Cahill Wessel Takes us on a Trip down Psychedelia Lane A conversation with the illustrator reveals layers of his creativity and hints at a Donald Trump Coloring Book

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Interview by Cianan Gaitan 

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The darkness of Cahill’s bedroom studio is a strong contrast from his vibrant illustrations. Holed up in his den on a Monday afternoon, Cahill works away at his latest piece, a colorful depiction of a peach in a harness thong.

Juxtapositions that leads to individual interpretations are central to Cahill’s work. Known for his dexterity with colored pencil on paper, Cahill’s gained recognition for his vivid take on surrealism. A native of the 707 (Vallejo for the unfamiliar) Cahill currently resides in Oakland. Our very own Cianan Gaitan sat down with Cahill to learn about his approach to illustration, the relationship between creativity and commerce, and how he came up with the Donald Trump Coloring Book. 

At first glance at your work, I look at the objects and think “why is this there? And why is that there?” But all the objects come together to create something greater. How do you decide what to draw?

At times there are like subtle meanings that I bring together, but a lot of the time it’s throwing a bunch of random images together and letting the viewer find meaning after the fact. It’s kinda like a compositional decision where I can fit in things that go together and then if any meaning is found by the viewer after the fact then that’s awesome. But I go into it hoping that viewer can just find a meaning amongst themselves.

That’s interesting I thought you worked in reverse where you picked the objects first then came up with the rest…

One thing I do try to do is put objects together that reference each other without me having a direct goal but to inspire the viewer to draw some connections between it. Two people may find two completely different meanings that made sense for them. So that’s part of the fun for me, to put objects together that vaguely reference each other but can be different interpretations.

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One that stood out was the “California Sex Cult” with the high heel and the weed nug.

Yeah that was one of my favorite. People really like the weed art for some reason (laughs) so I gotta do some more.

Something else I noticed was one of your collection was all pen and ink and it seemed with the black and white style it seemed a bit more dark. Was that what you were going for?

Well for the artist the main goal is always to make money well not the main goal but you wanna be able to make money off your passion. And I haven’t sold a lot of those compared to my pencil work.

For my pencil art I plan it out and research images to draw from and find imagery that could evoke response or interpretation from the viewer while with the pen and ink black and white work it’s just like a stream of consciousness. It’s like I can’t erase mistakes so I gotta connect whatever the mistake is ‘til find a way to connect it with the rest of the imagery. It’s ink so I can’t go back so that adds to it. The work is usually darker, there’s a lot of sexual imagery and monster images and floating genitals and shit so those are like a balancing act to the light hearted pencil work.

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I like that the idea of balance. I like how artists are able to express themselves however they want through their art. One thing I’ve always wondered about is for the people who pursue art as a career is how do you find that balance between what the audience wants and being true to what you want to draw while at the same time finding what the audience likes to make a livelihood?

That is definitely one of the harder things to do. What I’ve noticed is that there are things that I want to draw in my mind, but i’ll be like this might not sell but i still wanna do it and the goal is to be able to draw what you want and your audience will still like it and buy it.

But ideally as an artist I want my work to speak to other people so I don’t mind admitting my approach to cater to what people want. It’s a give and take between what I want and what my small fan base is looking for.

So when you make the pencil work is it mostly with the mindset that it’s made to sell?

Not really, I mean I definitely enjoy doing it satisfying and I kind of have figured out what the audience likes so I merge that with what I wanna do. But that’s definitely one of the hardest things when formulating a body of work like what do I wanna make and what do you wanna see?

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So if you don’t mind me asking how do you think the Trump coloring book will fit into that push and pull dynamic between your audience and yourself?

It’s kind of like new territory for me because most of my work hasn’t been directly political. Like there might be little subtle hints here and there like I made this vase with flowers and a pineapple and it was sitting on a tablecloth that was the American flag and it’s kind of rude to use the flag as a tablecloth so that was a kinda subtle thing but it’s never been anything besides things like the flag you know.

This is like 20 to 30 images of just Trump so it’s really like fuck this guy. So it’s definitely new territory. With this piece it’s a coloring book which I’ve never done before so it’s definitely a new approach for me. Also Trump has made a lot of people pissed so I definitely know people will want to see these type of images.

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I’m going to call it “Trump in Trouble” because the whole book is trump in unfortunate situations. I feel like the market is there for people who are angry and want to see Trump in these unfortunate situations but I also wanna do it too so it’s like something that I know people wanna see and I know I wanna do so it’s the perfect merge.

Hopefully if I market it and pitch it right it will do well. I’ve never done marketing for something like this before either so it’s definitely out of my area of comfort. But it feels like I’m in a good place with this. I definitely do have a lot of work to do with this as the business part is the most time consuming and daunting part of this, the drawing part is easy.

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Keep up with Cahill’s work on Instagram, and on his personal website. ‘Trump in Trouble,” Cahill Wessel’s first Coloring Books is still in the works.