click here for full article http://www.artcritical.com/2015/05/04/paul-carey-kent-richard-diebenkorn/
Conversation between FRANCES WOODLEY and CLAUDIA CARR
for “STILL LIFE Ambiguous Practices”
Group exhibition, Aberystwyth University, curated by Frances Woodley
to see full catalogue and images click here http://issuu.com/a1design/docs/woodley_aber_2-15_cat_all_issuu_lor
FW When I first saw photographs of your paintings I was not quite sure what I was looking at, landscape or still life. I felt suspended between these two genres, and to find a footing I had to call upon my own past experience and imaginings of spaces and places, objects and settings, to interpret them. They seemed to exist somewhere in between the two genres, crossing between one and the other as you painted them and as I looked at them.
CC I’m happy you had that experience. I’m interested in hinterlands and no mans lands and the tension in the massive little crevassess between things, between places and also between ideas. A lot of my work plays with ambiguity, and perceptions of scale, so I’m naturally interested in the slippage between all those genres especially between landscape and still life.
FW Could you tell me more about the objects that you paint and these liminal ‘landscapes’ that you situate them in?
CC Here’s a list of objects I can see as I look around me in the studio right now: twigs and rocks and bones, dead orange peel, scrumpled paper, strands of moss and green kitchen sponges, a piece of desiccated ginger root, broken coral, plasticine, some string, a tuft of pink roof insulation felt and a dead T-shirt, bits of twisted, rusting metal, some plaster crumbs and spat out chewing gum and drawers labelled ‘yellow bits’, ‘creatures’, ‘large organic objects’, ‘small white grit’, ‘small dark grit’ etc. Objects arrive here from the woods and the seashore, from road intersections or gutters and some come into being in the studio itself …… by-products of my eating and painting and pacing.
I don’t consciously make the landscapes. I experience them as ‘found landscapes’. Objects accumulate on various shelves and tabletops in the studio, and their configurations change organically as new things are put down and jostle for space, or dust gathers or things fall, and over time these accumulations ripen and turn into actual environments and situations. In terms of the scale shifts …… painting from observation for long hours is a very visually intimate, and hypnotic, experience and the spaces and forms in front of me quite naturally appear to swell and take on more epic proportions.
The inanimate objects seem very animated. Garlic skins and fragments of tissue paper are susceptible to the slightest draft or sneeze; dried orange peel continues to twist and contort while I’m painting it; and I also believe that looking itself can bring life into something.
“Brackish 2”, 2014. Oil on canvas; 113 x 92 cm
Interview with Traction Magazine September 2014
The opening sequence of Sergio Leones film “Once Upon a Time in the West” epitomises the kind of tension and pace I want my paintings to have. It’s a long slow scene in which there is very little dialogue, and little happens. Leone builds an overwhelming sense of anticipation, often menace, through his indulgent focus on seemingly trivial events, such as the constant circling of a fly around the butt of a gun, or the flicker in a shaft of light.
My work explores the territory between ‘still life’ and ‘landscape’, between the intimate and the epic. I paint from the landscape of debris and clutter, organic material and small plastic animals that accumulate in my studio. Because of the random juxtapositions of objects, specific lighting conditions, and the process of long slow looking, the perception of scale is skewed and the spaces become ambiguous, evoking prehistoric wildernesses, wastelands, secret gardens and savannas.
I am interested in activating greys; exploring the elasticity within grey; animating colours within a relatively narrow chromatic range by means of their mutual interaction. For me the atmosphere in the painting is as dependent on this kind of optical tension, and on the manipulation of rhythmic structures, as it is on the illusory quality of the image itself.
Claudia Carr is a landscape painter; her landscapes are arresting and epic, evoking desolate and beautiful wildernesses. On closer examination the dreaming space Carr creates, these deserts and storms, are also still lives; of the transitory detritus of the artist’s studio, of miniature plastic animals, sea charts, string, take-away espresso cups, lumps of stale bread. These paintings create imagined spaces, where a camel treks past a head of fennel, distant wild horses graze across a desert of crumpled paper mesas. The incidental, intimate, miniature is rendered epic, elemental, and apocalyptic. Our perception of scale is altered as in Miroslav Holub’s poem In The Microscope, “here too are dreamy landscapes, lunar, derelict”.
No, these aren’t still lives at all, not arrangements of dead inert things, chosen to symbolise status or tell a story. The objects in Carr’s setups become a living landscape; a deer appears beneath stone cliffs then leaves, perhaps to be replaced by a sinuous piece of string. The process of becoming these paintings go through is long and tenuous. Carr’s setups evolve organically, over time. “The landscape that needs to be there becomes apparent through looking and looking, rearranging, sometimes over years” she says. The painting emerges out of a daily rapport with something living, a sustained dialogue with light. Light animates the objects in the paintings, and observing that changing light in itself changes both the artist and the work itself. The work emerges in, recreates and challenges its viewer, with its always mysterious, often tense, reveries on experience, on becoming through the formal, emotional and observational aspects of looking.
The landscapes that emerge are often marked by the erasures, durations and effacements of past iterations that leave imperceptible yet tangible ghosts, an aura that thickens the atmosphere of the work. Both formal and emotional forces determine the climate of these paintings, Carr’s subtle chromatic journeys, often in the infinite range of grey; create rhythms of colour and composition. Her paintings enact a poetics of space, as the gaze travels across and within the canvas and as our eyes “walk, think or dream, we elaborate thousands of invisible maps that constitute the unrepeatable graph of our becoming” (Bachelard). Stillness, movement and perspective are held in tension within the paintings, as in Leone’s opening sequence for Once Upon a Time in the West. Like cinema Carr’s painting is a time-based medium. We are not presented with a frozen moment. The paintings change through observation, as does the observer. The surface of the painting is material, marked by the time of light, painting, effacing and erasing, remembering, looking. All that time and most importantly of all the duration of looking, which is a time not of interpretation but of becoming, comes to the surface. Something subtle, intangible, that can’t be verbalised, is enacted in this space, the space between the object, and the act of looking. The surface becomes a terrain that impels experience, encounter, the event. The site becomes a situation; the object becomes an experience.
Carr’s paintings play with scale but her work does not engage with the charm or uncanniness of miniaturisation and kitsch. Hers is not the world made safe and controllable, domesticated. Carr’s landscapes create the spaces of primary perception, “the space of our dreams and that of our passions (which) hold within themselves qualities that seem intrinsic: there is a light, ethereal, transparent space, or again a dark, rough, encumbered space; a space from above, of summits, or on the contrary a space from below of mud; or again a space that can be flowing like sparkling water, or space that is fixed, congealed, like stone or crystal” (Foucault). Moving between registers of abstraction and representation, Carr’s paintings inhabit a realm where looking moves between the two, as when a child summons figures out of the stains and shadows on the walls in their bedroom, or an over familiar face dissolves into planes of light and dark.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that many of the animal figures Carr uses in her paintings are the same brand used by psychoanalysts. The tiny wild creatures who wander so delicately and equivocally through her landscapes interrogate rather than sentimentalise childhood. The observer is invited into a space of complicity with the paintings, into what Winnicott calls ‘the potential space of play’ between the individual and the painting. For Winnicott play is not simply a question of leisure but provides the potential space for the individual self’s creative interaction. Play casts us into a potentially transformative space, one created by the flow of intense and variable experiences: flows and currents created by the experience of interrelationship between the viewer and the work.
To paraphrase Walter Benjamin, Carr’s paintings are not a window on the world, but a technology for beginning to understand our place within the universe. Part alchemy, the magic of play that transforms a grinning child’s toy dinosaur into an enigmatic prehistoric shadow, and part philosophy, Carr’s paintings invite us into ” an empty time of singularities or virtualities existing in between what we take to be the defining moments of an individual’s life”. Deleuze describes this as the time of becoming, that which takes place between defining moments, beyond narrative, where “what is common is impersonal and what is impersonal is common”. Here lived experience “unfolds according to a different logic than the life of an individual. It can never be grasped fully; it is always yet “in the making,” in potentia” (Deleuze). The exhibition takes its title from an early Lorca poem, which speaks of the remanso (a remanso is a still pool within a running stream) of the air under the branch of an echo. Carr’s paintings are a remanso of imaginary spaces in empty time, the singularity and universality of instants dissolving, flowing, and coming into being.
Bachelard, Gaston. Tr. Maria Jolas, The Poetics of Space (1958). Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1994.
Benjamin, Walter, “A Child’s View of Art” (1914), “Reflection in Art and Colour” (1914) and “Painting and the Graphic Arts” (1917), in Selected Writings, Volume I. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Deleuze, Gilles. Tr. Anne Boyman, Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life. New York: Zone Books, 2001.
Foucault, Michel (1967) “Des Espace Autres,” Tr. Jay Miskowiec. http://www.foucault.info/documents/heteroTopia/ Accessed on 10.12.2006.
Holub, Miroslav (1990) Poems Before and After Blood Axe Books.
Lorca, Garcia (1940) Twenty-six Early Poems Tr. A.S. Kline (2001) http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Spanish/EarlyLorca.htm Accessed 24.06.2010
Winnicott, D.W. Playing and Reality London: Routledge, 2005.
Interview recorded 9th November 2010
Nicholas James (NJ)
Claudia Carr (CC)
NJ You teach at the RCA and Heatherley School of Art too?
CC Yes, and the Prince’s Drawing School.
The first works I found of yours were life studies, I’m not sure of their dates. There was a portrait and a still life; nice paintings –the Portrait of Jacob?
Those paintings would all have been done over fifteen years ago when I was at the Slade, from models. I was a student there for six years, on and off. After the undergraduate course I returned to Italy where I had been living before. I had a Boise Travel Scholarship so was doing my own painting and some restoration work. After a couple of years I came back and did an MA at the Slade.
Who was teaching you then?
Norman Norris and Euan Uglow. They were amazing teachers and both inspiring painters. Norman also taught at Chelsea and Camberwell before the Slade. He’s had a big impact on the people he’s taught, and worked with. He taught me to “look”. They both had an immense knowledge and passion for paintings from the past, and shared it with us. We spent a lot of time looking at paintings, in galleries and in books.
Euan wasn’t an oppressive teacher but he had the most demanding standards of critical vision.
You’re right, it’s a good way of putting it. It was always very rigorous: what you meant by a shape or by a colour. He never told people to measure, or any of that, but he did impart a kind of analytical looking. Also, when you mixed colour, you mixed with a knife, with intention, and not just with a brush hoping to hit the right tint.
Is that what he did?
Yes, always mixing colours with a knife on a palette, very clean.
I would have thought it’s a very coarse way of doing it.
It was about being very logical and clear; You would make two or more mixtures on the palette that had an equivalent relationship (with each other) to the group of colours you were looking at “out there” (in the subject). It was about building chromatic relationships rather than copying individual colours. I got a lot from that. The downside is that it’s a slow process, and can inhibit a more intuitive or chaotic way of working. I am not a very logical person and my temperament is probably too disorganized to work entirely like that. I think an artist wrestles with the legacies from their training for a long time. Trying to keep the good bits and discard the ones that don’t fit the painter or person you are now.
There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922
Claudia Carr’s paintings conjure sparse, light-dappled wildernesses that are at once prehistoric and post apocalyptic. On the surface, her scenes are redolent of the bleached savannahs and rocky wastelands of epic films, yet they are populated by an array of motifs – animals, cacti, sprigs of leaves – whose incongruous juxtapositions elicit a surreal and gently jarring sense of miniaturisation. In one painting, a camel stands behind a craggy form that gradually reveals itself as a piece of orange peel. Elsewhere, a white horse traversing a hazy grey expanse is dwarfed by fragments of screwed up paper and crumpled fabric. The works are based on artfully lit assemblages of small plastic animals and debris in the artist’studio, giving rise to a beguiling oscillation between the macrocosmic world of landscape painting and the microcosmic details of a still life.
Carr has described the opening sequence of Sergio Leone’s film Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) as epitomising the tension within her works, conflating expansive panorama with acute observations of details such as the circling of a fly around the butt of a gun. Her work also recalls the imagery of Salvador Dalí (itself informed by cinema) where rocky wildernesses are strewn with impossible agglomerations of objects, such as The Sublime Moment (1938) in which a telephone dangles from the branch of a tree and a plate of fried eggs curls elastically in on itself before a mountainous backdrop.
Yet Carr’s dioramic tableaux supplant the absurdist bombast of Dalí’s works with a subtler sense of spatial disjunction and subverted proportion. This undercurrent of incongruity in her paintings stems from an early fascination with the works of Fra Angelico, in particular The Flight into Egypt from the predella to the altarpiece at the San Marco convent in Florence (1438-1443). Carr has commented that “the awkwardness of early perspectival space made everything ‘a bit odd’ … It seemed that a palm tree was growing out of the donkey’s nose; a distant winding path swished like a tail out of the donkey’s rear”. 10.
In the same way, the creatures and foliage in Carr’s works seem natural enough at first glance, only gradually appearing out of proportion and disconnected. Her paintings simultaneously highlight the intricacy and suggestiveness of such throwaway materials. Carr has commented on the capacity for small objects to intimate far larger ones: “When you observe for hours on end (as you do when painting from life) a piece of dried orange peel or crumpled cloth they grow bigger and bigger, their planes and hollows becoming rock faces and caves (amongst other things).” 11.
The slippages in scale in Carr’s work are paralleled by chromatic shifts and tensions. Painted in a narrow range or greys and ochres, and occasionally punctured by a flash of orange peel or a russet leaf, her works distil light and shade into tentative fields of tone that recall Cezanne’s subtly variegated blocks of colour. In certain new works, the interstitial spaces that Carr evokes have edged increasingly towards abstraction: planes of thinly applied paint mass together into elemental structure, and the texture of the canvas is left showing through, turning our attention towards the material surface of the image. These works are close to the abstract experiments of Ben Nicholson involving minutely different ‘shades’ of white.
While suppressing pictorial narratives in favour of an exploration of space and the effects of light, Carr’s metonymic mises en scène invite the viewer to overlay their own associations (compare Eliot’s notion that “there may be much more in a poem than the author was aware of”). 12. Tropes of decay and renewal coalesce her paintings of saplings sprouting from rocks, aptly illustrating Eliot’s image of spring “mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.” The white horse in the midst of a barren landscape saturated with light calls to mind the myth of the Trojan horse (itself a model defying the rules of scale) on the plains outside the city.
Yet Carr’s paintings resist the projection of extended narratives by virtue of their fragmentariness. In this sense they are comparable to the pictorial similes of classical epic poems. Her paintings both appeal to and beguile the imagination, just as W.H. Auden’s poem ‘The Shield of Achilles’ nostalgically pursues classical images while denying their redemptive power (employing imagery that is highly evocative of Carr’s arid plains):
She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead. 13
Carr’s paintings thus shadow forth an evocative yet strangely vacant realm dotted with polyvalent symbols that invite a mass of associations while resisting any single interpretation. Indeed, they embody Walter Benjamin’s idea of allegory as epitomised by a mass of accumulated ruins or fragments: “In allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified, primordial landscape.”14.
10. Claudia Carr in interview with Jennifer Wakelyn, Tavistock Clinic Magazine, June 2008.
12. TS Eliot, On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber, 1957), p. 31.
13. WH Auden, ‘The Shield of Achilles’, 1952.
14. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: NLB, 1977). Quoted in Craig Owens, ‘The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism’, October, Vol. 12, Spring, 1980.