Palm Reader: Interviews with Artists and Leaders at the Intersection Of Art and Spirituality. by Caris Reid
Interview 2: Claire Colette
“The work both embraces and rejects mystical notions-and this skepticism is what I see keeping it in the language of contemporary art, vs affectation or pure symbology.”
CR- Circles are a prominent motif in your paintings, and I wonder about their meaning for you beyond the graphic. They often seem to suggest the face of the moon, and most recently in your solo show "Mountains, Time and Other Devices" they have a solar energy. What is the holding power of the circle for you?
CC- The power of the circle is multitudinous. It is a symbol for infinite, a metaphor for the self, and the representation of our cosmology. In my work it can represent a center. I often place it in an exalted position, or double it to represent the dual energy of the sun and moon, or the masculine and feminine. The sun and moon symbology also represents the passage of time, and the relationship to the earth and the seasonal shifts that come through various passages around the sun.
CR-How has tantric symbolism influenced your work?
CC- I am inspired by tantric and Vedic philosophy in general and in particular the mandalas and early astronomical charts and diagrams representing the universe. I believe I have only directly referenced the symbolism in a couple of paintings, though the ethos is there in all the work. The representation of the universe through minimal line and circles denoting different realms or energies fascinate me. I am also intrigued by the similarities of esoteric imagery across cultures. I like to imagine early civilizations divining knowledge from studying the sky.
CR- What's your relationship to poetry and painting?
CC-I write poetry and have put out a couple of chapbooks. The language of poetry fascinates me, though I don’t have any scholarly knowledge of it, aside from my own interest. I think poetry, painting, and dance can exist in a similar energetic space, as they explore in-between realms that can be nuanced and difficult to articulate. The act of trying to find the word, brush stroke or shape can be very deep, and tinged with magic. In the moments when I am actively writing poetry, I feel the poems to be in relationship to whatever paintings I am working on - and hopefully creating a deeper dimensionality to both.
CR- And there any poems/poets you are currently gravitating towards?
CC- Louise Glück, “The Denial of Death” in the latest the Paris Review is about as good as a poem gets in my opinion. My friend Nancy Kricorian (a great writer herself) sends me books in the mail. Everyone should have a friend like this. She recently sent me Warsan Shire’s “teaching my mother how to give birth” and Anne Boyer’s “A Handbook of Disappointed Fate.” Both excellent.
CR- Any songs/musicians?
CC- Lately it is Alice Coltrane, Joni Mitchell, Nick Cave, and my husband, whose project is called LFZ.
CR- How does the idea of the sublime play into your painting and painting practice?
CC- In grad school I was obsessed with scholarly ideas of the sublime. At the time I was making work about the technological sublime and beauty that is grand and dangerous. Now I am more interested in exploring mysticism and the desire for transcendence-- which is still a form of investigating the sublime, albeit through a different entry point. I find this a difficult subject matter to expound on, because the study is so in depth. It is spiritual and academic- a sort of personal theology that I am developing in the language of my paintings. The work both embraces and rejects mystical notions-and this skepticism is what I see keeping it in the language of contemporary art, vs affectation or pure symbology.
CR- Do you think structure can be an entry point into the sublime?
CC- Oh yes. I often think about the infinite potentials that can occur within a set structure. The endless possible outcomes of a game with a set of rules, or a soul in the confines of a body, a planet in a solar system, etc. It’s very moving to consider.
CR- Has meditation influenced the way you work?
CC- Well meditation has a way of influencing every corner of one’s life. I practice yoga, mindfulness meditation and breath work meditation. These have all certainly affected the works thematically, and I have imagined many paintings in deep moments of my meditations.
CR- Thanks Claire.
Interview 1. Alison Blickle
"I’m deeply interested in the notion that women are by our instinctual nature at home in the dark."
CR-What's your relationship to stillness?
AB-My most powerful tools are accessed through stillness. Meditation for calming my mind, journeying to connect with my guides, checking in with my body to get in touch with my intuition. These are all grounding practices that help me remember and grow towards who I am. Connecting with other people is grounding and nourishing in it's own way. It often feels bigger and more outward and more exciting. But the stillness feels deeper, and like a gateway to other realms.
CR-How does your connection to stillness and intuition play into your relationship to your paintings?
AB-I make my paintings from an intuitive place. When I’m starting a new body of work, I have little daydreams or see something out in the world that gives me a flash of an image~ sometimes it’s an empty room or stage set that I use as a starting point to bring people into. Other times I’ll see figures connecting or posing in a certain way, and I’ll start with that and figure out what kind of space they are in. These flashes come when I’m falling asleep, or meditating, or staring out of a plane window at the landscape below, or visiting a new place for the first time. Times of stillness or outsiderness. As a group of paintings comes together, they start to congeal around a narrative. When the body of work is finished, it feels as if it had been planned out from the beginning, but the whole process is more of a dance back and forth between intuition and conscious decision making.
CR-What does Magical Activism mean to you?
AB-Magical activism to me is intentionally directing energy toward bringing about needed social or cultural change. Personally, that means creating spells. I believe that all art is magic, and that it can be powerful magic if done with intention. My art is part of my magical activism~ the work holds the energy of calling in some of the medicine our culture needs to heal. As the paintings and objects go out into the world, the magic goes with them and spreads out and amplifies.
CR-What's a song you're listening to in the studio?
AB-Unison by Bjork~ it’s about being an artist and a mom with all the complexity and friction and love.
CR-The vessel or vase appears frequently in your work, and recently you've starting making actual vessels to accompany the paintings. Can you talk about the significance of the vessel? And does the meaning differ if it's painted versus an object?
AB-Vessels are wonderful to work with because they are overflowing (!) with meaning. They are symbols for the womb, the cosmic egg, source, the creative process, all possibilities, the womb is the moon, the feminine, death. In my paintings vessels are often being tended to together by women, which for me brings up ideas of women supporting each other and our endeavors, and the age-old love women have for working on projects while sitting around with other women. In the paintings vessels are either literal or flattened into a silhouette, at which point they become formal devices. The ceramics have evolved to become approximations of vessels. They have the shape of vessels but do not open. I put some sort of drawing or copy of an old alchemical symbol inside, seal it in, and it burns up in the kiln firing.
CR-The women in your paintings often seem of a different era. Do you feel more connected to the past than the future?
AB-I idealize the past, and have a habit of comparing our ways of today to how our ancestors did things. I long for a time when we lived in community, and closer to the earth. I feel connected to that part of our past. My wish for the future is to bring that back for anyone who wants to live that way.
CR-Women are often communing in your paintings, how do you see their exchange?
AB-It’s important for me that the images I put out into the world are of women connecting with and supporting other women. I believe that when we learn to fully love ourselves and each other, a lot of healing will happen on our planet.
CR-How do you reconnect to your work after a period of being disconnected?
AB-I don’t tend to take much time away from my work, but sometimes I’ll go through times where it’s like I’m on autopilot in the studio, which makes me feel disconnected from what I’m doing. I have some rituals that I use in my studio that help me reconnect with why I am an artist, and that brings me back to feeling engaged with what I’m doing.
AB-I took several months off after giving birth. When I came back I picked up the threads of my work that I had left hanging, and slowly started braiding them together with the threads of the new experience of being a mother that I was just beginning to barely understand. And I think stillness helped to bring me into the present moment in my studio, and get me in touch with my intuition, which is such a fruitful place to work from.
CR-You have several upcoming shows, where can we find your work?
AB- The Myth of Inanna opens at Kravets Wehby Gallery in New York on September 6. Two large scale pieces of mine will be included in an exhibition at MOCA Tuscon called "Blessed Be: Mysticism, Spirituality, and the Occult in Contemporary Art." It runs from September 15 through December 30, and was curated by the amazing Ginger Shulick Porcella.
CR- Can you tell us a little bit about The show in New York?
AB- The Myth of Inanna will be an installation of paintings and ceramics meant to call to mind a sacred space or goddess temple, where a rite of some sort may be about to take place. The work is an homage to the myth of Inanna, the oldest recorded human story. It’s a Sumerian myth, in which Inanna descends to the dark of the underworld, loses herself in every sense, and is ultimately reborn wiser and stronger. I first learned about this story from a mentor while I was pregnant as a preparation for giving birth and becoming a parent. It helped me so much! And is still a touchstone during challenging personal times. The paintings in the show function as theatrical scenes, with women on stage-type spaces embodying the story as it resonates with me.
CR- What has this myth shown you?
AB- I’m deeply interested in the notion that women are by our instinctual nature at home in the dark. That our pathways of growth throughout our lives require going down into the dark~ a descent into the metaphorical underworld. If there is any truth to this notion, what are the implications of being a woman in a culture that upholds light and reason and fears darkness? One of my missions is to feel at home in the dark.
CR-Thank you Alison.