City Art Reader 34: Clare Logan

7th Aug 2020

Clare Logan is a Christchurch-based painter whose works explore personal modes of relating to the natural world and the landscape, traversing and investigating what lies between psychological and physical experience. A painter, she uses oil paint and other mediums experimentally, staging disruptions, flows and interactions that echo those of geomorphological processes. Ahead of her exhibition Slipping to the isthmus Logan discusses her new body of work with Cameron Ralston. Slipping to the isthmus opens on Tuesday 11 August at 5.30pm and runs through to 31 August.

Clare Logan’s artist studio

Cameron: How have you found working on the larger scale?

Clare: It’s been amazing. This morning I was reflecting on what’s happened in my work – since my last show and moving to a larger scale there has been a galvanising shift. It’s something I’ve been interested in doing for some time, but I had felt constrained by studio space and economic limitations. Through conversations with a friend, I think I’ve come to see that money is something you have to try not think about with your work, or at least not let it constrain you, if you can, so if you can make it work just do it. It’s been interesting employing the processes I’ve developed over more space. It’s really nice to see the way things lie, flow and interact. There’s more space for interesting things to happen.

The works in this exhibition appear to share a central flow or breaking up into thirds.

Working on larger supports a lot of interesting things happened in the early pours and I found I wanted to preserve that sense of a single larger mass moving through others. I’m still painting them flat and these floors are a little uneven, so I’ve come to have an intimate working knowledge of the floor I’m working on.

‘Amidst a rising wind’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 1200x900mm, 2020

These wave-like featured pours to me give them a sense of gravity as opposed to being a channel that is being replenished. The works feel more striking or active.

They feel more dramatic and dynamic to me now too. It’s an interesting observation that they’re not continuous unending flows, like a river maybe, but more something that’s in the process of happening.

I get quite a strong response to the some of the forms like they’re snapshots of a moment rather than an elongated memory of a thing. We’ve talked previously about how you’ve used dreamscapes as a reference, are you still using that?

Less so in this body of work. I think, like you say, in that last body of work I was thinking more about particular spaces, moods or emotional spaces that I’d been drawing on from dreams. But in this body of work – maybe it’s from working at scale – they’ve become more physical. I think it’s been a slow and intuitive process of finding things in the physical process that’s have been interesting, and shifting things towards this sense of drama.

I suppose your movements in your mark making and pouring at this scale have to be bolder.

Definitely, in some areas I’ll paint thinly, softly, then I’ll pour from height a stream of thick medium, and the force of it falling creates these marks. There’s a looseness and serendipity to that that I like.

‘At the place of merging paths’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 1100x1100mm, 2020, shown in ‘Uncomfortable Silence’

So, these works follow on from what you exhibited in Uncomfortable Silence at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū?

Yes, these works take cues from those that were in Uncomfortable Silence. My work tends to evolve quite intuitively and organically from what’s come before.

We do still find in the gallery that viewers have very different responses to your work. Some people find them scary and others divine. In Gwynneth Porter’s piece on your works in Uncomfortable Silence she brings up ideas of fear and ‘fear of the dark’ which I think plays into that – the works can cause some anxiety in people.

Yeah, Gwyn used the phrase ‘joyful proximity to the cataclysm’ in her writing. I’ve been thinking about that as an emotional space and think it’s in my work. My physical forays into the mountains are very informative to me in terms of my work and my life, and there’s something there that relates to this idea, I think. A week or so ago, I was in the midst of this very intense personal emotional upheaval and a friend said, ‘Let’s go climb Rome Ridge,’ on Mt Rolleston. We were going up a slope which was pretty exposed, and if you slipped you would fall a long way, possibly irrevocably. There’s something about the physical feeling of being in proximity to the abyss or in upheaval – it’s sublime and fearsome, but it’s incredibly clarifying – each movement has more weight and you have to trust solidity and the immediacy of those movements. I’ve been thinking about that, in relation to painting too, the solidity of a physical mark, the trust of a body in space.

I think a lot people may be able to relate to that too through the pandemic causing situations where they are close to or pushed closer to an abyss. Like losing their health, job, home and so on.

Yeah, whatever their personal abyss may be. It can be a tension-laden, uncomfortable state of affairs. I think people respond in different ways to that space. Often I find it exciting and it focuses my attention in a way.

These works were begun pre-lockdown, and you were locked out of the studio. Was there a gestation of ideas while you were away, or did you have a clear break?

I found the first week a bit strange, separated from my normal rhythms and routines, and I was for a bit trying to figure out how to keep working while away from the studio. But then I let go of that and relaxed into the rhythms of lockdown and not doing very much at all, it seemed like a pretty rare thing to experience in a life, and I sort of embraced it, whiling away afternoons with the people I live with, dedicating a decent proportion of the day to moving my body, long runs and that sort of thing. I should say I did do some work from home for my part-time job.

It made me think about the tension between wanting a pace of life that has room for quietness, slow attention, and the pressures and demands of the economic system we live within, that basically relies on people feeling unfulfilled and constantly striving in search of more to function.

The ritual and repetition of return, coming to the studio every day and slowly building these surfaces was something I did before the slowness of lockdown, but I think now I appreciate it more, tending to a slow quiet attention.

‘Talus (reverberations)’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 1200x1200mm, 2020

I had to search what an isthmus is – the Wikipedia entry tells me it’s a section of land that joins two larger areas of land across a body of water.

It’s also an anatomical term – which was partly what drew me to it. I liked it as a geomorphological reference because a lot my work derives from an interest in landforms and natural geological processes. But I also like the kind of dissonance in it, as being something that connects but separates, an ambiguous boundary.

These works still have a strong bodily association – especially in the works containing those red and yellow tones. Are you still drawing from body horror films?

Oh, I still really love them. The way body horror is a real bodily reminder of the temporality of existence. I like supernatural horror too, and I’ve been thinking about this writer, Thomas Ligotti, whose work I’ve enjoyed, but who writes just the bleakest visions of a doomed and meaningless humanity. And I wonder, ‘Why do I like this, this intense bleakness?’ I think it’s partly because his stories are like dreamscapes, and he said, ‘They may seem as if they belong in the world but they’re just at the margins.’ The idea of thinking in the margins is quite interesting to me. Ligotti believes that fiction can put us in touch with that sense of things unseen, that can create an encounter with a state that combines terror and enchantment. And I think that – the enchantment, that heightened emotional state, I love that.

That relates well to things we’ve discussed before – the works being borderlines between awake and dreaming, the body and the landscape.

Cultivating an attitude of enchantment in how I relate to the landscape has been something I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been reading some of philosopher Jane Bennett’s writing, and thinking about climate change and capitalism and how we exploit and have disregard for our natural environments and people. She argues for adopting an attitude of affective attachment to your world – finding a sense of wonderment or enchantment in they way you relate to your environment. She argues for it as an ethical position, that through it perhaps we’d be less likely to degrade, exploit and place ourselves in a position of supremacy over our environments, and actually, other people too.

‘Beneath the mineral sun’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 1000x1000mm, 2020

I also enjoy the idea of slipping. When you slip you’re losing control suddenly which is very reflective of the times we’re in. Lives slipping into something we weren’t prepared for and in reaction to new relationships to spaces and people.

I choose the titles carefully. I like that there is a chaos to slipping, a sudden lack of control.

Chaos is a good word for these works.

It’s a word I’ve noticed myself using a lot this year, calling things chaotic all the time. Often quite blithely, because it’s funny and hyperbolic, but maybe there’s a reason I’ve been into it. It harks back to the feeling of plans being upended, some sort of aftermath or cataclysm is always around the corner, we never know when it might strike and that can be really uncomfortable but I think it’s a really interesting space to inhabit and explore – chaos and its aftermath.