We had the good fortune of connecting with Caren McCaleb and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Caren, what principle do you value most?
Observation. If I don’t notice it, I can’t use it. It’s that simple. The noticing always comes first. I use this skill to make funny little faces out the of the things I see while walking my dogs. I’ve been doing it daily for five years and post photos of them on Instagram @sidewalkface. This is my art practice not my job. I work as a documentary editor and observation is equally important in that profession, so this activity keeps my creative knife sharp. Lots of people see faces in things. It’s called pareidolia. I see partial faces and add elements until they have a recognizable emotional expression. An evaporating wet spot might have a nose shape, so I add an eye and mouth. Is it happy or sad? I get to decide and that’s what is so fun. If the twig forming the mouth curls up at the end, the face is joyful, if it curls down, maybe they’re in a contemplative mood. I don’t set out looking for anything in particular, I just notice what is there, a popped balloon, a melted ice cream bar, a discarded mattress. Once I see it, I feel I must try to make a face. It’s a way of honoring the observation. Why be observant if you aren’t going to use the information? While we mostly don’t use our observations to make art, everything noticed has potential for positive action. If your friend is acting low key, maybe they need cheering up. If your floor is dusty, maybe it’s time to spring clean. If the avocados are ripe, definitely make some guacamole. Being observant is the first step in honing intuition and it’s an antidote to rigid thinking. What is fully planned is not allowing actual conditions to contribute to the end result. Being able to use the gifts of the moment means you are taking advantage in real time of the best life has to offer.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I make art because it’s the most enjoyable thing to do. It’s a way to process reality, to make a pearl out of all the grit. I love repetition, doing the same process over and over to discover the nuances. What I’ve learned from making thousands of faces is that the most satisfying ones are always surprises. There is magic in acting quickly with only the material at hand, so much of my process cannot be controlled, a surprise is sure to follow. The more I allow the unusual to take shape, the better. Every face feels like a gift and I am grateful to have a gift every day.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My favorite place is Runyon Canyon. I love to make faces there and it’s a great way to see the whole city. The views are incredible.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to thank MaeDay Rescue for our little dogs! If these guys didn’t need to be walked every day, I would not have discovered my art form. It is the nicest part of the day, all of us enjoying our time outside together. MaeDay helped me find my canine family and I am so grateful for their love and dedication to the well-being of animals. I know them personally and they are exceptionally motivated and big hearted. Please check them out if you feel the urge to rescue a dog.
Portrait of Caren McCaleb: Andrew Southam Sidewalk Faces: Caren McCaleb