Two years ago, shortly after her father's death, Phoenix-based artist Casebeer was going through his effects. As she read one letter he had written, a line jumped out at her.
"In the second paragraph, after all this stuff, it just said, 'everything is fine here,' and I -- knowing my dad's life and knowing what was really going on -- I thought, 'That is it. That's the elephant in the room'," she says. "It was the moment that broke through: You have to put all these stories together and here's how it goes."
His nonchalant quip has become her artist's mantra as the title for her newest exhibition, "Everything Is Fine Here," at Tilt Gallery in Scottsdale.
The 23-piece collection is on display through the end of April. The work features Casebeer's signature style of collage and collaboration, with pieces using wooden crates, canvas, found images, and painted words. Some of these pages -- like the French magazine about science from the 1950s -- she has been collecting, largely subconsciously, for more than five years. "It's random," she says, "but it's not all random. In a way it's a lifetime project."
The series is based on a non-fiction novel she's still working on, one she admits has taken awhile but promises to finish, even if she's not sure when. She describes the resulting artwork as an outline in visual form.
"I think all the painting I've done over the years has been that, because it's always a narrative of some sort, but this is the tightest narrative in that it's actually with the book," she says. "Each one isn't just its own, they're all part of the story."
Art and storytelling have always been intertwined for Casebeer. Having earned a degree in journalism from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff where she grew up, she was a writer of short stories for years before transitioning to painting and collage as her focus, making a definitive mark on the Valley art scene. Now she's trying to find an artistic equilibrium between the two by marrying both sides in this newest mixed-media show.
"For me, one thing goes with the other, and leads to the other and helps the other," she says. "In my case, it sort of takes all these forms to make what it is I do. I've had periods of strict collage or strict painting or strict writing, all of which have their moments, but there's something about me [and] the chaos of my mind that has to stick them all together. And the closer I stick them all together, the more authentic I feel about the entirety of it."
The book is based on a true story, one she heard through the familial grapevine years ago, the same story her father's letters quietly brushed over. Her grandfather was in a car accident in 1957. He survived, but two women -- naked -- who were with him died.
"I've been dealing in the shadow that leaves. Thinking of it as a 'Big Bang' in its own regard," she says. She goes on to describe the details of the main image, gesturing at the focal points with her hand. First, the car -- a hearse, then the underlying, assumed mantra -- "everything is fine," and finally the desire to ignore both the catalyst and its consequences.
"It became a very big elephant in the room. No one spoke about it. [The book] is that and other elephants -- but that one underlying because no one ever talked about it," she says. "Some of [the pieces] are more general, like the 'Everybody Transporter' where I'm talking about what happens to us genetically with chromosomes and fingerprints. Others are notes and timelines and the speed of things.
"To me, some are actual chapters. This is the year my mother washed every wall in the house like she might scrub a hole out the other side," she says, showing off a piece near the title image. "They give me this whole new sense of it, in a way. By putting it like this -- I have the paragraphs, too -- but the other side of my mind needs to work with this."
She first began working on the collection of stories while living in The Hotel Chelsea in New York City during the early 2000s. She was there for September 11th and suffered an intense bout of writer's block following those events.
"I couldn't, artistically, almost do anything," she says. "After that it all felt futile, shallow."
She returned to the art world, and eventually the Southwest, slowly. First by picking apart matchbooks and creating collages from them. Then she began putting pen to paper, retelling these tales little by little over the past decade -- without committing to a solid deadline, she says.
Many of the pieces from this show have already been sold, and the reception has been extremely positive, she says. She has a small group of art lovers who have followed her from studio to studio, gallery to gallery, who continue to show their support both financially and emotionally during her annual April showcases at the gallery.
"This helped me work out a lot," she says. It's a personal book, but the accompanying artwork is both for her and for the public. "By the time I looked at it all when it was done, I felt like it could be not about me, in a way. I think it's about all of us. We all come from our family. We are all our story."
A closing reception with Casebeer will be held during the Thursday Night Art Walk from 7 to 9 p.m. on April 30 at Tilt Gallery, 7077 East Main Street, Suite 14 in Scottsdale. Admission is free and open to the public. Click on www.tiltgallery.com for details. "Everything is Fine Here" remains on display through Thursday, April 30. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and by appointment Sundays and Mondays by calling 602-716-5667.