Interview: Cassie Suche on what it’s like to create Calgary’s coolest murals
Cassie Suche has quickly become a force to be reckoned with in Calgary’s art scene. Born and raised here, Cassie just returned from completing her degree in Textile Design at Leeds Art University. While most people would recognize her murals around the city, Cassie has been creating some of the city’s most interesting art pieces over the past few years. Now that she’s back for good, we decided to sit down with her and talk about what it means to be an artist in Calgary.
When did you first discover a passion for art?
I can’t really remember a time that I wasn’t artistically inclined. One of my earliest memories is in second grade when we were all drawing Clifford the Big Red Dog, and my classmates accused me of tracing. I was a little traumatized because nobody believed me at that age (laughs). But that’s probably one of the earliest instances. Basically, it’s always been the thing I like more than other things.
So was art your main focus during your childhood?
It was kind of a side thing, like it’s what I would always choose as an option in school. Neither of my parents were artists, in fact no one in my family is. So they were a little cautious about encouraging me to follow this path. That kind of worked out though, because going into it I always thought about the business side of ‘being an artist’. So graphic design, a salaried job, so on… I kept that mentality going into university, although I was also interested in English.
Which is just as tough of a degree to monetize (laughs). Did you study art for your undergrad too?
I did fine art. But I always was kind of looking for a job in a company. And it was a little bit heartbreaking because I didn’t think there would be anything in Calgary for me. Like, there was nothing obvious where I could be an artist and earn a salary. So for a long time I was convinced that I would never end up back here.
That’s definitely a bummer to come to terms with…
So I did a lot of circles as I tried to find my path, and fortunately I was able to return.
But this time through commission pieces, which we have to say is a lot better than being an art handler in Brooklyn or something…
Well, I jumped around a bit too. I’ve done graphic design, spent some time in Sydney working in print design studios. That was basically churning out prints for clothing, mostly flowers and then those get sold off. I was kind of a cog in the fast fashion machine.
Which isn’t so fun if you’re aware of what that entails…
Yeah, there were so many things about it that weren’t great. You had no rights to what you create, you don’t make what you like… I disagreed with a lot of what was going there.
But now, you’ve now found your own, unique style and you’re owning it. Does Calgary influence your approach at all?
I think yes. For one thing, my network here is not just artists, and it has me finding inspiration in diverse places. So that’s super valuable. The other thing about Calgary is that the ‘creative scene’ here is constantly growing. There’s a good energy to be around. Calgary’s a place where you’re not a drop in the ocean.
And how about studying art academically? Did that change your focus or approach at all?
It changed everything for me, definitely. I can’t understate how important my education was. I think when I was growing up, my high school did not really have a proper arts program. So when I got to university I was suddenly among peers who had been to specialized art schools, which was crazy. Even just like the basics I didn’t know (laughs). What mattered the most for me though was I found out that I had really naive idea of what being an artist was. I didn’t understand that there are no set rules.
You can do whatever you want…
Kind of, it’s a really simple concept but it took a lot of time for me to internalize and find what my practice should be shaped like. Fortunately, I had a lot of really good professors and technicians who guided me through it. Then, of course, being challenged and having to think differently was maybe the most important aspect. Fighting for my art, defending it, and having it critiqued was super helpful.
And now, you’ve completed a few murals around Calgary, so it obviously paid off. How many do you have? 3? 4?
Actually a lot more than that, but a fair number of them are in homes, and a lot that are no longer on my site. I think the first one I did was in 2013 or something… so it’s been a while. But only recently have I come into my own, and those are the ones being showcased online. I’m still doing residential too, and they’re now a bit more in my lane.
So what draws you to large scale works?
I love doing stuff that’s huge. Well, I like making a lot of stuff, but there’s a special draw for murals. It’s an immersive process for me, and is taxing in a really good way. I also like the shared experience that comes with murals, just the mere fact that more people will see it is a draw for me. Another bonus that they aren’t getting moved anytime soon. The context of the space matters and your experience of the piece has to do with where you are. Even if they’re not big, you have to go to them to discover them.
Yeah, we find that murals tend to transform cities for the better. If done properly, you can introduce a city to a new form of culture that’s truly beautiful. To that end, how important is a festival like BUMP to you?
Really important (laughs). Last year I helped to organize it. I did the logistics for the artists and the building owners. Just working out concepts, where to compromise, equipment… It’s an important part of the city, and the feedback has been phenomenal.
If I had one critique, it’s that Calgary has got some pretty crazy bylaws regarding ‘street art’, where the building owners are fined if graffiti isn’t removed in a set amount of days. So BUMP is fantastic, but Calgary might want to think about the roots of the discipline. Maybe some designated spaces for graffiti or street artists would be a good start.
Basically, Calgary needs a major artist to come in and challenge the city’s conception of acceptable street art. Let a Banksy or Space Invader swing through and put something up, then see what the reaction is.
That would be so interesting to watch.
So mural scene aside, what are your thoughts on art in Calgary in general? Do you recommend any galleries or artists?
Calgary right now is in a really interesting time. There’s a freeze on public art funds, but old projects that have been funded can keep going. Contemporary Calgary moving into the Planetarium is exciting. And the Calgary Arts Development Funds almost doubled this year, with roughly 75% of it going directly to artists and arts organizations. There’s a lot of stuff that’s brewing here, and in a way, it’s good to take a breather and reassess where funds are going.
I would always point people to the Esker Gallery’s online map of the best galleries in the city, and BUMP has a map of all the murals that have gone up. That’s better than me listing them (laughs).
So now that you’re graduated school, do you have any big plans in the near future?
I go between thinking that everything has changed and that nothing has changed. The biggest change is that I’m back in Calgary permanently and will be creating everything here. My summer is pretty much full with murals and in the fall I’ll be making a new collection of work and displaying it here.
Well, we will definitely keep our eyes peeled for that. Big thanks to Cassie for sitting down with us! You can keep up with her here– we know we’ll definitely be tossing a follow her way.