Since his initial introduction to analog photography four years ago, Cary Fagan, the Houston-based filmmaker, photographer, and artist, has been on a steady ascent. He shot the cover for rapper A$AP Rocky’s 2018 album, Testing (which landed on Billboard’s top twenty album covers of the year), and collaborated with hometown hero Solange Knowles on for her acclaimed When I Get Home project earlier this year, shooting the visuals for Knowles’s BlackPlanet website aesthetic, the inside artwork of the When I Get Home album booklet, and VHS videos playing alongside tunes from the album.
This year, Fagan also garnered international acclaim for his distinctive sculptures of stacked chairs, scoring two international residencies to exhibit them in Japan and Italy. On top of his artistic pursuits, he’s also been pursuing a degree in computer science at the University of Houston. Fagan took a moment to tell us how he clicks and stacks On Texas Time.
On his day-to-day routine
A lot of people don’t have my schedule. I usually wake up around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. every day. That’s just my natural clock, but I also fall asleep around 12 a.m. or 1 a.m. Truthfully, I don’t get a lot of sleep. I always feel energetic and refreshed. I get 90 percent of my work done before 10 a.m. I thrive the most in the morning. That is my time to shine, to do work, and be productive. I go on a bike ride always between 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., for about an hour. I come back and make some breakfast. Then, after 11 a.m.—to be really honest—I’m usually playing video games, studying Japanese, or finding other ways to keep myself busy.
On the Houston art scene
I just became a panelist for the Houston Art Alliance. The reason I became a panelist was because I felt that the eyes of Houston weren’t on the artists that we have. We have so much in Houston that is unrecognizable. We did an event this year called “There Is Enough for Everyone.” This event felt like we weren’t even in Houston. It was packed to the point that it felt like we were in New York or L.A. To see these different types of artists come out of Houston to a space and tell me and other people they’re inspired to create more and put themselves out there, that’s Houston. That’s the Houston we don’t see every day.
I know artists want to leave Houston. I know artists that can’t live off of their career out here. I know that, because I was one of those people. I’m friends with some of those people going through it. I want to have a say in where these grants go. I do feel like the identity of Houston is building and growing. There is potential. I also feel like New York and L.A. will be old news and oversaturated. Even now, people are starting to move down to Houston and do things here.
On chair stacking as a medium
I began stacking chairs before I even realized I enjoyed doing it. I would actually set up what I call “temporary sculptures” in different airports I would visit and leave them up there. This year, I did a residency in Japan. I wanted to divert away from photography, which I would typically do, and try something extremely new. Stacking chairs was my main medium in Japan. I express my work through my photography, but to express my work and find words to describe my sculptures is a whole other feeling. I never know what’s happening in the moment until it’s done. The creative process really sticks with me for this.
I’m at a point in my career where I feel like there’s other ways to express myself. There’s also a lot of saturation in the industry, and that can sometimes hinder me as an artist. So, as artists we are all told to create your own path. With chair stacking, I’m doing what I love, I’m passionate about chairs, but I’m also creating a new path of art in everyday objects. There’s something about these chairs that’s bringing in an audience, and I’m really enjoying that part of it as well.
I always tell people time doesn’t exist. I’m going to be thirty next year. I just always had this realization that when you turn thirty, you have to get serious about your life. I have a feeling that things will actually get better when I’m thirty. Everything has happened perfectly. I know that word shouldn’t exist to describe things, but the timing was perfect. Everything has happened this year because I wanted it to happen. I think when you know what you want in life and you have that balance, everything does start to come towards you, [and] the right people come towards you. It’s really about how you plan to carry out this passion or this dream. I just wrote in my journal, “I’m out here doing the impossible because it’s possible.” People could look at me and be like, “How are you stacking chairs in Italy?” Well, because I wanted to do it.
On working with Solange Knowles
Simply, I was recommended for the “Scales” event. She gave me a chance, and after that event she brought me out to Marfa, then Arizona for Arcosanti. And she started bringing me out more. She brought me out to L.A. for When I Get Home. Before I went to L.A., me and her had a one-on-one. She pretty much told me we have synergy and that she believed in my creative direction and vision.
Then came Germany. I was in Toronto filming for my campaign, and she reached out to me to come to Germany the next day. When I was there, we had another one-on-one and it was after rehearsal. She gave me some feedback on my work on what she liked and didn’t like. Then, I was like, “Solange, I really appreciate your feedback.” That one-on-one showed we were on the same page and that we definitely respect each other’s talents and artistries. I’ll be in Australia with her at the Sydney Opera House in January.
On the way to Italy, I was sitting next to a black man. We had a conversation when we landed. He asked me what I was doing in Italy. I told him I was doing a residency for art, stacking chairs. He looked at me with awe and was like, “A black man going to Italy to create art? You don’t hear about that much anymore.” He was a guy from the military. To hear him say that and then to put it in perspective is like, okay, that is saying something. Black art is powerful. I wrote it down in my journal too. That really struck a chord with me.
On advice to burgeoning artists
I would tell them that at some point they would have to leave. Never forgetting your home but spreading your wings—that’s needed for any artist. Also, have the guts to put yourself out there and tell some kind of story. This year I’m learning more that I need to speak more about what I do, not just show it. Never forget to keep balanced. I’ve burned out two or three times this year as an artist. So finding things outside of art that keep you grounded is very important, because you’re not always going to be creating.