44: Studio visit – Lacuna – Clare Logan

31st Jul 2021

Clare Logan holds a BFA in painting from the University of Canterbury’s School of Fine Arts. Her work explores personal modes of relating to the natural world, 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 enact the instability of sensory experience and personal memory.

Clare Logan discussed her new body of work with Sally Blundell in her studio in the NG building. Lacuna opens at 5.30pm on 3 August and runs through to 23 August at City Art Depot.

Read more about Clare Logan’s studio practice in our earlier City Art Reader interviews focussing on her studio practice, her 2019 ‘Undertow’ body of work and her 2020 ‘Slipping to the isthmus’ body of work.

Lacuna (ləˈkjuːnə): 1. An unfilled space; a gap. 2. A cavity or depression, especially in bone – Oxford English Dictionary.

‘Tilting back’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 500x400mm, 2021

Sally Blundell: Can you tell me about the title of this exhibition, Lacuna?

Clare Logan: I made a work for the art auction to save the NG building, and that work interested me a lot – there were things happening that I wanted to pursue and figure out more. Part of that was the technical aspects of how I’d used the paint, but also the forms and sense of space. I called that work Lacuna. It is an anatomical term but it is also used for other things – meaning a cavity or a depression in bone, or a gap. I like that. I like that it alludes to transitions, something between boundaries, spaces between things. But this body of work has taken a long time to clarify – today is the first day I’ve really sat down and looked at them all together.

Why has it taken so long to clarify?

I’m not sure, yet. I tend to need more distance from things to make sense of why things happened the way they did. It took me a while to get my bearings this year.  I think it is partly down to the way I work, which is intuitive, and always responding to what is happening with the materials and forms that pique my curiosity. So it’s usually a couple of months before a show that I start to see where things are going and then there is a slower narrowing towards finishing. I’m making decisions the whole time, but it’s not until I can sit and really look at them all together and think, oh, so this is what’s happened here, this is how it works.

‘Welling up’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 500x400mm, 2021

These are smaller works than those in Slipping to the isthmus – why the change in scale?

Constraining myself within this particular set of dimensions and scale again and again presented – I don’t know if challenges is the right word but it demanded a different way of working than the larger works, it was a change that tested me and held my attention.

There is also a repetitiveness in the scale here.

I was curious about repetition in working in the same size, again and again. When I started this body of work I think I just enjoyed the intimacy of this scale, and I made a few works the same size, testing things. Then I got interested in the idea of creating a litany of works all the same size. This morning I thought as I looked at them, the way your eye scans across the works when they are all the same size, it’s like looking out the window of a car, or moving fast somewhere and having things flash away at the side of your vision and not being certain of what it was that just flickered by. I was thinking a lot about sensory questions and perceptions, and things that have continually preoccupied me, like strangeness and uncertainty and things not being as they seem.

Don’t we try to veer away from uncertainty?

I think probably yes, that we have a collective, existential discomfort with uncertainty. I think when I am uncomfortable with something I tend to lean towards it, and look at it, to try to make sense of it. I’ve been reading a book called Ice by Anna Kavan – have you heard of that? It has a quality of being like a labyrinth and a mirror, a sensibility I was trying to bring into these works. And I’m not quite sure if the dark spaces in these works are places you could crawl into and feel safe – to me maybe they are, but also they’re places where you feel uncertain.

And that is what you want to explore?

Yeah. Maybe as a means of trying to cultivate more comfort with it.

So those places work as a metaphor for emotional experience?

I think they can.

‘Eyes shut (looking into the distance)’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 500x400mm, 2021

Andrew Paul Wood described some of your earlier works as “windows into another world” – these again feel like windows but the proximity of the view feels more fluid.

Maybe. I am quite interested in these works in exploring a sense of ambiguity, things approaching and receding.

The works in your last exhibition included a small single orb of light, almost like a moon. In these works there is no such anchor.

Yes, I consciously left that out. Maybe it pulls the work further into a place of uncertainty. I think there are cues in some of the forms – spaces encroaching, things that could be water maybe – but there are fewer cues.

There are also fewer fissures and cracks – would you describe these works as more muted?

I think these forms have a different rhythm. There was a kind of melodramatic dynamism to the works I showed last year – a sense of things cracking or fissuring, primordial fear and wonder. These works have a different feel. They are a bit quieter, a bit slinkier. There’s a kind of labyrinthine quality, I think. It is not cracking or fissuring – it’s melting, merging or slipping. To me, it’s kind of more beguiling and sinister but less cataclysmic.

More visceral – almost alien?

Yes, I think so, there’s a bodily quality to some of these. I haven’t been reading or watching so much body horror over the past year but horror as a genre continues to interest me. I really like this film – two films actually, one called Creep and the other Creep 2. They are darkly funny and strange and genre-bending. Comedy sometimes, but with a kind of menace to it. You are pulled into empathising and sympathising with this character who is real and open and vulnerable – and then it changes.

‘Heat cling’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 500x400mm, 2021

Film and writing – both seem important sources for your work.

I tend to look to them before I look to other painters. I am not quite sure why. The transportative or experiential quality of the fiction I’ve been reading feeds into my work. I read The Porpoise recently (by Mark Haddon). It draws on Shakespeare’s Pericles and it slips between a contemporary tale and mythological times. The way he does it is so supple and slippery and strange. Also Ice, which I mentioned before, by Anna Kavan –  someone described it as, rather than world-building, world-blocking, where setting isn’t rendered in precise details, but foggy, unclear, a sooty mirror. Things start to blur and change, which feels to me much more reflective of the experience of being human – of memory and perception and how we experience things. Things maybe aren’t all as they seem.

Have your materials changed over the last couple of years?

The materials are the same but I have used the mediums in slightly different ways. I have found different things. Like this happened, these little marks – that was new. I don’t know how it happened, chemically. But I know how to make it happen.

Do you start off with a particular palette in mind?

I usually do have a palette in mind for different works but it’s all quite intuitive. I think with this body of work it has been so nice to sit and look at them altogether, to start analysing my intuitive decisions – making sense of it for myself.

Is that normally part of your process – does your analytical mind kick in after a certain stage?

Yes, it does.

Not at the beginning – is there an element of risk here?

When I started this body of work at the start of the year I didn’t know what would happen, I didn’t know what it was going to be like when I finished it. The sense of risk comes and goes. I refine technical things, so I know what might happen, but still it is quite challenging and surprising to come in and say, oh so this is what happened, cool. That’s what intrigues me about painting. It’s the uncertainty – testing things, pushing things, coming into the studio and finding myself surprised by things – that is what keeps my curiosity engaged.

‘Stone was air’, Clare Logan, oil on board, 500x400mm, 2021

You have changed studio since you last talked to the Reader – how do you find working above your place of work?

I moved into this studio at the end of last year. I still work at the library on Mondays and Tuesdays and on Thursdays I work downstairs at NG, but I manage to get to the studio pretty much every day. I love working downstairs – it is a change of pace, a gentle interlude, and I love engaging with the beautiful garments. The space itself is warm and the light is different. It’s quiet, it has an old hush – I am sure it has affected my work. It has felt really special to work in this space, given what has been going on with it over the last, well, 11 years but particularly the last year and being invested in wanting to save it.

You have talked before about getting out of the city and into the mountains. Is that something you still do?

Yes, I do. I don’t know if this makes sense but going out and having those physical, sensory and imaginative experiences – it is always so important to my work but also to my life. For me, it can be a place of finding metaphor, meaning, perhaps actually a kind of certainty through embodiment. It’s like a questioning. It’s a constant.