Screaming into a Motorcycle Helmet: Psychedelic Artist Charlie Visconage

PeopleJanuary 31, 2023

Can you trace your journey as an artist?

I've always had unspecific creative notions. As [kids], my brother and I made comic books in pencil that were ripping off Star Wars or X-Men. [Then], in high school, I did a lot of theater. [We had] an awesome high school drama teacher who was pretty young; we were her first class. She started an improv team, which was unusual. 

In college, I did a radio show and found other means of self-expression. And for a bit, I had a show on stage at DC Arts Center called Charlie Visconage Show. It was a Tonight Show analog; I would do a monologue, had a co-host and musicians, and we talked to real guests. One of the guests, Matt Sesow, who's a local D.C. artist, invited me to paint with him for fun. I really fell in love with it; it felt like a different way to express myself. 

As I've gotten older, I've become more [in love with] being able to spend a lot of time by myself. This feels like the right thing for me and a fun way to express what I need to express.  

How do you separate your past creative lives from this one?

I don’t like to lean on the past too much. Some people have a hard time with multidisciplinary artists. [They feel] you can only be one thing, and if you use to do comedy, and now you do this, [they ask], “Is it a joke or something?” Some of the pieces are funny or are meant to be darkly comical, but it's not a stunt for a laugh.

I [describe my art as] psychedelic paintings of people in places and then with some of the sculptures I've been doing lately — that translates to those too.

Some of your creative perspectives come from substances that alter your state of mind. Can you speak more about that?

I think doing some of these psychedelics, whether it's mushrooms or DMT, it's definitely informed my color palette. You can see a pretty direct change (over time). The first time I did that stuff, [I thought], ‘wow, the world is beautiful or can be so beautiful.’ I want to capture that as much as possible.

[My art also comes from] my own feelings and experiences and trying to translate them so a viewer understands my headspace as best they can. I painted this sunrise behind my house recently called Heart Whisper. I'm a morning person and sometimes you're struck by the beauty of drinking your coffee and watching the sunrise and not looking at your phone for 20 minutes. I also ride a motorcycle and it's very therapeutic to scream while riding. There are not a lot of culturally appropriate places to scream in modern times, but inside your own helmet while riding is very therapeutic.  

Who and what inspires you?

I’m blessed to have a lot of super talented artist friends in D.C. Esteban Whiteside is really, really talented. He leans into the simplest execution of things that are very complex. I also like Brian Michael Dunn’s work. And, I've always been attracted to the Memphis Milano Design Movement from the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

How do you navigate the tension between conventional and unconventional art?

I do have a day job and I'm not an MFA person. I'm self-taught. The problem with the D.C. (art) scene, in my opinion, is there's too much worship of people with MFA's; Confusing on purpose is synonymous with intelligent and erudite. No, this person is just not clear about what it is you're looking at. The thing I've been thinking about the most is you do need to be able to talk about your work. You have to answer “What am I looking at?” And “Why did you make this?” And if you cannot answer that, then I don't think you've thought about it enough. 

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