Cale Coduti's Honeymoon


By Natalie Leonard


I met Cale Coduti, a senior BFA Drawing and Painting candidate at Pennsylvania State University, at the beginning of fall semester. After ending up in three of the same courses together, friendship naturally formed.

I think it's Cale's honesty that I admire the most about him. His definitive knowing of who he is as a person and as an artist, his confidence and sincerity with each brushstroke and friendship that he forms. As he continues to grow into his own skin, his work does as well, adding more color and layers.

His favorite quote, one of RuPaul's, "What other people think of me is none of my damn business," emanates throughout his personality and his artwork. Both in the process of finishing our senior year, Cale and I have spent the last few weeks collaborating on projects. He let me cover his entire body in fine grain silver glitter for a photo project and he painted a portrait of me for his BFA solo show, Honeymoon, that opens this Monday, November 9th, at Patterson Gallery.

Honeymoon is a series of 12 paintings that dominate each space that they enter. Powerful colors and forms continually layer one another creating multiple scenes within one image. Cale's new work underscores a craving for narrative familiarity and our insistence on transforming abstract images into recognizable objects. The figures vibrate with emotion and individually approach themes of identity and self, while collectively creating a narrative of their own.

Read the interview below where Cale talks to me about about Honeymoon, his creative process, and what's next after graduation. 

Photo: Natalie Leonard

POND: When starting a new painting, what is your creative process? I know you photograph your own images, but where does the inspiration for those images usually come from? Is there inspiration or does it always come to you in the moment?

CC: I start with an image in mind, but I let surprises happen during the process. I look at fashion magazines and runway shows for color inspiration and model poses. I like the models to bring their own ideas to the set, so a lot changes in the moment of shooting. I use the photograph as a jumping off point for the painting because photographs don’t always translate to the canvas. Paintings have to have a life of their own.

POND: I remember you telling me about one of the first BFA critiques you had and you decided to dress in drag to present your work, what was that experience like?

Photo: Natalie Leonard

CC: When I got in the BFA program I was doing a lot of work with drag and I was creating these hair paintings where I made frames out of the wigs I wore. The paintings were seven feet tall and larger than life, like drag. For the critique I wanted to embody the paintings, which confronted the viewer’s body in both size and use of hair. I wore 8” black heels, a black thong, a black fur jacket and a choker. My butt was out. It was my first time getting up in front of the teachers and students, and I wanted to make a statement. After that, critiques were less intimidating.

POND: Your senior BFA show that opens next week, Honeymoon, has been super exciting to watch develop over the last few months - where did the idea for the show spur from? What’s it about?

CC: I was initially inspired by Lana del Rey’s new album by the same name. The album has the classic Lana sound- somber and beautiful, but there is a dreamlike quality to the album that is new. When I heard Honeymoon I saw the show. My idea for the show is to sweep people off their feet. A honeymoon is the ultimate fantasy and the beginning of a new life with the one you love. In the work, colors have opened up, which I didn’t expect. The show is about light and color but there is also a moodiness to the figures...maybe a hint that paradise doesn’t always work out.

POND: How do you think about color in relation to your work?

CC: The work always reflects my life. I haven’t had this much color in my work since I first started painting in high school five years ago. The work opened up because I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin. That reflects in the work because the figures have an unshakeable presence. I’ve become more confident about living as an openly gay man and my opinions have grown stronger. I’ve always been a quiet person with a lot of unspoken ideas but that’s starting to shift. Change doesn’t happen if you’re quiet.

POND: You work figuratively, are all of the characters in this series based off of specific people you know or are they all figures of your imagination?

Photo: Natalie Leonard

CC: All the figures are people I know. I’ve always connected with art on an emotional level and there’s power in telling a personal story. I want viewers to feel like they already know my figures. There has to be something in the painting for a viewer to connect to. Eyes have always been a focal point in my paintings because they show emotion in subtle ways.

POND: The mixture of self-portraiture and portraiture of friends and family in this series is very interesting to me. How does identity, specifically your identity, play a role in your work?

CC: Even when I think I’m not making personal work, I am. All of the figures in this collection seem to be pushing against an invisible force just outside the picture plane. This relates to my life and how I choose to be open about my sexual orientation. Not every figure in the show is gay, but they glow in individual ways. I came out because I didn’t want to live a secret life.

POND: Do you think social barriers and prejudices can be broken down through painting and photography? Is this something you think about in relation to your work?

CC: Art is a good vehicle to start conversations. Art alone doesn’t enact change because it requires a viewer to be affected by it. It definitely has power because paintings and photography are objects that live through generations. In an age where everything is digital and untouchable, there is opportunity for physical objects to resonate with people. I want my figures to stick with people after they leave the gallery.

POND: Are there any painters / photographers / other artists in general that particularly inspire you?

CC: Ivan Alifan is a contemporary figurative artist that I admire. His figures are often set in a soft, dreamlike environment and the presence of light in his paintings is very apparent. Italian Renaissance paintings are always in the back of my mind. Those artists were truly masters with how they rendered light and shadow. I think about them all the time.

POND: Favorite music to listen to in the studio?

CC: Grimes, Lana del Rey, Nicki Minaj, Peaches, a lot of different artists depending on my mood. Usually I like listening to one song on repeat. I become obsessed with moments in songs, and in paintings.

Photo: Natalie Leonard

POND: Talk about a turning point for you creatively or talk about one of your favorite moments over the last few years in art school.

CC: My junior show, Baby, last year was a special moment. I covered all the windows and doors so it was dark, and fashioned my own colored lights so the gallery transformed into a different space. Many people told me they were entranced looking at the figures emerging from the paintings. For me it sealed the deal for being an artist. I saw how paintings could have an unspoken conversation with people.

POND: What’s your first step after graduation in May?

CC: Get to NYC.

Photo: Natalie Leonard

Photo: Natalie Leonard