Oklahoma Contemporary
An artist in a blue jean jacket stands in a studio, surrounded by canvases and objects

New Light

Feb. 26, 2020

Off the Map

Painter and Studio School instructor Calvin Pressley on new ways of looking

Finding your voice is like discovering a new element. That’s how OKC-based artist Calvin Pressley describes it. This process of discovery animates the practice and teaching philosophy of the 31-year-old painter and instructor, who has spent decades finding his own creative footing.

Pressley will help guide others through the same process as he teaches two courses on drawing and painting in the inaugural spring session of Studio School, the expanded suite of classes and workshops offered year-round at the new Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center.

The San Antonio native hopes his Advanced Painting Critique class will help more experienced artists synthesize their influences into something new. “Whatever paintings you’ve looked at, whatever works of art someone once told you were ‘good’ — that's been formatted into a certain mind frame, given what you’ve already seen,” Pressley said. “I want to create an environment where we can investigate that through discussion, through critique, to develop a new sensibility.”

Pressley’s class for beginners, Drawing from Within, brings that spirit of investigation to those who aren’t yet as developed in their practice. “I want to inspire my students to push themselves to learn whatever technical skills they might want to achieve, but to always engage with their own perspective and not just try to re-create something they’ve seen before,” he said. “I want to inspire them to reach for something new.”

Despite the difference in media and experience levels, an emphasis on accessibility and experimentation form a connective tissue between the two offerings. “I want any class I teach to reach people from all types of backgrounds,” Pressley said. “And I want students to feel like if they came in and made the weirdest thing ever, that would be OK.”

“A lot of artists are doing something so fresh they don't even realize it. They’re so outside of the box they don't know they’re on to something amazing.”

— Calvin Pressley, artist and studio school instructor
A yellow painting with various textures and two white tennis shoes
Seeds. Oil on canvas, 55x41"

The color and the shape

Going through art school, color theory was an intimidating concept for Pressley. (“For one thing, it has the word theory in it,” he said.) But understanding color — what it is, where it comes from and how it shapes our lives — has since become a defining part of his practice. Works like Seeds, with the suggestion of a human form absorbed by deep yellows and greens, show an artist in deep conversation with the color and shape of our everyday spaces.

“There’s a lot of new light in the world right now, because of all our screens. I’m really interested in how light creates different environments,” Pressley said. “I like thinking about how the colors I create will change in different lights — in different worlds.”

Gradients represent a sort of limitless possibility for Pressley, which colors his approach to teaching and learning. “If your shading has a completely different aesthetic to it than mine, that's what I'm really interested in. I want people to engage that difference: ‘How can I think of a new way to make a shape? How can I draw this line straight, but not straight, at the same time?’”

That sense of experimentation helped Pressley find his voice. He hopes his inaugural Studio School classes will help others find their own. “It’s hard to recognize yourself as an artist sometimes,” he said. “There are a lot of artists who haven’t realized their potential. And there are artists who are doing something so fresh they don't even realize it. They’re so outside of the box they don't know they’re on to something amazing.”

To register for classes with Pressley or other Studio School instructors, click here.

Tags tags
art drawing painting Calvin Pressley abstract art color theory art education

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