Greensboro artist keeps success in perspective

by Keith Barber

Les Caison’s oil and graphite on wood painting “Sky’s the Limit” will be featured in the Halpert Biennial, a national juried art competition that recognizes established and emerging artists. The exhibition will be showcased at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts in Boone. (courtesy image)

Great artists don’t simply adapt to their environment; they are inspired by it.

Les Caison III, a Greensboro native, has followed in this tradition. As an undergraduate at Appalachian State University, Caison and his fellow art majors would often visit the great museums and galleries in Washington DC and New York City as part of their studies. The urban skyline made a deep impact on Caison and it continues to inform his creativity to this day.

“I enjoy rendering from life,” Caison said, “and that could be literally drawing a hot rod car or a building façade or a person’s portrait, but it’s also life experiences.

“What you find in galleries and museums is more expressive but they do take from life experiences. My work is always peppered with life experiences,” he added.

Caison was recently named a winner of the Halpert Biennial ’11, a national, juried, two-dimensional art competition and exhibition program held every other year as one of the visual arts components of an Appalachian Summer Festival.

Steven Matijcio, curator of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, or SECCA, served as the juror for this year’s competition. Caison was one of 48 artists selected by Matijcio to exhibit his work at the Main Gallery of the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts on the campus of Appalachian State.

Caison’s two works that will be displayed — “Keeping it Straight” and “Sky’s the Limit” — provide excellent examples of how he incorporates a narrative element into every painting.

“They’re narrative stories,” he said. “The whole idea is to offer them for other people’s consideration. I enjoy hearing people’s reaction if they respond to it, which is always difficult because I’m not in the gallery and I’m not in the museum.”

“You shouldn’t clobber people over the head with your creativity,” Caison continued. “I enjoy the vehicle of the gallery and the museum. It’s voluntary whether the viewer wants to experience your work.”

Being selected for the Halpert Biennial was a great honor, Caison said, for a number of reasons.

“It’s nice to be part of something on that scale that’s also part of the state,” he said. “As artists, part of the joy and part of the responsibility is sharing our story with the public. It’s nice to literally hang with other prominent artists.”

Caison’s narrative draws greatly from growing up in a diverse community in Greensboro. The grandson of first-generation Russian and Italian immigrants, Caison was routinely exposed to other cultures during his formative years. A graduate of Smith High School, Caison said he always had a talent for expressing himself whether it was role playing, drawing or music.

“As soon as I could hold a pencil, I picked it up in my left hand and started drawing,” he said. “It was always part of who I am.”

On bus rides to school, Caison’s classmates often asked him to render drawings of pop-culture icons like the General Lee from the TV show, “The Dukes of Hazzard,” and he happily obliged. When he reached high school, Caison had formed a group of artistic friends.

“We were always drawing,” Caison said. “We would basically be creating a story out of pictures. It wasn’t like a comic; it was one scene and we kept redrawing it.”

Caison was encouraged by his art teacher to enter a contest to design a playbill for the Greensboro Symphony. Caison won the contest, which boosted his confidence and he began entering art contests on a regular basis.

Caison’s prolific nature has become his hallmark. He had three solo shows during his senior year at Appalachian State, including a show at UNC-Wilmington that was comprised of 30 pieces. Caison has since displayed his unique work in more than 30 exhibitions, and his work is featured at Greensboro’s Elsewhere Collaborative Museum and Wilmington’s Cameron Art Museum.

Caison winces when he hears the word “prolific” but there’s no denying his astounding productivity has been pivotal to his success.

“I work on several things at once; I have fallen into that,” Caison said. “I am always making something and I personally like finding opportunities to offer my work to the public and looking for ways to share it. I’m always making something.”