Artist Interview – Claire Gilliam

We’re starting a new season of Artist Interviews with the beautiful work of Claire Gilliam. Claire has presented photography and printmaking to us in really fascinating and unique ways. We love the way Claire can make her work in two very different mediums have such a clear conversation with each other.

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1) How do you motivate yourself?

CG: I go through phases when I’m really driven and then other times when I feel quite lost with my work. It’s the getting started that is the hardest (especially after a break away from it – I lose momentum). I can spend a long time dwelling on making work, letting ideas circle around in my head before I take action – I used to feel guilty about this inaction but I now understand it’s just part of my process and I go with it. Once I’m on a role, I’m easily motivated! I try to keep a routine, determining at the start of the week which days I can spend in my studio or darkroom without interruption. It helps that I go to Manhattan Graphics Center, a printmaking studio in midtown Manhattan every Friday where I take an etching class. If I do nothing else during the week, I know I will get to end it in the company of other artists, bouncing ideas off one another and focussing on my printmaking. I also make sure I get to exhibitions in the city at least every couple of weeks…that always gets the creative juices flowing.

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2) How do you structure your time?

CG: My studio time is usually kept to two or three days a week, leaving my weekends for family time. Even though my two dogs tend to get me up fairly early, I can be a slow starter. On the mornings I don’t have a bus to catch for the city (which I do once or twice a week), I like to take my time, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, cup of coffee, catch up on news and social media, emails, listen to the radio. I manage a couple of social media accounts and websites for other people, so I get this work done before I turning my attention to my own work for the rest of the day – usually by mid morning. If I have a completely open day, it’s heaven! I’ll usually spend it in my darkroom working until about 5pm. Around this time of year when the weather starts warming up, I start to get excited about returning to the studio (it’s currently unheated) where I can paint and spread out.

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3) What do you listen to when you work?

CG: I listen to a lot of ambient and instrumental music. It seems to help me connect to a particular emotional resonance or space I am trying to achieve in my work. Music by Zoe Keating, or “Landfall” by Laurie Anderson, as well as Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Fourtet, Nils Frahm, Laika are on heavy rotation! I also listen to a lot of podcasts – The Daily, Today In Focus, Pod Save America, On the Media, On Being and BBC Arts & Ideas are current favorites.

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4) Who are three artists that inspire you?

CG: That’s tough just to choose three! So I’ll choose three I’ve been particularly inspired by this year: Louise Bourgeois (her works on paper especially), painter Jenny Saville and the prints and drawings of Terry Winters.

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5) What’s the best piece(s) of advice you have been given?

CG: I think it would have to be this by Finnish American photographer Arno Minkkinen.

“Stay on the bus. Stay on the f**king bus”.

I met Arno 20 years ago this August when I took his photography workshop. It was revelatory and inspiring. He was instrumental in my decision to pursue photography in the States, encouraging me to continue making the imagery I was. He had an absolute conviction that you could find your own path as a visual artist despite the proliferation of photography and the idea that everything has been done before by other people. I later read about his “Helsinki Bus Station Theory,” which he gave as a graduate address in 2006. His metaphor centers on the notion of buses all starting from the same point (Helsinki Bus Station) that travel along the same route for several kilometers before branching off in very different directions. If you get off too soon, you find that many other people have taken that same journey, but by staying on the bus for its entire route, you end up discovering new and unexpected things, a new individual vision that separates you from the pack. It resonated deeply with me – wise words I return to whenever I doubt myself – Stay on that bus!

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6) Describe an object or tool related to your work that you love.

CG: Satin vellum paper! It is a beautiful surface to draw on and it works brilliantly in the darkroom, thanks to its transparency. Korn lithocrayon pencils have also become an essential tool in my printmaking.

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7) An anonymous patron has donated $100,000 for you to build your dream studio, what would it look like and where would it be?

CG: Location-wise, it would have to be on the coast of Midcoast Maine with a view across Penobscot Bay. In my head, I see an amalgamation of the various spaces I’m fortunate to have access to now, but all in one large building with no stairs. It would have a darkroom big enough to make large scale work, as well as a studio divided up for painting in one area and printmaking in another. I’d have a printing press and an aquatint box, and copious amounts of wall space, preferably several with magnetic boards. I’d also love for it come with a part time assistant and a library for the art books I already own and for all those I wish I did!

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To see more of Claire’s work check out her instagram @cagilly

Or online here

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