Text by Cara Fox
Callen Schaub is an abstract painter most recognized for his unconventional techniques and live performances. Utilizing a combination of spin machines, pendulums and trapezes, Schaub uses his own paint-pour methods to create psychedelic patterns of highly-saturated colour on various objects.
At his penthouse studio, tucked away on an unassuming side street in northeast Montreal, the artist recently hosted a live performance art event in partnership with Instagram, filmed and featured on Instagram’s official story.
In preparation for the event, Schaub commissioned a super-sized canvas measuring seven by twelve feet, the biggest he had ever worked with. The canvas was set on top of a custom spinner that, when activated , sent the giant work turning. Overhead, a paint bucket and pulley were set to pass across the canvas twice, a departure from the artist’s usual practice of a single pour. These new additions made the event an exciting combination of firsts.
When Schaub was ready to film, his audience in the studio gathered to watch him work. There was a reverent silence amongst onlookers that contributed to a spirit of collective anticipation. Schaub poured and layered paint on top of the canvas with precision. Then, he cranked the turnstile and the motion brought forth a beautiful design of pastel colours.
After creating the base, Schaub layered paint into a bucket destined to pass above the canvas while being suspended by a rope. Taking it into his arms, he released a plug on the bottom, allowing paint to flow through two large holes. Then, he sent the bucket swinging over the canvas.
Credit: Callen Schaub, via Instagram.
It was a truly electric moment as the paint splattered and the artist and onlookers waited to see what the collection of pigment, momentum, angle and energy would produce. It was after the second pass that Schaub caught the bucket saying, “Now, that’s how you make a mess!” Later, he described his feelings in that instant , saying, “My initial—I call it, the reflexive note—was like, ‘I hate this.’ That was my first thought.”
On Schaub’s website, he describes his performance art as encouraging “spectators to participate in the experience of motion, colour, energy, and anticipation.” At the event, the transparent and participatory nature of Schaub’s art engaged the audience in his creative process, but also his disappointment—something not often shared outside of an artist’s closest circles.
Schaub’s openness provoked a shared intimacy among the crowd. He spoke to the audience honestly and shared his emotions about the piece. “It came out so splattered, so vicious, so messy,” he said. But onlookers also contributed their thoughts and feelings, commenting on the juxtaposition of colour and texture, and discussing how the piece spoke to them. Somehow, through collaborative interpretation, the piece took shape.
Afterwards, Schaub shared openly about managing pressure and disappointment as an artist. “I try to keep my expectations out of it but inevitably you have ideas of how things are going to turn out,” he said. “It definitely looked different than it did in my mind, but that's sort of what it's all about. it's about letting go physically, letting go of a bucket, but I’m also just letting go of expectations… In that moment, whatever happens, happens.”