Month: December 2017

Keli Reule Brown: Ave Nocturna

Keli Reule Brown is so cool! She describes herself as a natural rolling stone. She went to school in London, played in a rock and roll band in San Francisco. She didn’t let a boring thing like a career stop her. Her career is anything but boring. She created her job as a destination wedding photographer to suit her lifestyle. She’s living the dream! She lives in Savannah, Georgia, but frequently. gets to jet off to exotic places like Cuba and Cambodia.

I sat down with Keli between trips [over the phone] for a great chat.

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So you own your own business, Ave Nocturna.

KB: Ave Nocturna It means ‘night owl” in spanish.

Oh, I love it! How did you come up with that?

KB: I have a reputation for keeping late hours and  friend of mine in London who helped me kind of craft my original site came up with it and we both just  thought it was funny. So I just kept it and it’s what I’ve done ever since.

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So tell me the story, how did it all begin? 

KB: Well, basically, I went to art school…and I’ve been an artist my whole life, for better or worse…[laugher]

It’s for better, for sure…

KB: …and basically known that instinctively, even when I was really little. So that’s always kind of been my life. But I went to art school…it was a sort of proper art school, whatever that means. And I painted and did photography when I was an undergraduate. Painting was my major, photo was my minor. Throughout that, painting was my life focus. I was also in a rock and roll band in San Francisco for about ten years…

Cool! What did you play? Do you sing?

KB: I sang and played guitar. I mean, I’ve been in a lot of bands. But I was in this one in particular for a long time. So during that season of my life, i was basically playing music and painting and having art shows. Doing all the things that come with bands…and photography was just a low boiling thing. Something that informed the paintings. I worked for my own photographs. Or I would occasionally do shoot stuff. But it was not anything that I was in pursuit of, really. Certainly not in a commercial way, like I do now. Not even close to being similar to that. It was just something that the photography was something that I had the skills to do, and it served the work as a base for the painting, in terms of content. I never painted on photographs or anything like that.

Right.

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KB: it just served as a concept. And as I was developing as a painter and an artist … That’s kind of where it came out of. So I painted for all those years. I played music. My band broke up and I moved to London to do my MFA. I did my BFA in San Francisco, and lived there for a long time…ten years…and then moved to London to do my MFA there. And when I finished my MFA, I was still living in London and I needed a hustle, to be totally frank with you…

-Believe me, I understand.

KB: So in San Francisco, I was a bartender for many years and if I needed support, that’s what I did. But it doesn’t function the same in the UK. Basically I started doing the type of commercial work that I do…kind of in secret, under a different name. Not that I was even discussing or letting people know I was doing it. I was just doing it to help support myself…and support the other work. You know, basically it was my grind….

-I love it!

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KB: …and then it turned into this whole other thing. So basically it started taking off in ways I didn’t totally anticipate and then just became this totally different thing. I returned to the states, and because I wasn’t living in a big town, I needed to kind of grow it. So the photography, really is much more of a commercial pursuit. And still, my paintings are still very much informed by the photographs I take…there is a difference, in terms of the practice. I mean I would basically say that photography is more of an intersection of intellectual practice… The painting and music are more visceral than intellectual and there’s a performative aspect. They do sort of function somewhat separately in some ways. But, I mean, logistically in terms of who I am…I make stuff…and there’s an ebb and flow between one to the other.

 

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You’ve led the coolest life! That sounds awesome!

KB- Laughs. You’re very nice, Brooke. It hasn’t always felt like that. …It’s not an easy road. But there’s beauty to it, for sure. And I don’t know how to be any other way.

Right…Right. Well, what are some of the “not easy” parts?

KB: Well being an artist and living this way, is an interesting life. I’ll say it like this, I’m surrounded by kind of a floatable crew. They’re my people. Painters, musicians, photographers, poets, designers. Just edge-walkers generally. You know, all, like myself living lives where being committed to making your work braves an inordinate amount of unusual and simultaneously ordinary challenges.

You know, just, how are you going to keep yourself alive? You know? And navigate all the realities of logistical life? And your relationships. Being true and committed to what you’re making. I think a lot of that is mysterious. I don’t think there’s hard lines. I don’t think there’s clear answers. I think if there were clear answers, we’d know them by now. But I don’t think there are. I think it takes a lot of willingness to sort of step into the fray a little bit. You’re living in a circumstance where you’re not fully in one role and not fully in another, if that makes sense.

Does that answer your question?

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Yeah, yeah. And I don’t know you, honestly, so I don’t know that you are this way, but the typical artist, when I think of an artist is just kind of like, I do it for the art’s sake and that sort of thing. But how does that translate to running a business and dealing with the meetings and dealing with the phone calls and having the set schedule and not just the free time to paint. You know what I mean? Am I asking it right?

KB: Yeah, totally. I understand that. So yeah, I’ll tell you; doing business is a very specific thing and loving the business and doing the commercial side on the photography work is definitely a very different skill. But I still work for myself. So some of the advantages are that you are in control of your own schedule in some capacity.

Right.

KB: The downside is it’s very high risk. I mean, if I’m a hunter, I eat what I kill. If I don’t, I don’t eat. That’s how it works. Right?

Exactly.

KB: So there’s no punching a clock and getting paid every other Thursday. And there’s nobody here to tell you to make the work. Even running my business on the photography side. That is still me generating the work from within. There’s no external force that forces the work to happen. Its coming from an internal place. But that is a very specific skill and I think it’s like you get a…it’s like jazz, man…do you listen to jazz? Do you like music at all. It’s like jazz. Jazz doesn’t have a net. And so some of the beauty of living life this way, like music, the sonic quality of it: is amazing. But then, its like: well there’s no net. 

Right.

KB: There’s no net. So you have to kind of be okay with that. A lot of people get in the circumstances where it’s harder than they thought.

Yeah.

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KB: But I’m really inspired by…my primary source of inspiration is my friends. You know? And people who are are living that life; trying to do what they want; and are trying to navigate some of the more mysterious elements of what that looks like. But I’m starting to think that that’s changing pretty dramatically in terms of in terms of what’s “allowed.” It’s an older system…the machine… that surrounds art. I think a lot of that old way of being an artist is dying off. I think there’s been a seismic shift in the way that that machine works. And I think there’s a lot of people who share that in some capacity. If you learned a system and you know a system and you believe in a system and that very thing is revealed as false, or it is simply just no longer working  that’s kind of terrifying.

Yeah…Yeah.

KB: But I actually think it can be a really exciting time if you can get to a place where you are ostensibly trying to do what you want and walk a road where you are dealing with how are you going to pay for your beer or whatever. You know, or pay your bills…You know, in thinking of those things, the reality is I don’t know if there’s one specific way and I think in some ways that needs to be kind of done away with. This idea that there’s a certain way; there’s a right way to go about doing this. I think that that’s dying. And to be perfectly frank with you, Brooke, doing the type of work that I do: when I first started doing the photography work and I was willing to do commercial work. It was not something I was willing to talk to people about in my other world because those two industries, they do not overlap. But on the other hand, I am surrounded by a lot of amazing, brilliant people who are kind of pushing the boundaries on some of that stuff. So I’m kind of just trusting my instincts and moving forward in the way that’s best for myself and supports my work, you know?

Yeah. So you have a supportive community of colleagues and all of you are on the same wavelength with the business of your respective art?

KB: Yeah. I would say that’s like, that’s a huge scale, in terms of what people are doing. There’s a lot of people I know that are doing commercial work or are doing design work or stuff that would be more in that arena. And then I have some friends who are totally still like grinding it out in a big town, making like really obscure, abstract, obtuse inaccessible, brilliant, conceptual work. So there’s varying degrees of that.

KB: I have some friends who are killing it and making beaucoup bucks doing their own stuff. Then I have many friends who are doing varying degrees of side hustles. And I think, that’s a wide breadth of people and experiences, for sure. They’re all over the map.

Yeah,  I would imagine that’s true of anyone. I noticed and was curious, you said you started this as a side hustle, just kind of out of necessity but I noticed that you do weddings and also babies. How did you decide those subjects? Because you could choose any subject for your photography.

KB: Well initially it came from those are the general public.

Those are the big sellers.

KB: Those are your clients. Those are the general public. It’s a side hustle. If you were to shoot advertising stuff, that’s more of a long game. From the time I started doing this, It really came from a place that i really needed to generate cash and I had the skill. I had the ability to do it. So it really initially started from that place…I’m just being honest with you.

But I think I started doing it right at the right time where, for the non-traditional approach to that stuff people are wanting not so cheesy versions of those things. Those are sort of the pallid institutions of cheesiness…

Right…Right

So I think when I started doing it…now it’s very different…there’s lots of people with very similar, aesthetic ethos mindset working in the wedding and lifestyle world who are definitely pushing some boundaries. But when I first started doing it, the reason things kind of took off as quickly as they did is because there was a little bit of a hole in the market, at the time. It was several years ago, now, but there was a hole in the market for less formulaic, kind of saccharine sweet kind of style. People really wanted, were really looking for something that was a little more editorial; you know, more reflective of who they were as people and not being pushed into some kind of box that really wasn’t who they were. You know, people going through normal life things, you know, getting married or…

Having children.

Yeah, whatever.

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Yeah, I noticed one of the pictures, the girl is sitting there and she has this great expression on her face…and it’s such a great expression…and everyone has made that expression. I was just wondering how planned or how staged are your pictures?

Well, it depends on what it’s for. The thing about a portrait, if it’s for a specific client and it’s like a brand or a fashion line or something of that nature, those shoots are much more created and much more planned out. But then once I’m there with whoever is sitting in front of me, I have a pretty intuitive way of working. Particularly for some of the lifestyle shots. For someone on their wedding day, a lot of that’s just caught in the moment.

When setting up, I think ideally what you want to do is…you want to create an environment which the expressions make themselves known. If that makes sense.

Yeah.

So I’m not forcing them into the expression, but I certainly am setting  myself up for the ability for that expression to be made and for me to capture it. I’m not here to tell people what expression to make and particularly in the context of real life. Real life events like a wedding. I want to be with them in that moment, in whatever’s happening.

But you’re also managing the technical side of it. Basically all you’re doing all the time as a photographer is looking for the light.

Yeah, totally.

…You know, navigating where the light is and its relationship with the subject and creating a scenario where an expression like that can be made and you can capture it. That’s the alchemy of it.

Right. Have you ever had…and this is kind of a silly question…have you ever had a couple that is not happy and just doesn’t have any kind of good expression? That you just can’t really work with?

Like i can’t photograph them or they’re a terrible, difficult person?

Well, I guess both might play into that, but say a couple that just doesn’t have any photographic chemistry; they seem awkward and stiff. I don’t know…

Well, I’ll tell you, Brooke, do you know who Chuck Close is? Ok, well look up Chuck Close, but there’s a famous Chuck Close quote and this is very true is that “inspiration is for amateurs.” I would say the same applies here as well. So sure, I have all different types of people in front of the camera. I mean I shot a wedding a couple of months ago where the bride was a former model…that’ definitely a different particularly type of experience than shooting people who are not models.

Right..right

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And I certainly have couples who have different degrees of…I like to say…it’s not so much about having a chemistry with the camera, or even with each other in a particular way. I’m just looking for whatever the dynamic is. I’m just sort of trying to find that…I’m just exploring where I can find that angle and once I can find that angle then once I find that entry point, that’s what I want to reveal, its  who they are and what that dynamic is.

I’ve never had a situation where I’m like, this is lost. Because, honestly, that’s my job and I’m there to find a way.

I think that would make it more interesting, more rewarding once you got it done. I’m not necessarily talking about unattractive people. I’m just talking about people who are really awkward in front of the camera, to have these great photographs of them looking so happy on their wedding day, and just looking at them and being able to say, yeah, I did that.

Yeah. It’s a specific moment that is only going to happen with these two humans in this in this particular context just this one time whether they stay married or not. But it’s like this thing is never going to happen again.

I mean, I kind of shoot things like I’m making art projects about their wedding more than I approach it traditionally, if that makes sense.

Yeah, totally. And I was going to ask you, since you are so classically trained, academically trained, I guess, how much of that do you use…i understand that you need the skills…how much so you use in your everyday work?

Yes, it’s hard to totally pinpoint. You have to think of it, it’s almost like a woven piece, right?

It’s like woven into me. So I”m not sure, it’s not like I have a degree in accounting. I mean I sell you art and I am an artist, so in that context I guess I use it all the time. But in some ways I’m not sure if I can totally pinpoint precisely where I do and where I don’t. Because that is woven into sort of who I am and how I function as an artist. So in a  lot of ways it’s probably like, not conscious how I’m doing it. But I think it’s massively informative to the way I make work. So like i said, it’s very unusual the background that I come from to do this type of commercial photography….

Because I travel so much, I primarily shoot destination weddings…that really affords a particularly interesting life perspective on what I’m doing, cause I’m working at very different locations. I’m also inspired by my environment a lot.

Yeah, I saw you were in Cuba…so you get to go to all kinds of great places.

Yes and I’m a little bit spoiled.

I can imagine.

Yeah, so I travel a lot. I think I did 250 thousand miles in the air in the last year. So I travel to all of those places, but it’s kind of necessary for me cause I’m kind of a road dog at heart and I kind of have to keep it moving all the time, you know?

Right, and I guess that was what I was talking about with the school. You strike me as sort of a rebel-not one to follow the rules per se…

[laughs] My dad will love this…

So how do you know when to actually follow the rules, you know, versus break the rules?

Brooke, that’s quite a question, my friend. I don’t know if we’ve got enough time. I think…you know, I beat to my own drum. And I always have and I’d like to protect my ability to do so.

Right.

 

And it’s like I have a particular vibration and I try to stay in that, in whatever is true to me in that moment. I do. And I don’t always think too much about it. In fact, I don’t really think about it at all. I just go forward. I just try to move myself forward. I’ll offer you this, I definitely function in that. I need to be making stuff in order to figure out what I’m making. I’m not somebody who wants to map everything very clearly before I do it. I need to get a little sense of where I’m going to take this thing, but it’s like ultimately, I need to step into it and as it’s unfolding, I can make adjustments or change course or whatever I need to do. But ultimately that’s how I function in my work and my life.

Right. I think that’s a great way to function. I think that’s awesome.

Thank you.

So what’s next for you?

Well, taking a little break, hopefully for a couple of weeks. Heading to Cuba again and then back on the hustle. I’m still sorting out all of what next year will look like logistically in terms of the work. Yeah, man, just more of the same. More photos, more painting, more traveling and right now that’s where things are.

Thank you so much, Keli, for talking to me.

Yeah, it was really great, man.

All images used with permission. c. Keli Ruele Brown

You can check out more from Keli Reule Brown at her website.

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Christopher Clamp

BADGE 2017 6x12 (1)Badge, 2017

Today I sat down with artist, Christopher Clamp, on site at the Jerald Melburg Gallery, in Charlotte, NC. It was fascinating learning about his process. He’s quite a thinker and adds many layers of meaning to every piece he does.

I was looking at your pictures & I was fascinated. I felt a little foolish that I didn’t ask you when i was here last [interviewing Jerald Melberg] if you did anything artistic. That would seem an obvious question. So when did you start painting?

CC: When I was in high school, I always drew pictures and did comic strips and things like that. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school that I picked up acrylic paint and I just fell in love with the texture of it, and the smell and everything.

Initially I wanted to be an art teacher, so I was going to go to college to kind of pursue that route. But when I went to college I was able to pick up painting classes and that was when I threw myself into that.

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Right. But this exhibit is with oil…

CC: Yeah….So when I was in college, it was primarily acrylic paint that were taught at Winthrop. But it was one summer…I was really interested in oil paint because many of the artists I was inspired by, they were working in that medium and I wanted to know more about it. But there really wasn’t anyone around me that was using it. So I had done this little project over the summer at one point and it gave me some extra money, so I went ahead and invested in some oils and just tried to figure out how to do it and picked up a great book by Ralph Mayer, called The Artist’s Handbook, and that really taught a lot about the chemistry of oil painting.

Awesome…Awesome. And I don’t know a lot about oil paint, I’ve never used it. How does it compare to tempera or any other sort of paint?

CC: So oil paint, to me, one thing I love about it is how flexible it is…and flexible in many ways. Physically, it’s very flexible, if you paint properly with it. But also the dry time. Because acrylic painting always seemed to me like it would dry before I even made a brushstroke.

Right.

CC: And I like to kind of work into the painting a little bit…to model the image or the object a bit more. But with the oil paint also, there’s something hard to describe, but with acrylic paint, it’s very flat, in terms of how it feels but also the depth of oil. I mean you can make a dark color in oil paint or a rich color in oil paint and it immediately just feels like it goes into the picture plan. That was something i just noticed initially. It had a whole other layer of depth to it. I was very seduced by it. And obviously the smell of it is really great.

Stories in Stillness

ASTRONAUT 2017 3x5 (1)Astronaut, 2017

So I was really fascinated with this exhibition, Stories in Stillness. And they’re objects and antiques from your Grandfather?

CC: Mostly.

Tell us about that.

CC: Ok. Well, I grew up in a small town in South Carolina called Leesville. Now it’s called Batesburg Leesville. My grandfather was a millworker, but he was also a farmer and he collected a lot of things from wherever he would see them, on the side of the road or wherever, so the barn was just full of this stuff.

He really helped raise me and my brother because my parents worked really long, strange shifts in mills just to help pay the bills. So I would spend a lot of time with him, just rummaging through the barn and just playing with all of these objects. They seemed to take on this whole other being to me, as a child. But also, now, as an adult, when I go and visit my parents, I’ll find some of these objects and they even have a whole other meaning to me now, looking back on things. I find it’s an interesting tool to use to kind of convey a story or something maybe related to a person I’ve known or a current event or something like that.

You mentioned in the brochure that they take on a whole new meaning if you take pictures, frame them and it truly does transform them to art and it is kind of like a different thing. It makes me think of Magritte’s pipe: Ceci n’est pas une pipe. And it’s not a pipe. He’s changed the physical object to a piece of art. And that’s what you’ve done with your grandfather’s antiques.

CC: Well thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, it’s funny you mention Magritte and that’s a  painting I’ve always enjoyed and I use that as a comparison when talking to people about my work or abstract work also. It’s not what it appears to be.

But with the paintings from this show, I guess it’s been this way with me and my paintings I’ve done through the years; In many ways I paint them for me. It’s almost a way for me to reconnect with that time of life that was very transformative to me.

BACKUP 2012 18x24 JMG16568 (1)Backup, 2012

Right, Right.

CC: …reconnect with people, family that are no longer here. Or just reconnect with something…So many of the times the paintings are kind of done to kind of reach for something or explore something. I think it’s great that other people enjoy the paintings and like to look at them or share them or even take them home. That’s another thing that’s really special to me.

Yeah, that’s got to be such a high to have done all this work and be emotionally involved in this painting that reminds you of your grandfather and then have someone appreciate it so much that they buy it and take it home. Then they are appreciating it too, on a different level. I just think that’s got to be huge.

CC: Oh, absolutely. And another thing that’s really fun about it to me is I try not to talk too much about the work when I have an exhibition and they want me to talk, give a gallery walk-through, I try to stay somewhat vague because they have a whole other meaning to me that I don’t want to spell out to someone else because it’s very personal thing that I think I can be very unique to every individual. One thing I’ve been fortunate to experience is sometimes people will come up to me at an exhibition and maybe they’ve seen a painting of mine as an object in it and it just kind of clicks. It’s like a catalyst for a memory that they’ve just forgotten. They haven’t remembered this in forever….They just tell me this story about something that happened when they were a kid or someone they knew, and you can just tell that it’s very touching moment because their eyes are very twinkly and I LOVE it because that’s not my story. That’s their story.

I think it’s great because the painting served as a catalyst for this connection and I just love all of that.

ATTRACTION 2005-06 18x32 JMG10432Attraction, 2005, 2006

Yeah, there’s such transformative power in art…It’s just amazing.

CC: Yeah. This was several years ago, but I was fortunate enough to be included in an exhibition in New York state at this museum. The show is one that I had often followed. It’s called Representing Representation. They used three of my paintings and I was just blown away that I was included in this show. And about a month later or so, I had had a young girl reach out to me through my website in an email. They had to write some sort of term paper… They had gone to see the show with their high school group and had to write some sort of paper on a painting. So she asked me a few questions in the email. Just to elaborate a little bit, just to break things down a little bit, and I did that. And she wrote an essay, that was kind of a short story where the painting kind of came into part of it, but it was very autobiographical. She ended up sending it to me. I was just so honored that she picked my painting for that.

That’s amazing! I bet that was such a high!

CC: It was great!

 

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NEST I 2015 5x7Nest, 2007

Butterflies

So you have the Stories of Stillness, but then I saw you had Butterflies. Is that a different series?

CC: A lot of times with my work, I might have the object. I might start with THAT, and say I have to paint THAT. And I don’t know why. Maybe it just sort of tugs at me from something I remember…maybe I don’t quite remember, but it’s going to resurface at some point. So I start the object of the painting. Sometimes I’ll plan things out much more meticulously. So the first painting that that butterfly appeared in was this painting, Aria…

ARIA 2016 20x16 (1)Aria, 2016

Oh yeah.

CC: And I just loved it with all the different colors…the vibration and lines, with the bellows and vents and keys. It just has this great vibration. I loved it and wanted to paint it, but I needed something above it to kind of interact with it, without interacting with it, at the same time. I wanted it to be organic to contrast this artificial object with…and I’ve used feathers before in this show and also previous shows. But I didn’t want to use that again. In my mind, as I was working on it,  I playfully just called it Aria. Because I thought it was another contrast to this very informal object, using that formal term. Then…and I like that….so as I would continue to paint, another musical term popped up. And that was Madame Butterfly…

Ahhh.

CC: And then I said, hey wait a minute, that’s something to think about…butterfly. So I did some research and I looked into different types of butterflies and colors and shapes and everything. That’s when I selected this one. I found the perfect photograph that I wanted to use, and I thought it was a great addition in terms of color and how playful it was….

That is great.

 

BIRDCAGE 2016 20x16Birdcage, 2016

CC: And after that painting, I really liked that image, or that possibility. I’ve been doing a lot of research on butterflies while I’ve been working on that. So I had started to plan out this painting, Union. And I was carefully planning this one out because I really wanted this to be a much more elaborate setup. This one was dealing with a lot of current events that I wanted to focus on. So the butterfly here is the perfect thing to kind of oversee this painting and connect the shapes and there’s this triangle shape that now fulfills and this was an Eastern Swallowtail which is a very common butterfly that we have around here. This is a female butterfly, due to its markings. I liked that idea that you could use the butterfly, where it’s from…its gender… things like that to kind of tell a story…even if no one knows it.

Yeah!

CC: So this one, her wing is actually broken…

Right. What is the salt?

CC: Well the Morton’s Salt container, I’ve used before in paintings; and I love it as an object.

Yeah, it’s great!

CC: When I grew up there was all this old advertising stuff around.

 LOVE that kind of stuff.

UNION 2016-17 30x24Union, 2016, 17

CC: Yeah, I love it too. My grandfather collected all this stuff. You know, the Sunbeam Bread girl….You know all this stuff. So the Morton’s Salt containers are something that was very dear to me. I wanted to use them again. I wanted to use, you know, there’s different labels from different years, with different illustrations, which I liked. So I decided to use this image again, using this ring of salt around them, which…

Ah, yeah…

CC: …in many cultures is believed to be a protective barrier and I liked that. This is an old table top that I got out of my grandfather’s barn, actually.

Nice. Nice.

CC: So here you’ve got these three girls here, because the butterfly is also female, the three sides of the triangle. I like to play into a lot of the symbolism that is numerology. But this one, you know it’s a painting about current events, but, to me, it was just a curious image that  hopefully the audience can come into and keep seeing something different each time, maybe asking questions of the painting and continue in a conversation. Not just looking at it and moving on.

 

DUALITY 2017 12x24Duality, 2017

And then the third painting I did in the show was called Duality and this was one I was planning out while working with the previous painting, Union. Again, while I was researching different butterflies, I thought, wow, this is so neat. I can use it as another piece from my image bank that can represent so many things.

Someone once asked me what my pictures were about. In many ways they’re about relations or relationships. Like I was telling you earlier about trying to connect with someone. You know these objects personify someone to me. Or someone I’ve known…or would like to know someday. And sometimes it’s the relationship of the object to another object. Trying to examine relationships.

Some artists don’t seem as concerned with the audience. They’re more concerned with making their image…And that’s fine. I totally respect that. With me, I’m very much thinking it  through, with the audience in mind because I want someone to come to the painting and it speak to them on some level and for the audience to spend some time with the painting and go through those layers, like you described and maybe discover something within the painting that is within themselves.

 

All images c. Christopher Clamp

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c. LTAWB 2017