Casey Alia Buchanan – Sculptural Painter

Rediscovering Enchantment

Casey Alia Buchanan grew up in Roxboro, NC, and attended college at Appalachian State. After college, she moved to Durham and is currently “trying to get [her] foot in the door artistically wise.” She grew up in a very artistic family. Her mother was a touring singer/songwriter, and her father was an artist. As a child, she used to play in the woods and make up her own stories. In addition, her father always allowed her to explore and create with his art supplies. She was a straight A student, and for a while thought she would pursue a career as a doctor or a lawyer, but she knew art was her true calling.

She finds inspiration pop-up books, mechanisms, and old antique toys. “They are all about discovery, and I feel like that’s something that toy and artwork alike kind of ignore these days,” she says. “There’s a huge discovery process when you have to interact with something or explore a pop-up book or figure out how a toy works instead of just having a flat screen in front of you or seeing a painting on the wall.” One of Buchanan’s goals with her artwork is to bring that discovery process back for herself and her viewers.

To incorporate that discovery element into her artwork, Buchanan creates interactive sculptural paintings. She does her own woodworking to build the essential frames for her paintings and tries to paint an environment where the viewers feel like they can interject themselves into some sort of narrative. She invites her viewers to touch and handle her artwork. “With the body of work I have now,” Buchanan explains, “as you turn the gears, there are little cut outs, and those then reveal secret cubby holes that you can stop and pull out a little drawer and explore what’s in it or take a moment and pause and look at the whole painting as it’s changing.”

In her last body of work, Buchanan set out to portray various themes of growing up. She showed that overarching theme in several ways in that one piece. “For example, one of my pieces was covered in flowers and thorns and roses and the theme of that…was passion and lust and discovering that sexual side of yourself when you are exploring and growing up.” She also incorporated a moon that was very high up to portray unattainable dreams and roots to show the difficulty in growing up and leaving home in the same piece. “These were all really close up themes you could explore and then the interactive part was pulling out these little drawers that had secret messages that had the theme without being too literal,” Buchanan explains.

Creating interactive artwork takes a lot of planning and preparation. Buchanan cuts out wooden gears and spends time sanding and sealing the wood to make sure everything will maintain its functionality and workability. She likes to figure in time and draw out all of the portions of her gears so she can have varying sizes and different thoughts that all work together. Then, of course, she has to design a narrative and piece her story together. This process came with a lot of experimentation and trial and error. “I realized I couldn’t use acrylics on wood because it warped the wood, so the gears would get stuck and make it really hard for them to turn,” Buchanan says. In addition, she realized she needed to elevate the gears from the wood a little so she could incorporate a skeleton key or lock or other mechanism that require extra space to move. “I needed to have some sort of handles that people could [use to] spin the gears and know they are supposed to touch it,” she adds. To account for all of these issues, Buchanan spends extensive time drawing good schematic designs to help her figure out what will work and what will need tweaking.


In addition to sculptural paintings, Buchanan also enjoys printmaking. Her favorite medium, though, is oil painting in combination with drawing. “I realized that Sharpie oil based paint markers are wonderful, really inexpensive tools for me to use,” she says. “I’ll develop a painting to a certain level, but then I’ll come back and finesse it over top with these really bright oil paint markers.”

Casey Alia Buchanan is beginning to make her mark in the art scene. She won the RAW Artist Raleigh, making her the North Carolina Visual Artist of the year. However, she says her biggest accomplishment is getting back in her studio. “I took, unintentionally, around a year off when I graduated [from Appalachia State]. I kind of burned myself out…and I was scared to be an artist in the new world—the big world…I would do little sketches here and there, but I didn’t feel very in tune to my creative process. Somehow I got a spark of creativity and igniting again in the last couple of months,” she says.

Buchanan hopes to someday create big public interactive artwork. In addition, she is building up her credentials in hopes of someday getting a studio at Golden Belt in Durham. Eventually she would love to end up in New York and all over the world showing her artwork.

She is definitely an artist to watch for.



*Also published in the Triangle Downtowner Magazine: Feb 2013

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