Cody TheCreative is a multifaceted artist who grew up in New York and started drawing at the age of 2. While he first became engaged with the portraiture of people in his early years as an artist, he explored nature through art later in his career. Cody has explored a wide range of tools and media forms to this day – graphite on paper, charcoal portraits, pastel on canvas, paint on sneakers and apparel, as well as paint on pennies in his famous #PennyPopArt and his latest colorful canvas project Splattered Skies. Cody’s wearable art, as well as projects like the “Love Is The Key” movement, are a unique way of engaging with fans of his art.
In his interview, the artist tells us about the personal meaning behind his projects, inspiration, and the essence of his work. Cody talks about his take on NFTs, as well as his concept of the unconventional canvas, previous struggles of validation from the art world, and artistic icons.
Cody – you’re involved in many different kinds of creative work. What was your favorite project you’ve done as part of your artistic career so far?
It's hard to pick a favorite, but there are a few that stand out. The first of which is my latest body of work, Splattered Skies. I am so excited about this project. I feel like I have found my voice as an artist. It feels uniquely me. Loud, bright, in your face abstract work mixed with calm and peaceful scenes. If you know me personally, you know I am very grounded with a rebellious spirit. Throughout my life I've always stood out (for better or worse). When I was younger, it was definitely for worse. The older I've gotten, the better it's been for me. This collection is, on both a personal and artistic level, my voice. It's also the fusion of two artistic explorations I've been working on separately for years - Abstract Expressionism (which I have done more on sneakers and apparel than canvases) and Impressionism (which I have been exploring for eight years via charcoal and pastel landscapes). The two together have formed a new style that seems to me to be in the Surrealist realm.
The second is a project called Love Is the Key (LoveKeyMovement.com). It was conceptualized in 2017 for Valentine's Day. A friend and I decided that we were going to go out in NYC (where we lived at the time)
and hand out keys we had painted red and wrote "Love" on. We called them LoveKeys and in exchange we asked for people to share with us anything on the topic of love. The experience was unparalleled.
We were getting stories and deeply personal insights from people we had never met before! It was a very special experience and fortunately we were smart enough to film it. (The Video is below). It's about 5 minutes and totally worth the watch. Very uplifting. We have since made LoveKey pins and there is a promo to buy one give one free at the link in my Instagram bio.
The third is my pastel work which I've been calling, Just an Easel and a Dream. It's very personal work for me and not created with any intent on selling. I've done commissions and sold some prints, but only a couple originals have left my personal collection. These works are my memories. They are a map of where I've been and what I was moved by. I've traveled as far as Europe just to draw. Some people experience a place by going to restaurants, or museums, or by the nightlife. I connect with a place by drawing the land. It's my meditation at this point as well. Complete calm and tranquility is generally where I'm at while creating these works.
Your website reveals that you made your way from drawing portraits to pastel landscapes, becoming deeply emerged in nature as the subject of your art. You state that your pastel drawings are ‘poetry for the eyes”. What ignited this change?
Growing up, I mainly used pencils and was always focused on drawing faces. To me, that was where all the action was. It's where the essence of a person shines through. The shift to nature began in a Drawing from Nature class I took in 2013 with artist, Todd Gordon, at SUNY Purchase. He provided me the tools and insight to approach nature with a completely different outlook than the one I had held my entire life (all 24 years at that time). Charcoal was the main medium that we used and it was a complete game changer. It changed my focus from tiny details to values and shapes. This allowed me to do what I believe has always been my biggest strength: capture the essence of my subjects.
Which is the most important source of inspiration for you? How would you characterize your style?
Pop culture has been a major source of inspiration for me from the time I started drawing at two years old, pausing VHS tapes to draw the characters on screen, to my @PennyPopArt, wearable art, etc... This source has definitely clocked the most hours, but at this point I believe nature to be my most powerful source of inspiration. Eight years of charcoal and pastel drawings, thousands of dollars spent traveling, and now Splattered Skies (which at the time of writing has 20 pieces and an homage to the Starry Night in the can, and 17 of them were done within 1 month. I would have even more by now, but my schedule hasn't permitted it.) I am feeling incredibly charged in regard to this project, and while the main source of inspiration is from nature and all my travels, I would also say that the abstract expressionism element is drawn from within.
As far as characterizing my style, I think it depends which body of work we're talking about. I have played with a bunch and will probably play with many more.
I am a sponge soaking up the world around me, incorporating elements into the next project, mixing metaphors as I go. I have no formal knowledge of art, so I am bound only by what I am physically capable of creating. I do not look to any particular style and say – This is how you do that. I think there are countless options and defining the way that I sift through those options is not something I feel a need to do. I do know that, overall, I am always aiming to capture essence. Regardless of technique, subject matter, etc... It's all about essence for me. Whatever medium/style makes the most sense to convey the essence of any given concept, is the medium/style I go for.
How do you decide where to travel and “capture nature in art” next ? Is there any particular order of states or places you’re following?
I choose places based on what is speaking to me at that moment. While I'd love to see everything, I've got to be efficient in the sense that I don't have unlimited time, funds, or energy, yet I need to walk away from each trip with pieces that I love. The way to best accomplish this is to go see what I am most drawn to/inspired by.
For example, growing up in the Hudson Valley in NY, the Hudson River was a big source of inspiration for much of my early works. This led me to places that had rivers/water scenes. I had an approach to those types of pieces and felt confident that I would be able to accomplish what I wanted in the time I had.
I don't get much time at each drawing location. Usually a few hours. If I really love a place, maybe I get a couple sessions, but still there is so much to see that it just seems crazy to commit to one spot for the duration of my time in a place.
I am now most inspired by mountains. I love them. This summer I drove from NY to LA and got to finally check Colorado off my bucket list. I also got to spend a few days in the Banff area in Canada when they lifted the travel restrictions. I think my favorite mountain region that I've been to so far, though, are the Dolomites in Northern Italy, but the Million Dollar Highway in Ouray, Colorado is definitely special as well.
A goal of mine is to draw in each of the 50 states. So far, I've only drawn in 15, but I've been to 27. I think the next ones on my list are Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Along with your more traditional art, you’ve started selling NFTs. How is this process of selling different from selling physical art?
As an independent artist, not represented by a gallery, I don't think the process of selling NFTs vs. physical art is all that different. It's just an NFT marketplace vs. Instagram. Either way, the traction is self-driven. If you don't promote your own work incessantly, you aren't going to capture enough eyes to sell enough pieces to make a living. Either way, social media is the megaphone.
The NFT space is so new. I think the biggest thing to come out of it for artists is the ability to collect royalties. This has never been done and it is so important. I think the space will twist and turn and morph into something very different from what it is now, but that element will remain. Artists put their life into their work, and very few are able to make a living from it. If we, as a society, appreciate art as much as we claim we do, we need to make sure our artists are able to survive. This is a big, big step in that direction.
On the buyer side, I think the biggest value is the verifiability. No forgery can pass as an authentic creation. No story can be made up about where work has been sold etc... The blockchain is going to play a big part in record keeping in all spaces. Not just art.
Can you explain to us your “concept of the unconventional canvas” ? What kind of art does this concept entail?
In my opinion, art belongs everywhere. Not just canvases on walls. It belongs on buildings, and clothing, and commonplace objects. The unconventional canvas is anything that isn't traditionally thought of as a canvas. It's a pair of sneakers. It's a hat or jacket. It's a rock from someplace you love. It's a blank key painted red with the word “Love” on it. Even trash found on the road or in one of your favorite parks can be a canvas. Anything you're willing to paint on.
Reflecting on your engagement with art, can you recall a specific experience that reassured you to continue your path as an artist?
I stopped drawing around eight years old and didn't really pick it back up until I was finishing up college at twenty-four and needed some electives. I took a life-drawing class, thinking it would be an easy A and that would be it, but numerous people in the class were asking me, "Why aren't you an art major? What are you doing?
"Even the teacher, Roger Hendricks, told me whatever I was doing wasn't the right thing. He pushed for me to take it seriously and invited me to be his teaching assistant the following semester. I accepted (for zero credit!). I had never received so much positive feedback for anything I had ever done in my life! In between those semesters was the nature course. It was a whirlwind of inspiration and affirmation from the universe and I had no choice but to listen.
That summer I left my day job, working at a shoe warehouse, to pursue art. I was selling postcard sized original pastel drawings at a wealthy beach town for twenty dollars a piece. I sold a bunch, and ended up getting a couple commissions for a hundred to a hundred fifty bucks from local shops. I was happy to have the work but wasn't able to get the money I felt it deserved (welcome to the world of art). I was telling a friend there about my dilemma and he said, "Do you want to be in the souvenir business, or the art business ?
Art is not for everyone. You have to be willing to set your price higher and stick to it. If someone says it's too high, ay well I guess it's not for you then." I said the art business and he commissioned a piece for $750. He is still my biggest client eight years later.
Since then, I have been fortunate to receive some sort of validation along the way in almost all of the artistic ventures I've set out to create. These moments have been incredibly important for my confidence. No matter how much you love what you do, it's very difficult to keep pounding on doors when you feel you're not being heard, or that you must have nothing to offer. These moments show me that a concept has legs and isn't just something I find inspiring, but something other people are connecting to. I will always make art for myself, at this point, but to believe that I have anything to offer anyone else, comes from these moments of validation. A couple of my favorites are being accepted into the Pastel Society of America, and I am having a film crew come to my studio in NY to film me turn a pair of plain white Vans high tops into a NY Rangers-themed artwork for a commercial, that is on it's fourth season with MSG Networks. The Rangers are my favorite sports team.
Your “Penny Pop Art” project – a miniature art project where you paint well-known public characters, as well as comic characters on pennies – has generated a lot of attention in the art world. How did you come up with the idea for the project and what is the intention behind your miniature art?
I find great excitement in taking the commonplace and giving it another life, opening the door to new possibilities, new concepts, and new ways of debating the talk of the times. #PennyPopArt began as an exercise in ‘less is more’ (no pun intended). The goal being to use as little detail as possible to transform Abraham Lincoln into pop icons. At this point the collection represents those that have influenced me in some way throughout the course of my life - this is reflected as the cents they've added to my being. I also recognize the absurd value we, as a society, place on celebrities/pop culture icons. With this collection, I aim to impact the discussion of what is truly important by painting the highly unique and highly valued on our most common and lowest valued currency.
In 2016, pennies kept popping up in my awareness. It started while on a flight to Austin, Texas. The flight attendant got on the speakers and said something along the lines of, "Hello everybody, today is Jordan's first day on the job. We have a little tradition here in which we come through the isles collecting a penny from everyone to wish Jordan good luck at his new job." I loved this so much but being the millennial I am, I didn't have anything but plastic, so when the flight attendant came around collecting people’s pennies, I just stayed quiet. I really wanted to contribute though; so during the flight, I used the watercolor set I had in my carry-on to paint a penny on the back of a business card. When the flight ended, I walked up to Jordan and told him how I didn't have a penny to contribute, but that I wanted to wish him luck at his new job. It's a moment I'll never forget.
On my way back home, I stopped at a little shop in the airport, and I stumbled upon a clasp bracelet made of welded-together pennies! I had to have it. I ended up wearing that bracelet just about every day until it broke. Now, I paint on all kinds of things (sneakers, apparel, etc.) and no matter how much of my hand-painted clothing I dressed myself in, I can't tell you how many people asked me if I made that bracelet. I wanted to say yes, so bad, but I couldn't!
Finally, while scrolling through Instagram one day, I began noticing that some of the micro artists were placing a coin next to their paintings to reference how small they were. Then it hit me: They're missing it! The action is on the coin! The rest is history.
Your #FamousFacesCollection, a series of charcoal portraits, included many celebrities – how have these celebrities influenced you as an artist?
My Famous Faces Collection is all about celebrities that have influenced me. With some, it is as simple as a single song, or their look, their energy, their accomplishments, and significance in the culture. With others, it's much more than that. Some of these people are my favorite musical artists that I either grew up with, or listened to nearly every day. They have all made me think about life and my desire to reciprocate my energy in the form of art. Every piece in the collection was hand-delivered to the subject by either myself or someone from their camp. There may be more, but I think Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Tiesto are the only ones in the collection that I didn't hand their drawing to directly.
It was my first artistic venture and a great way to hone my skills while learning some of the most valuable networking lessons I've learned to date.
Do you have an artistic icon? What inspires you about this character?
Conceptually, I love Warhol for taking commonplace items and turning them into art. As I've already stated, that is a big thing for me. I see myself as building on his theory by actually painting on these things, rather than making paintings of them.
For completely different reasons, I am also a HUGE Van Gogh fan. I don't paint in his style, but I do share his love for nature and the passion and life-force he brought to the canvas.
I currently believe that I have developed a new style that expresses this passion and life-force and displays my love for nature: Splattered Skies. It is quiet and tranquil, yet loud and exciting. I intuitively paint the skies at a feverish pace and the peaceful scenes in a meditative state.
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