Photos: Courtesy of Josh Callaghan
Text and Interview: Alec Coiro
I had a drink with Josh Callaghan when he had breezed into town to oversee the installation of his artwork in Bryant and other parks around Manhattan. If you live in New York City or Los Angeles and enjoy a day in the park, chances are you’ve seen some of Josh’s work by now. It’s quite clever; he takes a picture of what’s behind a structure and then prints that photo on the structure (typically some variety of utility box), rendering it quasi-invisible.
Josh says he likes the idea of public art.
I’m not sure how much I agree. It’s hard to object to having some art out in public, but it’s not often my favorite kind of art that I find there. Josh’s work, however, stands out in the field.
It’s ingenious in a way that’s immediately graspable, and thus appropriately democratic.
It’s very much of our moment—Josh describes it as “real world photoshopping”—yet it’s also classically grounded in a fascination with one-to-one scale in the tradition of Borges.
Perhaps most importantly, it has an immediate and integral connection with the public space that no statue, sculpture, or mural can claim.
Josh traces the inspiration for the piece back to a proficiency in Photoshop and an interest in buswrap. I found buswrap to a delightfully efficient term: while I’d never heard the word before, I instantly understood what it was. Struck momentarily expansive, Josh claimed buswrap is on the verge of making painting obsolete—a claim that he instantly backed away from. Interestingly, though, Josh’s first commission was the result of winning a competition that was supposed to be restricted to painters only, so perhaps he’s on to something.
Moving on from the topic of art and buswrap, we talked for a while about the end of irony in the new generation of youth, even though neither of us are particularly old. I sensed that Josh lamented the passing of irony and had been instilled with a reinvigorated commitment to irony. This sense was entirely based on the bright green Newport cigarettes tee-shirt he was wearing. Although, who knows, maybe he just loves menthols earnestly.
I asked Josh if the people in charge of these public spaces who commission his work were all of a distinctive type. No, he said, they’re all quite unique. Later, though, he pointed out that one of the things they do share in common is their hatred of utility boxes.
Interestingly, though, Josh says the utility boxes don’t bother him in the least. He suspected one of the boxes he buswrapped in Bryant park was a relic of the 19th century, unopened for a hundred years. He spoke of the box romantically, although he might have been being ironic.
The latest iteration of Josh’s wrap career can be found at the Playa Vista development in Los Angeles. If you’re in L.A. you can also see his work at the ARTBandini art fair Jan 29-31st. Or if that’s too soon, check him out at the excellently titled group show “Vapegoat” at Ballroom Marfa.