Clare Logan is a painter living and working in Christchurch. She is part of the ever-growing cohort of post-earthquake artists who have entered into the Christchurch art scene with no prior experience of what it was like to make art in the city as it was. Her works are currently shown at City Art Depot and features in an upcoming exhibition at Weasel contemporary art space in Hamilton opening tonight (the 20th of September).
City Art Reader editor Cameron Ralston recently visited Logan’s studio behind The National on Moorhouse Ave to discuss her practice and her experience of studio spaces. Her studio space is rented at $92 per week including power and internet usage. This is part one of an ongoing overview of where and how artists work in Christchurch.
Clare Logan in her current studio space
Cameron Ralston: Let’s start with where you were prior to this space, working over in Lyttelton.
Clare Logan: That was kind of serendipitous. My friend Grace [Uivel’s] parents owned the building, she was renting the downstairs space using the front part as a teaching and pottery studio. I was working in space up the back. Although it used to be 50 Works Gallery, it definitely wasn’t a purpose-built studio. It was a big wooden open space, it was lovely and had lots of light but it felt more like a transitional space as it was up in the air about how long Grace could have the space for, and the floors being wooden we had to be careful about not being too messy.
CR: This space seems to work more for you in that regard?
CL: Absolutely, we can just paint the walls and floor.
CR: It occurs to me that a lot of spaces used by artists were used for something else prior to it. For example, the artists working out of the The Old School Te Kura Tawhito, or painters working out of an old house on Manchester Street. I’m unsure if before the earthquake there were more purpose-built spaces and I’m cautious of painting a picture of a lack of spaces if that isn’t the case.
CL: Yeah, it seems like after the earthquake there were these ‘cheap places’ which would always feel temporary or shifting.
CR: I suppose a space like this provides some solidity?
CL: I think in some ways it mitigates that feeling of uncertainty, which we had in Lyttelton – where I knew I might have to leave on short notice. At times I felt a bit frustrated by it. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t do certain things in my work such as make really big work because shifting it suddenly would have been a pain, especially as I didn’t have somewhere lined up to go and would have to move everything into my house where we don’t have much space. I had considered banding together with a bunch of people and renting a whole cheaper property but the worry with that is one person usually ends up with a lot of responsibility. And none of us were down for that.
Logan’s Lyttelton studio space
CR: Have you ever worked out of your house?
CL: Not my current house, but in 2016 I moved into quite a big flat with a spare room. I turned that into a studio. At the time it seemed great because for the first-time post-university I had a dedicated space – a room that I could close the door to that’s just mine for working in. Before that I would just be working out of rooms that I lived in, such as my bedroom or living room. I don’t think I could go back to that – having a dark room with carpet on the floor having to layer plastic over everything.
CR: Do you think that using a dedicated space has a big influence over the work you make?
CL: I think in terms of size it did. I started making my bigger works in the room of my flat, but it slowed down the pace being there. I do feel like I work faster and make more in this new space.
Logan’s flat bedroom studio space
CR: You definitely have a decent amount of room in here.
CL: Yeah, floor space is the biggest thing for me because I work flat. As you can see I have my kneeling pillow and ankle rug. Here I have that space to let the works dry which also gives me the opportunity to be making heaps at once. It’s really good for the fumes in here too.
I should mention that for about a month at the start of this year, between moving out of my flat and going to Lyttelton, I worked in this funny little hut on my parent’s property near Tai Tapu. It was kinda great. It had nothing in it, but it had these wooden floors that my dad had sanded down and it felt just like going into a hut. I had paintings on every inch of space and I’d skip between them. It was definitely not a long-term solution.
Logan’s Tai Tapu studio space
CR: I realise you never paint outdoors as such but with your paintings you’re always bringing the landscapes in with you. Do you paint with specific places in mind? Certain themes seem to be carried through your practice such as pools, waterfalls, mountains…
CL: Only in terms of some of the forms that I see in the bush that percolate in my head and just keep coming out. I think water has been an ongoing interest of mine.
CR: Which goes quite well with how you paint.
CL: Yeah, I like the blending of process and materials and using them to reference back to the landscape. I’m reacting to what the paint does. I’m interested in creating that strangeness and shifts in perceptions.
CR: How did you come upon this space?
CL: A friend Nichola Shanley put me onto it and I knew Caroline Billing because The National used to be at NG, where I work one day a week. So, I just messaged her about it. I wasn’t out of Lyttelton yet, but it was becoming clear that space wasn’t going to be available much longer.
CR: How do you find that balance between working and making art? I know you also work part-time for the Christchurch City Council in the libraries. How much time do you get to spend in the studio?
CL: I try to come here a few days a week. So sometimes it feels like I don’t get a day off in my life. It almost feels like to have a day off and physically distance myself I have to say ‘Let’s go on a day tramp’. That seems to be a good way of giving myself recreational time. I also come in the evenings to paint and with moving into Tūranga, the central library, the space became more attractive as it’s in town, between work and home. It is challenging doing both and I often think that more time is important, but I also have to juggle the financial side of having a studio and paying rent. I have to have a job, that’s the reality. I’ve already found that being in this space compared to Lyttelton I’m in the studio a lot more.
I find it hard to work on my artworks when there’s not natural light, because of the reflectiveness when they’re wet. Winter is usually a slower period for me but now the days are getting longer I can go to the studio more. Recently Stephen [Gleeson] has built in more see-through corrugated cladding in the ceiling and down the end of the building so the light in here is really great.
Logan’s floor working space in her current studio
CR: It can be really hard to distance yourself from what you do. I tend to work a lot from home, which works fine for writing or designing on a computer but can be limiting if I want to explore other mediums. However, I also feel like renting an external studio space would be a bit superfluous to my needs as I am at work full-time during the week.
CL: Yes, it can seep into the fabric of your life working at home. But I found it fine working from home just long as I had that separation of space.
CR: Having a studio space seems to give you that ability to focus in on your work. Other than going out into the mountains, do you have other forms of research?
CL: Other than being out there, I read a lot. I don’t think I have as much of a research practice in the sense of setting myself a particular project, researching it in depth and then carrying it out. I find myself moving more from book to book, thing to thing. I tend to be taken by certain ideas. For example, last year I was trying to read as much as I could about the mind/body problem – things around perception, imagination and consciousness, thinking about the nature of physical and internal experiences. These things feed into my work.
This year I’ve been reading Ursula Le Guin like crazy and other science-fiction. But I read everything. I think the library is great place of inspiration and research for me because I have ready access to amazing materials. I’ll dive into a book and pull things out of them.
CR: You don’t visit the art sections?
CL: That’s not usually where I find things that I’m very interested in. It can be interesting to look at the images but I prefer reading fiction or stuff from the ‘100’s’ which is psychology stuff. And I should mention film as well. I watch a lot of horror film. I’ve been writing for the library recently about sub-genres of horror. Like body horror as a way of channeling humanities existential anxieties.
CR: Body horror?
CL: Have you ever seen eXistenZ, It Follows or Rosemary’s Baby? So, body horror is when the corporeal form of the body is distorted, distended or mutilated in some way, whether by a parasite or a disease.
CR: Like The Fly?
CL: That’s a perfect example.
CR: And this plays into your paintings?
CL: Not explicitly, but it’s something I think about. I’m not sure, I think in some ways whatever I’m interested in feeds into everything. Because my work is so process-driven and quite intuitive a lot of that stuff seeps into it naturally.
Logan’s current studio space
CR: So, what’s next for you?
CL: On the 20th I’m part of a group show at Weasel in Hamilton.
CR: Is this your first time showing outside of Christchurch?
CL: Yes, it’s exciting. I’ve never actually been to Hamilton, I’m going to be very wide-eyed. I don’t have anything lined up for next year but I’m continuing to experiment and work in various sizes.
Look out for works by Clare Logan in Weasel’s Local Haze, Celestial Waves from the 20th of September to the 6th of October and in City Art Depot’s upcoming exhibition Showcase, opening on the 2nd of October. You can see more of her works on her website, her City Art Depot gallery page and her Instagram.
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