Now Featuring Claire Colette
Claire Colette uses an elemental method, drawing, to unravel the systems that underpin our world. Exploring subjects as varied as cosmic cycles, tennis courts, and language, Colette probes what the rules and limits are. The resulting images are meticulous as well as serenely simple.
MH: What are your sources and starting points when you begin a painting or drawing? There are a lot of imperfect doubles and semi-repeated or semi-mirrored shapes in your work, and I’m curious about what origin they’re echoing.
CC: I usually have an idea or image in mind when I begin working on a piece, and then I create several sketches until something emerges. Lately I have been looking at tennis courts, and other paying fields. I am interested in contained systems and the infinite possibilities that can occur within a system, like a game with a set of rules. I see the universe as a macro-system, and am always going back to the circle, the shape of planets. I think the repetition and mirroring is an exploration of cycles, and possibilities—multitudes.
MH: A lot of your work from the past couple years has been graphite paper, very controlled but with graphite’s lovely irregular shine. Can you talk about your relationship to drawing, and how your practice seems to be embracing other media, like clay and acrylic, recently?
CC: For me, drawing is an actualization of the concepts I just described. It is a closed and very simple system—pencil on paper—and it contains an infinite number of possibilities. Even a line can be used in millions of different ways. Having a limiting practice helps open me up, conceptually.
Of course there are some things I can’t do with graphite—like color. I never liked colored pencils, so I have been working with acrylic lately, though with a very similar approach. With clay it is different. I am an amateur, and what I make is crude and flawed and quite pleasing to me, in an entirely new way.
MH: What’s your physical process like—it seems quite painstaking and that perhaps the careful labor is part of the work conceptually.
CC: My physical process involves a lot of measuring, a lot of focus, and a lot of patience—though I am not interested in being a “process artist” (whatever that means). I do think there is something that can occur when you spend a lot of time on a piece, but I also believe things done quickly and thoughtfully can be just as effective as something that takes a long time. So for me, the physical process is a means to an end, it just happens to feel very natural for me to work this way.
MH: What is it that attracts you about working within the limitations of a system, and working so methodically? What are some other systems you find compelling?
CC: In my practice I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the concepts of phenomenology, the infinite, and the sublime. t makes sense to me when making art with those concepts in mind to try to use fewer materials in order to say more. It is like poetry; you have the system of language at your disposal and you have to reduce it down to express something almost inexplicable—something that could not be expressed any other way. It’s very reductive. Drawing is particularly powerful when working with ideas like this because it is a very primary, even elemental. I don’t meant to say that I think my work is that high-falutin’, or even that it achieves any of this, just that working within confines is the best way I have found to explore these ideas.
Language as a system is probably the most compelling to me, especially since I am a bit of a poetry/literature addict. The body, geology, environmental systems, social systems—it’s all fascinating, especially when these systems share similar undercurrents.
MH: How do titles in you work lead (or maybe mislead) a viewer about meaning? There are a lot of references to cycles of day and night, sun and moon, but I noticed tennis terms and even some Nick Cave lyrics.
CC: Ha—well, I love Nick Cave and those lyrics specifically. For certain pieces, I want the titles to convey a sense of intimacy, so I often use song lyrics or something from literature or poetry—possibly that I am reading at the time. Other titles are more grounded in the concept of the piece, so tennis terms, or planetary cycles.
MH: You recently made a shift, from being based in the Bay area to Los Angeles. Your work is also going through some changes, or at least some expansions. Has your new setting changed anything about the way you make work?
CC: I do feel a new sense of freedom and experimentation in my work since moving to Los Angeles. I think this is a result of uprooting my entire life and having what I do every day— where I go to work, the people I see, how I get around, even how I dress—be so different from what I have done every day for the last several years. All this newness made me crave some newness in my art, and seeing the exciting art scene down here and all the various ways people are making, I felt like I really wanted to make work that felt very fresh, at the very least to me. There is also a rare mixture here, because on the one hand there is a thriving art community, with countless different forms and interests, ways of producing and ways of participating. On the other hand because of the vastness there is also the feeling of anonymity—if you want it—which is very useful for artists.
MH: How does it feel to be working with clay, which has a set of rigors, in terms of mastery of the material, that are very different than those associated with drawing?
CC: When I am working with clay I am approaching it from a completely different place. I never assume that I will sit down with a piece of clay and come out the other side with a piece of art. I’m not currently pursuing mastering clay—as I am much more focused on painting and drawing. I enjoy making forms with it and there is a crudeness and immediacy in the works that is compelling. I can’t say where this exploration will lead, but I do think it is important—even if it is just an exercise.
MH: Whose work is exciting you right now? And what do you turn to for inspiration, research or mental rest?
CC: I’ve seen so many great shows since I have been here. My favorites have been Pierre Huyghe at LACMA and Flat World at David Kordansky Gallery. Lately I have been looking at the work of Etel Adnan, Tomma Abts, Jeff Elrod, Bernard Piffarreti, and Miriam Böhm. Agnes Martin and On Kawara are my stand-bys, along with several others of that ilk.
I find inspiration in performances I see, music I hear, and books I read. For research I seek out books, both fiction and non-fiction that are in line with a concept I am interested in. I also like to read and write poetry and take dance classes. I am a novice at both, but find them very useful for exploring abstraction, and for mental rest. Any chance to be on a mountain, in the desert, in the forest, near a body of water, or in a foreign land is extremely useful too, for all of the above.