Charles Russell is one of Cabal Gallery’s frequent exhibitors. For Cabal Creepshow on October 20, 2018, Russell showed three of his interactive “Electronika” art pieces. Each featured a combination of flashing lights, knobs, cameras, buttons and puzzles for Creepshow attendees.
Russell tells us that he has been creating “Electronika” for ten years. While he currently lives in Arvada Colorado, Russell hails from California. His time growing up in The Golden State laid down the groundwork for the way in which the artist looks at and creates art today. He explains, “As a child of a teacher and an artist in Hollywood, I grew up exposed to art and culture but the art venues were so limited because they were always built on the principle of “look but don’t touch.” This tendency of the art world led Russell to create art that instigates new experiences for art viewers of all ages. Instead of just viewing art, people are able to engage all of their senses.
Each piece in the “Elektronica” series is created from recycled vintage parts and electronics. Miscellaneous items are added for emotive affect. For example, a wheel meant to be touched may present with red velvet, and a lever with that same aim may look like crystal in the gallery light. Not every interaction with any one object on any one piece is the same. At times, pieces may evoke nostalgia; others, perhaps play. In whatever case, the pieces evoke a lot of curiosity from gallery attendees. It’s “an experience that changes each time you interact, and with each new interaction, you feel something different,” Russell explains. We asked Charles Russell if he would spend some time talking with us about his work. Below follows an exclusive email interview with the artist. Read on to learn more about what inspires him and what his process looks like when creating his “Elektronika.”
Tell us about your work, what inspires it, and anything about process if you are willing to share: My art is best described as interactive machines built with new and vintage materials and custom “circuit bent” electronics which are designed to be played with and touched. Ten years ago, before I started doing this, I remembered one night when I was a kid being taken to the great museums by my parents, and being taught about the masterpieces of artists like Monet, Renoir and Picasso. I remember struggling to keep myself from getting bored. I then started tinkering around in my basement with some old broken parts I had around, and I came up with a small interesting sculpture that had lights and buttons that changed when I interacted with it. That night was the catalyst for my work going forward.
I am highly influenced by the design aesthetic of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements, particularly the Streamline Moderne designs of the great industrial designer Raymond Loewy. Just as Steampunk took the industrial designs of the late nineteenth century and took a fantasy artistic slant, I strive to take the designs of the 1930s and ’40s and add an early science-fiction twist. I spend a good deal of time searching for vintage items and using their inherent beauty to create machines that expand on that beauty, and to transform the viewer/user into another time with interaction and sensory immersion.
My creative process varies. Every one of my machines has a central purpose. The piece might be a synthesizer or a clock or a photo booth, for example. Once that central purpose has been established, I then work on the electronics or the main feature of a piece, nail down its basic functions, and experiment to work out the kinks. Then I look to see if I have the vintage components on hand to build it out (I have a lot of stock), or I find/purchase a component that will bring out the main feature. However, sometimes, as has been the case on some of my larger pieces, I build the features and the piece simultaneously, especially when the electronics are complicated. As a rule, I spend a good deal of time searching for vintage items outside of the builds. I use vintage findings based on their inherent beauty to create my machines, and then expand on that beauty for the purposes of transferring the viewer/user into another time.
What are you most excited about in the creative fields in which you work right now? Like many, I am thrilled that Meow Wolf is coming to Denver. They are putting themselves and money into many projects all over town, and they are fantastic people to work with. Meow Wolf opens doors for artists of all kinds, raising awareness for local artists and their work. Further, I am very proud of the events I have done with them. For my art directly, I am excited about the influx of new tools in the “DIY” space like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, IoT. These technologies along with easily obtainable parts makes it much easier to build new and exciting electronics, and to integrate them into vintage chassis than ever before. It looks like new and better stuff is coming all the time.
What is something super specific to your work that folx might now know? On my pieces, nothing is for show. Every button, every light works. Nothing is a dummy.