Pen & Ink.

An Interview with Casey King. Part 1.
Photo by: Thomas Gozdecki

I’m originally from Highland, Indiana and currently reside in the “Little City by the Lake”. Whiting, Indiana finds itself nestled between soot spewing industrial giants and miles of monstrous oil tanks. If you ever visited, you’d think you’re approaching the set of Bladerunner. It’s a weird clash of nature and industry. 

Creating began for me because of Halloween and watching a lot of Goosebumps as a kid. Monsters and spooky stuff was my thing and although I hardly read any of them, the Goosebump covers painted by artist Tim Jacobus mesmerized me. They still do. 

Halloween has ancient roots in Ireland but it’s a more international and commercial holiday like any other now. Yet more so than any holiday, I believe it’s a creator’s holiday: for storytelling, myths, monsters, and good fun. I became increasingly fascinated with the history of carnival and boardwalk “spook houses”, which led me to haunted attractions, “home haunts” and eventually at age 15 I told my father I wanted to build a haunted house in our backyard. 

After several years of obsessively decorating the front of our house we did it. My ma was cool with it too. She’s always been supportive of me. She knits, that’s her craft. She makes some really beautiful blankets but they’re solely for gifts, which I think is great. My grandmother has done the same. My dad is more of an idea man. He has run his own sign company all my life. We bicker like goats butting heads and I don’t say it much but he’s a big part of why I am such an artist type. My first art exhibition was to see an Andy Warhol retrospective in Munster, Indiana when I was seven or eight years old. My dad brought my brothers and I to see it. And just two summers ago I showed some work at the Lubeznik Center in Michigan City next to Nick Gloom and Lori The Knife, and there was an Andy Warhol retrospective just upstairs. That felt really sort of full circle for me.

So I spent my entire summer working on a haunted house in my backyard. Sure enough, several hundred people came through that Halloween night. Then we packed it all away into our shed ‘til next year. We managed to operate our home haunt/ Halloween display for three years, accepting cash donations for our local humane society. The haunted house itself, the concept drawings, photos of characters, and everything else I was creating at the time served as the bulk of my portfolio when I began submitting to art schools. 

I initially went to school at Columbia College Chicago for Art & Design, assisting in the film department, doing some scenic work. I was the guy they bugged when they needed cigarette stained walls or were in need of weird props. I have one semester left at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Indiana. I’ll be earning a fine art degree and I’m really eager to be finished. I’m a pen and ink illustrator more than anything now but I also do hand painted signage, murals, design, illustration and custom fabrication. Need a 14 foot fork made for a parade? I can do it. Art for your new album? Consider it done. I can even paint something wicked cool on the side of your building.

Right now my life’s like an open road. While finishing up my degree, I’m pushing my personal work online, stocking my art goods at several midwest establishments, vending at events, exhibiting in shows, and pursuing freelance/ commission work. I curated “A Haunted House Art Show” this past October at Green Door Books in Hobart, Indiana with a slew of awesome local artists I’ve grown to call friends. 

Here’s what my days are looking like as of late: I peel myself out of bed, shower, put on my black pocket t shirt/jeans, take a few gulps of either milk/juice/or water (coffee only when I can barely function due to lack of sleep), kiss my dog a million times, and zoom off to school to chase my degree. I’m a full time student and have worked part time as a gallery assistant as well as a theater hand at my university. This summer I focused on freelance work and had several great opportunities: I painted a back entrance mural at my family-friend’s ice cream store The Sweet Tooth in Munster, Indiana. I hand-painted several interior signage pieces at my barber Rob’s Place, and created some fun hand painted character cutouts for Scheeringa Farms in my hometown of Highland. 

My barber has cut my hair since I was a young boy and riding bikes to The Sweet Tooth for sodas, ice cream, and/or candy is a fond memory of my childhood. Same with visiting Scheeringa Farms. It’s very humbling to have provided those three places my craft. I’m happy with all I’ve accomplished in the second half of this year.  At the end of the day, I always look forward to being able to lay down and draw. I find it best to do this at night when the world has quieted and slowed down a bit. I can be alone with my thoughts. 

If I’m being honest, nearly every single illustration I have produced in the past year or so was drawn in the comfort of my bed. A comfy chair, stack of sketchbooks and a bucket full of black felt tipped ink pens is my ideal “studio”.

I currently produce work that is sparked by thoughts of several things: everyday situations, frustrations, pessimism, optimism, nostalgia, roadside America, folk art, nature/human nature. My teenage influences included: Halloween, boardwalk/carnival spook houses, monsters, roadside attractions, Goosebumps...

Even Disney, though I’ve never been there. Growing up, we had this VHS tape tour of the theme park. I’d always fast forward to the part of the film where they’d go to the Haunted Mansion. I did this so many times, I eventually broke the tape. 

My father frequents car shows, and pretty early on I found an interest in lowbrow art: hot rod/ kustom culture. Some of my favorite art is the wicked cool airbrushed wizards and beasts seen on the sides of 70’s boogie/ hippy vans or little rebellious embellishments hand painted on the side of old hot rods or motorcycles. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth is the man. George Barris, too. 

Ed, his custom cars and his creation ‘Rat Fink’ are iconic. George created nearly every famous movie car: Back to the Future, The Batmobile, The Munsters’ cars, The Flintstones’. We visited his shop on a family vacation to California when I was about 10, but it was closed. I remember my dad went up to their door, knock on the door, and George’s daughter actually answered the door. She was watching the place. We’d come to Cali to meet her father and see the cars, and she let us in. My whole family got to sit in all the cars and meet him. He signed us all photos of him standing next to the original Bat Mobile. 

Currently, I love to draw more than anything and the themes vary depending on what I’m feeling/thinking. I do love pen and ink work. I neither feel the need nor believe it’s necessary to add color. A good deal of the illustration work I admire is black and white pen and ink illustration. I joke that I’m like a black and white television and one day I’ll hop over to technicolor. 

If I wasn’t doing black and white work, I would do wildly colored fluorescent work. I have a book of 70’s blacklight poster art. It’s my favorite art book that I own. It’s a real goal of mine to make some velvet flocked blacklight posters. I love those things and I don’t think they’re tacky at all. They’re amazing. Art can purely just be fun and cool to look at. I don’t think every piece of art, drawing, painting or sculpture has to stem from a deep question that needs to be answered or figured out by the audience. Ask me and more often than not I’ll have an answer for you. But when I draw a floating hat with accompanying floating eyeballs in a field, you don’t necessarily have to look so hard into it. If I’m not having fun then I probably shouldn’t be doing this. Life can be short. It can be crazy and really unfair, too.

Classical music is what I often play my morning commutes. I can’t handle hearing advertisements and the same old songs that early in the morning. Metallica gets me worked up. I listen to this fellow Ali Lacey who goes by Novo Amor to get all up in my feels. I stopped in The Smoky Mountains of Tennessee while on a road trip this past summer, and that had me really loving bluegrass for a while. These fellows who went by the name Midnight Run played at a distillery in downtown Gatlinburg and ever since then I caught a bit of a bluegrass/country bug. If ever make it out of here that is one place I’d consider settling. Cities stress me out and I think I’m more of a simple man. But in general my musical library is super slim. 

Any art form has the ability to make an impact on people. I try to keep this in mind. I’m a creator of things and I should be thinking about how those things may be perceived in some sense or how they may affect people. I have spent a great deal of time driving all over the midwest in my truck, just my radio and I going to events, exhibits, etc. It can be bittersweet. It’s a hustle for sure and I’m fortunate I’m able to do what I do.

My name is Casey King and I am an artist. My dog’s name is Peyton and he is a Bernese mountain dog who wants nothing more than his next meal, walking and tearing things to shreds. Oh, and bedtime. In some ways, he and I are eerily similar.

©Alchemy & Elegy 2020