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Larry Caveney

Larry Caveney

The Outsider Artist

Larry is what one would call, an Outsider Artist. The idea is that the artists is not schooled or socialized in the art world. “We are making art just to satisfy ourselves,” explains Larry. This is a very primitive idea of art; you might even call it Folk Art. But this is who Larry is and what he is drawn to. “There’s a certain honesty to it,” Larry explains, “I’m not part of the art world; I am more of a Fringe Dweller. I always have been”.

Growing up in a poor family in the mountains of Western North Carolina, there was a significant spark that happened to Larry at age 15, when he saw a documentary about Leonardo DaVinci. “It inspired me in a more expansive way of what artists could be.” Along with inspiration from comic books and album covers like David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and Cream, Larry knew he wanted to be an artist but, as most of us creatives, wasn’t sure how that would unfold.

Larry briefly went to school at Appalachian State in Boone, NC. Worked part-time in construction, delivering pizza, and eventually got a job at a factory which enabled him to get a business administration degree. All the while making “funky folk art pieces with a chainsaw.” He received his Master of Fine Arts at Vermont College in Montpelier. This inspired him to get into performance art. Which he still does today. “My performance art was social interventions. For example, I did a performance at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Right where people lined up to go in, I built a stage and told jokes, and danced into a painting. Then, with music from James Brown, I handed out Blow Pops to the people. My statement thesis being, The Artist is the Fool.”

Fate had its way of bringing Larry back to painting when at age 24, he had an accident, falling 130 feet on concrete steps, which destroyed his left foot. After getting reconstructive surgery, he had all this time on his hands. “It wasn’t until I had that major accident that settled me down somewhat. Then, I could focus on painting and started my portrait work.”

Being in crutches for a year, Larry painted in his kitchen. It had a big window, street level, that entertained the passerby, another form of Performance Art for Larry. “I would make paintings there as people walked by and looked at me.” Larry accumulated work from his downtime and soon got into a show at a local gallery. Fate always has its way of instigating our progress. At Larry’s first art exhibit, he received a terrible review from the local Art Critic. “The bad review was a wake-up call for me. I realized my art wasn’t cohesive enough because I was experimenting with different mediums. And I wasn’t ready to dive into abstract expressions, either, because I didn’t fully understand them. I needed to focus.”

After that bad review and those humbling revelations, Larry started hanging out with that same art critic who gave him the bad review and his inner circle of creatives. He would bring them his work and have them critique it. This is how Larry’s art started to grow and evolve. Being self-taught, Larry used people as inspiration. Embodying the concept of the Outsider Artist, learning by watching and doing, he sought out other artists and observed how they made art and dealt with the art world. “I think conceptually, I was more prone to be inspired than sitting down and learning to mix paints.”

Living in San Diego, Larry got his Master of Fine Arts, primarily in Performance Art. Full circle, Larry was the teacher students would go to for art classes for their liberal study credits but also became the art critic for their work. “Each class was Theory. We discussed concepts from basic artists, and then they were tasked with making something related to the Artist. I would critique them regarding the artists’ research and the execution of the piece. Sometimes it would be as many as 30 people I would critique in a class.” Remembering the negative critique that catapulted him into where he finds himself today. Full-time Artist and gallery owner.

“It wasn't until I had that major accident that settled me down somewhat. I was able to focus on painting and started my portrait work.”

In 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Larry and his wife moved to a small border town in Arizona. Tubac, Arizona, is a progressive village between Tucson and Nogales on the Mexico/Arizona border. Having land with many Mesquite Trees, he created a make-shift art gallery on their property called the Front Yard Gallery. He would take large canvases, cut them, and tack them on corkboards to stabilize them. Then, when dry, he would paint on them and hang them from his Mesquite Trees in hopes of selling them. “I had a sign where people could call me, and I would come out and negotiate a price. I actually sold one out of my front yard on the first day. 

After a successful run with his front yard gallery, he opened a Contemporary Art gallery in the village of Tubac called the Back Dog Art Gallery. “I am still showing my work, but I’ve also been introducing the village to artists and friends from all over the country. That one thing I always aspired to do is to help out other artists and put some money in their pockets. So one wall is all my work, and another is a combination of other artists from LA, Austin, Asheville, San Diego, and Detroit.” 

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Larry’s Process

Larry works with acrylic and has found his unique artistic style. “I’ve been able to manipulate acrylic, almost like watercolor and clay. I mostly do portraits of cultural icons like Andy Warhol, Slim Whitman, or Mickey Mouse. I think about what has influenced our culture, utilizing channel as a means of creating.”

Larry has made a painting every day since 2012 and, along with his gallery, uses his Facebook page to sell his art while incorporating his passion for performance art.

For Larry, a lot of his art-making is spawned from trauma, “Just like drinking or medication sometimes helps trauma, art is the place where I can settle down and focus,”

Larry advises, “You have to support your addiction of making art, figure out how you can get your art out there, how you can sell your art doing the things you love. Forget about catering to an audience. You’ll find somebody that likes what you make. And then it’s the perfect scenario, where you’re making something you love. And other people love it as well.”

From a crippling injury and a bad review to a full-time artist and gallery owner, today, Larry might have a different take on his youthful thesis centered around the concept of the Artist as the Fool. The Outsider Artist may actually have a secret to success that isn’t status quo and is not socialized in the art world, instead simply making art to please oneself. To me, that sounds like wisdom. What do you think?

“ The bad review was a wake up call for me. I realized that my art wasn't cohesive enough, because I was experimenting on all kinds of different mediums. And I wasn't ready to dive into abstract expressions, either, because I didn't fully understand it. I needed to focus.”

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The Outsider Artist, Larry Caveney

“You have to support your addiction of making art, figure out how you can get your art out there, how you can sell your art doing the things you love. Forget about catering to an audience. You’ll find somebody that likes what you make. And then it’s the perfect scenario, where you’re making something you love. And other people love it as well.”

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