Studio Visit: Cameron Hawkey ‘12
Where Creativity Works: Inside Cameron Hawkey's Northwest Portland Studio
Untitled Magazine visits the working studios of PNCA students, faculty, staff, and alumni, taking a closer look at lives and spaces of sustained creative practice.
“I picked this studio because the original window studio I had was too distracting,” said Cameron Hawkey ’12. “I’m a people watcher.”
“And this desk,” Hawkey explained, “this desk is my dream desk. I found it, piled four high, in the basement. I had to climb over everything to get it out.” He pauses and grins. “Sometimes, when I sit too long at my desk – I do that sometimes – I have to stop and make sure I exercise. Flex my butt cheeks and all that.”
Hawkey has ushered us into his small thesis studio on the second floor of PNCA’s Stevens Studios building. The space is bright – both with light and color. On his walls are drawings by Kate Bingamen-Burt (“Her Obsessive Consumption project is so great.”) and Adam Beadel (of Team Nerd), a mezzotint from an etching class he took the summer before (“Kinoko’s been getting me more into printmaking.”), and the cover of a recent Claremont Book Review (“I’ve been getting really into politics.”).
Also on the walls are sketches of still-lifes in various degrees of completion, and a veritable rainbow of vegetables sit on the desk in the middle of the space: purple eggplant, pink apples and pears, red tomatoes, orange tomatoes, yellow tomatoes (and green, and striped, and…), brussels sprouts just beginning to turn yellow, cucumbers, and all sorts of peppers. If you can find it at the farmer’s market, you can likely find it on Cameron Hawkey’s desk. Light from the skylight above hits a mirror on his wall and sends literal rainbows skittering across the floor.
“I have a very personal relationship with food,” Hawkey explains. “It’s good for the mind, the body, and the soul.”
Hawkey grew up in Wyoming, where the growing season wasn’t quite as long as it is here. It was only once he got to Oregon that he, as he said, “really got into food.”
“We’d grow radishes,” Hawkey said, “but the soil was so alkaline that it was hard to grow much of anything. Once I moved here, I was amazed. You could drop your keys and something would grow.”
Hawkey’s interest in issues such as food security, questions around local, and the cultural ramifications of changing food habits and attitudes spurs him to stay pretty well informed. He asked us what we thought about the recent soda pop ban in New York City and about the spate of food-centered documentaries produced over the past few years.
“It’s on everyone’s minds,” Hawkey explains, “but attitudes about it are so scary and negative. For me, it’s important to be positive about food, not terrified. It can be pretty debilitating. I’m a pretty emotional guy. It bums me out sometimes, so I have to get into food in a way that makes me feel good.”
When we visited, Hawkey was finishing his final semester at PNCA, completing thesis work that investigated our complex relationship with food and its effect on agriculture, climate change, and culture.
It’s a pertinent question. As he would later write in his thesis, food is both a political and a health issue. “Over 1 in 3 Americans are obese,” Hawkey writes, “and diabetes threatens to make the current generation’s lifespan shorter than the one preceding it, a first in American history. Out of the 750 billion dollars spent on health-care annually, 500 billion of those dollars are spent on chronic illnesses strongly linked to diet.” Clearly discussions of food aren’t small potatoes.
How does this relate to an art practice? Hawkey turned to still life in order to understand what role the artist played in shaping our relationship with food. What other resonances does food have beyond the aesthetic?
Hawkey looks to work by painters such as Luc Tuymans, 17th century Dutch still life masters, and Andy Warhol, among others, to study what role food has played in art and what effects, if any, art has had on society’s relationship to food.
“I wanted my thesis to be about drawing, about laying down a lot of color and just drawing,” said Hawkey, “And so I’ve been doing a lot of drawings. Three drawings at a time, one per hour in a three hour session.”
Often, those drawing are still lifes of the brightly colored fruits and vegetables on his table. He often alternates between colored pencils and digital drawings.
“One of my all time favorite artists, David Hockney, drew with colored pencils. Robert Hanson too. He was an instructor at PNCA and did some really rad colored pencil drawings,” said Hawkey. “Giorgio de Chirico, I’ve been reading a lot about his work. David Hockney, of course, and Milton Glaser. Sandro Botticelli. I’ve been really inspired by the Italian Renaissance, all those shadows, and everything at sunset.”
Hawkey interrupts himself. “Here’s a new word for you: gnomon.” He waits for a reaction, but we’re clueless. “It’s the part of the sundial that casts the shadow.”
“Giorgio de Chirico once said that ‘There are more enigmas in the shadow man walking in the sun than in all the religions of the past, present, and future.’ I’ve been thinking about what he means by that, about men casting long shadows. ”
Hawkey enjoys the challenge of observational drawing, of being accurate to the specific details of what he’s drawing.
“But with fruits and vegetables,” Hawkey asks with humor, “how will anyone know?”
He’s also enjoyed exploring new media drawing, something he’s devoted more time to since graduation.
“Since the iPad has a backlit screen, you can draw in complete darkness. I’ve never been able to draw the night from observation before, and the computer screen gives the night sky a wonderful luminosity.”
Since our visit, Hawkey has graduated from PNCA and has had fun getting back into comics.
“There’s a couple of projects that I wasn’t able to finish properly while I was in school, so my last couple of weeks have been kind of setting those projects up again. Some comics, some drawings.”
He’ll be tabling at the Stumptown Comics Festival this year and has a short comic story coming out in Gridlords’ printed romance anthology later this month. It’s a story about love between two early humans in the prehistoric world.