Claire Elliott – San Francisco, California

Desire Path Oil on Wood Panel 20” x 24” 2014

Desire Path
Oil on Wood Panel
20” x 24”
2014

Briefly describe the work you do.

I am a painter, and as such I have an obsessive dedication to investigating what paint can do as well as the act of painting itself. In the work I am currently making, I use painting to uncover contemporary landscape and examine how it differs from the past. Right now, I am drawn to spaces where landscape is either manufactured or controlled to a degree where the tension between man and nature is highlighted. Working from personal photos, I construct new and exaggerated spaces out of these constructed landscapes by using composition, intensified palettes and the physicality of the paint. One of the things I like most about painting is all of the inherent potential it holds while being simultaneously doomed to a certain level of failure. In my work, flickers of illusionistic realism in rendering and perspective can easily be contradicted by dissolution into abstraction and careful skewing and shifting. I’m interested in making a painting that reveals it’s a construction, while asking the viewer to believe it. Lately I’ve been captivated by the forced perspectives and rigid lines of formal gardens and the empty, apparent purposelessness of public parks and lawns. I often use small paintings to explore the more mundane aspects of everyday landscape: piles of garbage bags massing into a mountain, the charred debris of a beach bonfire or a pile of fallen leaves on asphalt. Taken all together, the work reflects current and historical attitudes towards landscape, planned spaces versus natural ones and the beauty daily happenstance alongside meticulous pruning and control.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I grew up surrounded by art and raised by an art-loving family. In particular, I’m grateful for early and frequent exposure to Modernist and Abstract Expressionist painting. Spending time wondering at the soft edged pours of a Frankenthaler and contrasting them to the confident layering of a Diebenkorn shaped my thinking and my art.

In college I studied French alongside Art and mostly concentrated on poetry and film. Visually, studying film has had a huge impact on the way I compose and construct images. Learning another language gave me a useful framework for analyzing and creating visual art. It helps me to break images down into component parts and to find the relationships within those parts. My love of poetry (in English and French) has been and endless source of new images and feelings to exploit in my work.

Double Viewpoint, Jardin du Luxembourg Oil on Canvas 28" x 36" 2014

Double Viewpoint, Jardin du Luxembourg
Oil on Canvas
28″ x 36″
2014

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

My studio practice is a fairly traditional one. Nine times out of ten, the source of everything that’s going well and the answer to anything that’s going wrong can be found in the studio. The more I work, the more I learn and solutions are rarely found outside the studio. I can usually be found toiling away alone in a room and usually, I’m pretty happy about it. That being said, preparing for my paintings involves taking photos and observing the natural world, which means that even when I’m not physically in the studio, part of my mind still is.

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

When I first began making art (in high school and college) my work was driven by formal visual concerns and deeply personal, narrative subjects. After I graduated from Skidmore College in 2007, I spent the next five years making work in a vacuum. I had never considered how much of being an artist lies in allowing my peers and the public interact with my work. I had imagined that making art could be an exclusively individualistic pursuit. And while producing art can happen all on one’s own, sharing it, explaining and debating it, and the consequences of doing so are absolutely essential for me. By being open about my work, I can change and improve how the average person sees artists. It’s become increasingly important to me to make my art world as transparent and accessible as possible for the benefit of myself and others.

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

Ideally, I would work every day from 10 am to 6 pm. I was able to do this for a few moths this summer and it was invigorating. The reality is that my schedule is never this open and I must find the time to make work when I can. I still prefer to work during the day rather than in the evening and I do try to be as regimented about this as possible. For me, the most important thing is to be in the studio often and not to lose the hard won productivity and confidence that is born of that routine. Long stretches away from the studio (more than a week) can be deadly to productivity and make me question my every move when I return.

Out of Bounds, Hearst Castle Oil on Canvas 20" x 36" 2014

Out of Bounds, Hearst Castle
Oil on Canvas
20″ x 36″
2014

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

To me, my work has changed immensely in the last few years, though to other eyes the shifts may not be so dramatic. Getting my MFA at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University gave me the tools and confidence to become a better painter and a mature artist. Constantly discussing and critiquing my work allowed me to pinpoint what really excited me about it and to let go of the things that didn’t matter to me or to the success of the work. Concretely, that meant letting go of concerns about categorization and beauty and pursuing a greater engagement with abstraction as well as with issues contemporary to painting. I’ve become less concerned about finding a great idea to paint and more dedicated to finding the idea that lets me make the best possible painting.

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

My family has had a huge impact in my work, my exposure to great work as a child is the result of my grandparents’ keen collectors instincts and my parents and siblings have always given me encouragement and insight on every level. The person I talk to my work the most about is my husband, who comes to it not from an artistic background, but a scientific one. His insights are usually clear and logical, helping me to see through the distractions and nonsense while redefining my sense of purpose.

Outside of the wonderful people in my life, I owe a lot of my inspiration to the things I let in while making my work. I’m a voracious consumer of podcasts and audiobooks while working and the ideas and stories tend to filter through my mind and flavor the work I’m making. I have a great enthusiasm for history and I enjoy placing myself and the world around me into historical context, something that certainly is a part of my painting practice as well.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

Of course, like most artists, producing work is not my sole occupation. Currently, I am also a teacher, a profession I love. If I wasn’t an artist, you would probably find me deep in a library, writing rapturously about Art or Modern European History or in the back of a screening room writing film reviews. But in any parallel universe, I would still be scribbling drawings in the margins of my notebooks.

IMG_0399

claireelliott.com

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

 

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About Frank Juarez

Frank Juarez is a gallery director, art educator, artist, published author, presenter, and arts advocate living and working in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Organizing local and regional art exhibitions, community art events, facilitating presentations, and supporting artists through professional development workshops, use of social media and networking has placed him in the forefront of advancing and promoting local artists and attracting regional and national artists to interact, collaborate, network and exhibit in the Wisconsin.
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