Her Stained, spilled vistas are interrupted by shapes drawn from flawed facets of video games and modernist forms in honour of Reinhardt, Palermo and Malevich.
Century curator, Leo Babsky sat down with Clare to discuss her works.
So If I remember correctly, you have had a long journey to this point in your career - training and then stopping your art practice, having a child, working in various other fields and now back to practicing. Can you tell me a little bit about that journey?
Yes it’s been a winding path…. I came to London when I was 19 to study Fine Art at Central St Martins, I was fired up by my Art Foundation at Mid- Cheshire College where there was a lot of throwing buckets of paint around and seriousness and focus as well as dancing and very good hair (it was 1989 near Manchester- there was the Hacienda, it was a magical time).
In retrospect I suppose due to a combination of being really quite vulnerable and painting feeling like it was not the done thing in 1990 and not having the courage or knowledge to stand up to that, I did not pursue it in a traditional sense. After about 5 years of doing jobs like working in Marks and Spencers and temping as a secretary, through some paintings that I had made I was saved from a life of being the worlds worst PA to work within the field of motion graphics.
This area in the 90s was very painterly and experimental (zealous scratching onto super 8 and playing with the inevitable glitches of the now antique hardware and setting fire to things under rostrum cameras etc.)
There was much more of a meritocracy then and parts of that experience felt very much like art school – I learned so much, not least how to work really hard.
Since this point, I have been painting obsessively. I returned to education to Goldsmiths for four years as a part timer on the MFA, which basically blew my mind, broke me down, built me back up again; gave me a sense of self-worth and changed absolutely everything.
What a journey ! I’m sure you have some great stories about the Hacienda …. But we will leave that for another time (laughs). I usually leave this question until last but it kind of leads on from my first question and is something I think isn’t asked enough of artists… when you don’t make a living from your art practice how do you support yourself (and in your case also support a family)?
Yes, good question, I have done everything from airbnb-ing my house, child-minding, dog walking, I have a lodger now, I sometimes sell clothes on ebay, bits of design work, I have done bits of tech work (badly). At the moment I am learning how to apply for funding (I am hoping this will be my salvation) I am selling work, I am teaching and I am taking it one day at a time and not looking down. I have always provided for myself and my son and it has always been precarious – I guess there is a lot of faith involved, a lot of hard work and not just a little bit of fear !
‘Not looking down’ is a lovely way of putting it and one I think everyone in the arts can relate to in one way or the other.
Going back you your paintings, your colour palette is very ‘pretty’ - almost saccharine. There is nothing wrong with ‘pretty’ of course but I feel your work consciously uses this palette to subvert the viewer - would that be a correct reading ?
It’s funny with painting I never ‘told’ the works to do that – in some way they are kind of a feedback loop where they tell you things about yourself that you did not consciously impose on them. I can now see so many things about gender and sex and sexuality and maleness and femaleness, but this was not all necessarily conscious. A quote I mention a lot is one by artist Mark Leckey, who was one of my tutors at Goldsmiths he said “art comes through the body and the life experience”’ He also talked about using your body as a vehicle for your obsessions. These ideas are central to the work in way, in that it is all in there all the experience and knowledge distilled and channelled through the body. I think the subversion that you talk about is an aspect to the work, but I see paintings as a portal, a space of refuge, both for the maker and the viewer. When I’m painting I think about a kind of alchemy occurring in the studio between me, my body, emotion, the materials, time and space to create in the best instances maybe some kind of beauty and magic.
In the best paintings I have experienced by others, something is felt in a bodily way when standing in front of them: as though the affect imbued in the work at the time of the making is flung back out at the viewer. My friend Cairo Clarke described some of my paintings as feeling like they are breathing. I was really pleased with that.
Talking of gender, you tend to work very large scale, which traditionally we have been conditioned to view as the male artists domain. I find it beautifully perverse that you make these fairly ephemeral works in, say, powder pinks and baby blues on this large scale (obviously the works are cut through with geometric shapes ) but the overall effect is one of feminine abstraction - is this a conscious decision or one that was a natural progression.
I would say that there was a natural progression. I have worked large-scale as a painter since I was 19, but in the last few years the paintings have become more bodily and sensual as well as more fragile and exposed. They contain all the painting heroes – both male and female - and are a trace, almost like a photographic exposure of the hidden performance that occurs in the studio to create them. The paintings do seem to bring up questions around gender, sex and the body amongst other things. I suppose it is an on-going process, one where things emerge which often take me by surprise.
How important is the notion of containment in your works - the geometric lines that cut through your works suggest that the paintings would carry on beyond the canvas frame if they could. We also discussed physical framing at your studio and how this extra containment may affect the work.
My more recent paintings have become more performative, realised in one act alongside others where the dance-like bodily stain is tethered by geometry and then overlaid with oil paint, creating different layers of control and release, containment and un-containment.
I am interested in the idea of containment on a number of levels. The first is the notion of the studio as a ‘safe space’. I read that friends of the great American painter Joan Mitchell - whom I am really obsessed by - described her studio as being like “a place that an animal goes to for safety” and I absolutely relate to that. Deleuze talks of setting up a “bloc of sensation” in terms of making a frame for a painting, a container that can open up into a universe: this “holding” of the edges heightening the forces that occur within it, which I strongly relate to.
In many ways through a period of growing strength as well as of liberation and fragility, I have been able to un-contain a wildness that has previously only occurred in the work within the refuge of the studio. This has occurred through the photographs I have been taking of myself which release the sensuality, sexuality and bodily quality that the paintings hold within them. They are further freed from the physical frame via the act of self-publishing on instagram. They also start to reveal the moments of the hidden performance of the making of the work in fragments into the world. This said my Instagram account is private so in that way I have created another “safe space” or refuge which I think is significant in terms of containment.
I’m glad you brought up those instagram self-portraits - this is a slightly different body of work to your paintings, which is presented on instagram in a ‘selfie’ format that explores a subversion of the male gaze, using the hashtag #girlgaze, (amongst other topics.)
I think social media can be a potent tool in providing artists with an immediate platform and personal agency. How do you envisage this body of work progressing and what are your thoughts on social media in this context ?
Yes, in the last couple of years I have begun to take photographs of myself, situating my body within the practice in relation to the paintings, and this is emerging as a really important part of my work. I release these works on Instagram and they touch upon themes of cyber-feminism and shifting the gaze, as you mentioned. Through these works I have been responding to patriarchal structures within painting and the market . Somebody whom I really admire described them as being “fraught” which I liked. I see them as raw, at times powerful and others vulnerable.
There are complex personal and political reasons for the works but one of the motivating factors was being on a panel at the Royal Academy about Women of Abstract Expressionism that accompanied the Abstract Expressionism show.
During my research for this I unearthed so many incredible images of female painters who, though prolific at the time, had sunk into obscurity. I suppose the pictures are a way of taking the power back in some way.
I am working on a show with the photographer Benjamin Whitley and the curator Cairo Clarke at ASC Gallery in November and will explore these ideas in a more involved way, especially in terms of how they might work released from the screen in a gallery space and how they could work in relation to my paintings.
You were recently in a show with a great title ‘Women Can’t Paint’ including Hannah Murgatroyd whom we are currently exhibiting at Century. Do you want to tell us a bit about that and your work with the Turps Banana Painting School?
I am a mentor at Turps. It is a beautiful thing the Art School there- my theory is that for Marcus (Harvey) and Phil (Allen) and Helen (Hayward) it is such a labour of love and this care from above creates some virtuous cycle whereby the painters on the programme really care for an support each other. It is also a very exciting place – the painters are pushing the School into new territories and it is great to see that unfolding. I feel very privileged to teach in what is such a nurturing space (even for me as a tutor) .
The ‘Women Can’t Paint’ show felt like a really significant moment – Marcus Harvey curated the show and with his flair for harnessing controversy to good effect he used a quote by Georg Baselitz in reference to why Women Painters are worth less in the market. I love that the response to that was just the work, which said it all really.
It felt like a really important thing Marcus to use his position to uplift and to celebrate these works and these artists. It was the greatest honour to be put in that show alongside people that I admire so much I am still pinching myself really.
Finally, any new projects coming up that you would like to tell us about ?
I am working on the show of paintings and photographs with Benjamin Whitley and Cairo Clarke at ASC Gallery in November, that I mentioned previously - I will keep you updated on that !
Thanks so much for your time Clare !
See more of Clare’s work on her website at :
clareprice.com or on instagram @clareprice_
Century has acquired five of Clare’s pieces for the Century Art Collection, which can be seen throughout the club.