would go around the room like that until it came back to you. That got every kid looking at it like they had to do something because they were running out of time. When I would tell them okay now you can work on your own City Bird every time without fail they would say “No we want to keep doing this.” The kids really liked meshing their efforts into one and coming up with this final design.
Q: Where have you done these City Bird installations?
I’ve done some here in the city with Girls Inc., internationally in Belgium where I did a city bird installation — and that was interesting because none of the kids spoke English but the kids just jumped into it. It was awesome.
Q: What’s the difference between adults viewing your work and kids viewing your work?
It’s really interesting because there’s a certain percentage of people who would say this is perfect for my kid’s room. But since I was inspired by skateboard art growing up, as time goes on there’s a whole group of people out there who were inspired by the same thing and relate to it when they see my artwork
Q: Who are some of your influences?
Keith haring was always someone I related to when I was younger, the graphic nature of his work really caught my attention. I just love that he could take a red, black or white brush stroke and make it into something cool. Last year we went to Italy. I had an opportunity to paint in a skateboard shop for a live paint event. While we were there we went to Pisa and when we turned a corner we ran into this huge Keith Haring mural that ended up being his final public work. I just remember coming back on the train and thinking, I just saw the leaning tower of Pisa but that Keith Haring mural is something I’m going to remember forever.
Q: What was it about the mural that affected you?
Just the way it all transpired. Looking for the tower of Pisa that day and finding this mural. All these people who were helping him who were just taking objects they had found and having Keith Haring paint them. One guy had him paint a vesper and was able to sell it and put his three kids through art school. It sounded like a week-long party. It was so much more significant because all these people were there when it was being created and it’s still maintained today.
Q: Between painting murals, creating 3-D objects or showing in galleries , do you have a favorite way of working?
My favorite thing to do is whatever’s next.