Always willing to push the boundaries of what she can create, Port Macquarie local Claire’s love of design extends to work with clay and pastels, and she’s recently collaborated with fashion label Gorman to showcase a range of her prints … Claire was also a part of the Glasshouse’s Neon Summer Programme recently, but watch this space, as she hopes to hold a solo exhibition in the future …
Hi Claire. What’s your connection with the Port Macquarie area?
I grew up in the regional Central Tablelands town of Bathurst, and I was 15 when I relocated to Port Macquarie. My mum grew up in Port and my grandparents have never left the area, so I spent countless summer holidays in Port beforehand; in many ways I grew up here. I finished my schooling at MacKillop and moved to Sydney to start my degree in Fine Arts at the beginning of 2011. I moved back to the area in January 2017 to refocus on my practice.
Where did your career with clay/design begin?
I guess it all started in my second year of art school. I was studying a Bachelor of Fine Art at UNSW Art and Design and majoring in photography. I remember sitting at a computer in one of my classes and realising how much I hated Photoshop and making things on a screen. I wanted to be getting dirty – to be making things that made me feel something. I booked an appointment with the head of school and never looked back. At the time ceramics hadn’t gone through a resurgence; it wasn’t “on trend” like it is now. I loved it though, because my class was incredibly small – a group of passionate mess makers who loved bringing the earth to life with their hands.
What study/ learning experiences have led you to develop your art practice to where it is currently?
I feel fortunate to have come across many people while I was studying who helped me shape the way I see my practice and just the art world in general. My favourite lecturer, Peter Dwyer, who took my wheel throwing class was incredibly encouraging. I think he could see the willingness inside of me, my passion to learn, but also my interest in exploring clay and finding my own voice within my work.
The artist Stephen Bird, whom I admire greatly, gave me the best piece of advice in my first year; in a nutshell, he wisely explained to me how important it is not to get hung up on comparing your career to those around you, because, “if you just sit around wondering when it’s going to be your turn that will become your focus, and your work will cease to become the centre”.
After I finished art school in November 2014, I moved into a studio warehouse with an amazing collective of artists, florists, jewellers, costume makers, furniture designers and sign writers. That little family of us in Alexandria was a great motivator; we collaborated and shared all our artistic frustrations and triumphs.
What most inspires you to create?
It’s hard to describe what my exact inspiration is to create, because it really is more of a need … I know that may take the romance out of it a little, but art has done so much for me emotionally and if I don’t do something every day, I feel really unbalanced – because my work is a part of me. I suppose the main inspirations and themes revolve around lovers, the female form, female empowerment, mythology and my own personal experiences. The process of making is also very inspiring to me, the way the clay responds to my touch, opening a new bottle of ink, packing my kiln, Hades, before a firing … often I find the process more important than the ending; there’s something incredibly beautiful in that.
What was your recent involvement with the Neon Summer programme at the Glasshouse?
I was a part of the Neon Local section of the exhibition, which was a wonderful opportunity to exhibit for the first time in my local area. I exhibited along with three other local artists, Adam Murray, Ainslie Ivin-Smith and Sarah Mufford. I’ve only just started working with pastel in the last six months, so it was exciting to include some of those new pieces as well.
You recently collaborated with clothing manufacturer Gorman. How did this come about?
I was approached by Lisa Gorman around March last year, asking if I would be interested in collaborating on their Autumn/Winter Collection for 2018. Lisa had seen my work on Instagram and thought my drawings would suit their label as prints. I’d actually worked for Gorman as a sale assistant in Sydney for five years, so I already knew a lot about the brand. Having the opportunity to see so many different people wear my art on their body is a privilege; it’s been really humbling having so much supportive feedback from complete strangers. As an artist it’s incredible when people connect with your work, and working with textiles is no different.
Describe your designs we can find in the Gorman range …
All the drawings and paper collages used in each print I created specifically for the collaboration. The “Curious Ladies” print, which is also featured as the swing tag, was taken from a painting and paper collage I created representing the sexual empowerment of women and curiosity for truth. The snake featured in that print also is a symbol of rebirth. The range includes a variety of apparel, jewellery, tote bags, shoes and homewares. The collection has already started to appear in all Gorman stores, but can also be found online.
What future projects are on the agenda?
I’m constantly creating new work, and at the moment I’m trying to push myself when it comes to new mediums and process. I get really frustrated artistically when I become complacent; everything just starts to look the same. I think it’s important to challenge your own truths in your work, to explore that space that makes you feel uncomfortable, to be vulnerable and to not worry whether or not that will be accepted by those around you. I am trying to channel that, as I’m hoping to prepare for my first solo show this year.
Where can we find out more?
You can find me on Instagram @clairepony or on my website: www.clairejohnson.space
Interview by Jo Robinson.