Camillo Kearns is a born and raised Rochesterian. By the age of 25 he already has graduated with a BA in the Science of Photography from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. But his choice of medium doesn’t stop at photography. He works with anything from paint, ink, string, pinhole cameras, toy dolls, and even dead animals. Camillo’s search for personal solace has left a disarray of beautifully haunting pieces. I sat with him and his pet rat, Worry, to discuss.
Camillo is an interesting name. What does it mean?
I read in a name book that it meant “Brother of God” or something along those lines; which is kind of hilarious.
At what age did you begin appreciating/ or doing art?
I don’t think there was an age where I started. I just think there was an age where I actively did it. I always just made art, but I want to say 3rd grade is when I noticed art was my favorite subject and it was different than what other kids were doing.
What is your favorite medium to work with and why?
I don’t have a favorite. I kind of like to play in everything. Paper mache, photography, clay, and found object; I like to paint as well. There isn’t really something I like more than the other. But photography is the medium that I spent the most time with. I don’t know if I’d call it my favorite though.
Do you think school made you a better artist or could you do the same things you’re doing now without it?
I definitely couldn’t do the same things I’m doing now without it, but I wouldn’t say it made me a better artist. School is where I picked up on some really interesting philosophy taught by a professor named Dr.Bowser. She’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met in my entire life. She was a really cool woman too. She had half of her head shaved because her husband wanted her hair long and she wanted her hair short. That was her compromise. She’s just a cool lady. And the best thing is that she’s totally into philosophy and totally into technology. So she uses both to get stuff across to students. I picked up a lot from her and a lot of other great teachers. There’s no way I would be the artist I am today without the Art Institute. But would I recommend the Art Institute to anyone? No. Unless I knew they had something really direct they wanted to do and that they had the will to do it. For its money it’s not what a certain type of artist would need.
Do you see art as a job?
Yeah, it’s always an artist’s job to make art. And what sucks is a lot of artists deal with personal problems and have to work their “normal” jobs, but don’t get to focus on what their real job is, which art is. No matter what job I have, my job title is always “Artist”.
When you do work, what kind of music do you prefer to work to?
It definitely depends on my mood. Sometimes I get really frustrated with music and would rather hear the sounds of a house or the sounds of nature. But there are other times I work with the music and what the artist is bringing.
What is the most important source of inspiration in your life currently?
This is a really tough one. I’d say my own struggle for mental well being. I’ve been doing a lot lately for my own mental health. So I’m really trying to pay attention to what my mind is saying to myself and just spitting out the things that are bouncing around in my head sometimes. I deal with racing thoughts so it helps for those thoughts to come out on paper. A lot of it is stream of consciousness in really weird and interesting ways.
We’re all aware of the tortured artist’s cliché. Van Gogh for example. Do you think there’s some truth to pain producing creativity? And if so, can art come from a happy place?
To the last part of that, absolutely. Art can come from a happy just as easily as a sad place. I think that art that comes from a sad place is a little more shared by every human. We can all relate to this kind of empty feeling that is expressed in art. Or longing. We all connect to that pain. I don’t know if we all connect to the same happiness. We all find joy in different things. But we all tend to find sadness in the same things…Losing people.
Seems like suffering is universal. Do you have any hopes artistically? Career wise? Do you want to be famous?
Going into college it was all about fame. The school fueled that I think. It was very competitive. If you weren’t the best you’d be outshined. It can be really damaging if you’re not prepared for it. You learned to get with the program of get out, basically. But my dreams as an artist are to join the conversation that’s been going on for centuries and that’s people making art to talk to other people. Picasso had some crazy things to say that people still don’t hear or understand. He’s definitely a conversation starter. The only reason I want it to be seen is because if it isn’t, then that conversation ends with me and I’m just talking to a wall.
Art I think is just putting your energy into something else with a constructive mindset, even if it’s destructive in nature. Even if your art is breaking shit and taking pictures of it. You’re still trying to construct something.
I don’t want to be a douche and say “I cannot be defined” because that’s just bullshit. I can be defined. I think defining that is one of the biggest things I work with in my art. I do a lot of portraits and even when doing those, it’s about myself. That sounds egotistical but it’s just true. Artists are just putting themselves into everything they do. Even when it’s about other people, it’s still about their vantage point and their moment in history and what they’re doing with it.
Every artist leaves behind some sort of legacy. They leave something behind, no matter how small. What do you think you’ll leave behind?
I think I would leave behind a spirit of “help your fellow artist”. When I was in college, the best thing I experienced was working with other people. Whether it be holding a reflector. Or it could be more complicated. Like sitting in a room and brainstorming for a project. Its work and it’s too much to be taken by yourself. It’s good to have other minds. If there’s a legacy to be left, it’s that artists should be there for each other. And that I like dead things. I’m the guy who likes dead things and helping people.
Would you consider dead animals a medium?
Oh yeah! Like I haven’t done as much with it as I might like because of fears. Fears of what people will think when I’m picking up road kill. Once I had this dead bird in a jar, and it was liquefied, so it was really gross. I was trying to come up with a project and I had a spur of the moment idea to paint a picture of a bird, using the gross liquid in the jar. It was in daylight, and I was photographing. I just put up this paper in this abandoned building. And I was just sitting there spreading bird liquid, painting a bird out of a bird….And some cop cars pull up. And that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to explain in my life. They detained my friends and I for a little while, but they eventually let me go, with a bag of dead stuff in my hand. So thanks Pittsburg police (laughs).
Any advice to aspiring artists?
Make art. Wake up. Make art.
What if you don’t want to?
Do it anyway.