Like a cascading river or a cloud crawling atop a ridge, in The Siren Clare Logan captures the movement of nature through pours of paint which flow across her works. Ahead of her exhibition she spoke about her paintings with City Art Depot Exhibitions Manager Cameron Ralston in her studio. The Siren opens 5.30pm Tuesday 7 November and runs through to 27 November 2023.
Vesper, oil on board, 1000x800mm, 2023
Cameron Ralston: You’ve been painting in this same fashion or vein for several years now, is there anything that you’ve changed, adapted, been experimenting with in this body of work?
Clare Logan: There are always subtle shifts as time passes and as I move from one body of work to another. There’s usually something in what I’ve just finished that I want to keep pursuing and pushing on with. Since the last body of work I showed at City Art Depot, I’ve been trying to stay with what is suggested by the early pours. Often in those first pours there’s a strong sense of movement or energy. This year that’s really what I’ve been trying to pursue and stay with. I found if I’ve lost the sense of movement, I’ve been scraping the paint off and starting again. Some of them I have pushed more because they’ve taken longer to resolve. That work Vesper I sat with for a long time. I really liked what happened in the early pour and thought I’d just leave it and if I wanted to keep working into it I would’ve, but I haven’t. It’s been a pursuit of that kind of movement that’s driven this body of work. And different works evoke different movements, to me.
Do you mean some are deliberately languid and others dynamic?
Some feel more sinuous, slow and gentle, while in others there’s more of a crashing, merging or bursting out.
Are you carrying over themes from that previous show as well?
I think the themes are always kind of the same, an ongoing trail. There’re things that obsess me, that I’m always in pursuit of. Core things that are the base of my practice where painting is a way of trying to understand better.
What are you pouring at the start? Is it colour?
The first pours are usually tonal. Dark pours and light pours, not a lot of colour. White and black, maybe a bit of brown or tone. The colour comes in the later layers.
Are there quite a few layers built up in these?
It varies work to work. This one, Debris cloud, which looks quite bodily in that area, was formed a lot by the second pour which pooled in this quite thick way. The way it happened was surprising and interesting to me, I wanted to stay with it.
Debris cloud, oil on board, 1000x800mm, 2023
What are you mixing your paint with?
Alkyd-based mediums, to give the paint the ability to flow. One’s lighter, one’s heavier.
Do you still have a fascination with the corporeal body and how that plays into the visuals of the work?
Definitely, the body is always a place of return. Grappling with materiality. It becomes hard to talk about without feeling very esoteric or shy, but I have an enduring fascination with being in a container of matter and how that relates to the material world. It’s kind of about feeling and subjectivity and mortality and that’s really difficult for me to articulate. Painting is a way of translating those abstract notions.
With your work there’s often been a tendency to talk about them as landscapes, which is an easier thing to talk about because you can point to specific things in the painting. Whereas with these more abstract ideas it’s more about the feeling you might be getting from the elements of the painting. There’s a nice connection between both being landscapes and encapsulating the emotional quality of being in backcountry nature. I feel that element of encapsulating feeling is more what the works are becoming about, rather than locatable places.
That’s well put. They’re more experiential.
Are they still reflective of your hiking? Does it expand into your life otherwise?
It’s all intermingled and merged. Going tramping and having experiences in the backcountry is an important part of my life, and so it’s an important part of my work. For me, those pursuits are sites of experience and sites of feeling. I did my first solo multi-day tramp this year, over three days and two nights in the middle of winter. I went into the Poulter Valley and to Lake Minchin via the Andrews Stream in Arthur’s Pass. It’s this huge valley which feels really expansive. It was just so interesting being alone, and I mean really alone, there was no one else in the valley. I think I ran into one person over the whole three days. Alone at night there were these huge winds, a nor’wester sitting on the divide. Those types of experiences are really spaces for me to think and feel. They feed into my work because they’re a way of being embodied, connecting with the material and natural world.
Renascence, oil on board, 1000x800mm, 2023
Are there nameable thoughts or feelings you would have while out there?
What I was feeling was the tension of opposites almost. I find these things hard to wrap language around, so I have to come at them sideways through making paintings or through stories and metaphor. I think the strongest memory that stays with me from that trip was there was a nor’west weather system sitting on the divide and I was just east of the divide. Often in New Zealand when the weather is like that you’re in a rain shadow, which is when you can see big weather on the divide – dramatic raining and storming – but it was dry where I was. To me, the feeling of being able to see that happening, and yet be dry, separate and a bit detached, but feeling occasionally little spatters of rain, brushing at the very edge of the weather system, felt profound. The tension of it.
I think these works have that tension in them too. In textural and tonal contrasts especially.
Maybe that energy, in the tension of opposites, is something that I’ve been feeling this year and that’s been coming into my work.
Have you been writing around the works for this show?
No. I think I will, when the time is right. For The Bend (last year’s show) I had a strong sense for a piece of writing, a merging of an imagined and real place, and because that big trip into the Olivines I took had been so pivotal, the desire and the writing just flowed. This year lately I’ve been keeping a dream diary. I’ve been getting more interested in a kind of imaginative world building as fuel for my work, as well as dreams and myths and some Jungian ideas. It’s all probably been feeding into my work. I think the writing will come for me, it’s just trusting that things will show up when the time is right and you’re ready.
Rainshadow, oil on board, 800x700mm, 2023
You titled the show ‘The Siren’ – is that connected to that interest in mythology or is it a siren in another way?
It’s kind of both. Part of what I liked about it as a title is that it’s one of those terms that can have multiple interpretations and has an allusive quality. I like the mythical, imaginative part of it and the energy of it, that it can mean ‘alert alert’. There’s a tension to the two. The seductive quality of a siren – mythical, dreamy, imaginative, maybe a little dangerous – and this emergency quality.
Do dreams inform what you paint at all?
I have recurring dreams of water. They’re not always the same dream, but there will be a water body. There’ll be floods, or I’ll be swept away in a river. Water bodies will suddenly shift and change. They’re not scary, but there’s an unpredictability to them. They’re very fascinating and beguiling to experience. They influence the work. I think it just wells up.
It’s always interesting seeing how people react to and interact with your paintings. Some people will pull images from your work – faces, letters, objects. Do you see these things as well, is it something you push away from?
I understand why people might do that. We want to make sense of things and decode them from the frameworks we have. But I haven’t intentionally put any cryptic hidden meanings in them that are to be decoded beyond the world of feeling. It’s hard to talk about but it’s that murky world of feeling, subjectivity and experience. These things aren’t always as easily understood.
A thousand acres, oil on board, 800x1000mm, 2023
I find it enjoyable when I hear emotive reactions to your work – everywhere from being serene and peaceful to frightening and brooding. Those experiences of your work are perhaps more in keeping with the way that I view your work.
I like to hear of emotional responses to the work. I think that’s the spirit in which they’re made.
So you’re quite influenced by that trip you took. Have you also been influenced by other media? Previously when we’ve talked, books and film especially have been impactful on your thinking around your artworks.
Yeah, whatever I’ve been reading or watching or thinking about in life comes in, I think. This year I’ve not been watching much except for the television show Alone. I’ve been thinking a lot about solitude this year. I really think Alone is some of the most remarkable reality television being made. Ten contestants get dropped into some very remote part of usually North America but there’s been seasons in Patagonia and Mongolia. All the contestants are skilled survivalists and they’re allowed to choose ten items from a list, so they choose flint and tinder, a knife or a tarp for example. The one who outlasts wins the prize. There’s something about when people are away from the norms, pace and structure of contemporary late capitalist life, and grappling with intense solitude, which is really interesting and moving. It’s deeply human. I’ve also been reading some good novels. Over the summer I read this great saga called Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset which is set in medieval Norway and follows a woman’s life from girlhood to her death. As a reader you get this insight into her interiority, her feeling world, alongside the facts of what’s happening in the material world around her. I also read The Wall by Marlen Haushofer which was written in the 1930s by an Austrian woman. It’s a kind of dystopian novel where this woman goes to a hunting lodge and the next morning wakes up alone and finds an invisible wall between herself and the outside world. After that initial cataclysm it becomes about what it’s like to be a human alone just surviving and how that shifts your relationship to the world around you and how you move through it.
All those things definitely feel interconnected, don’t they?
I tend to pick up a trail for some reason and pursue it.
There’s something nice about sitting here and seeing how the compositions play out across works of the same scale.
It’s nice to work at one scale. There’s a kind of intensity to the concentration into the different ways it can play out.
Break (as a wave), oil on board, 1000x800mm, 2023
When you’re applying the paint, some of it must be done quite quickly or vigorously – is that connected to your own state of mind? Or is it more responsive to what’s already there on the painting surface?
It’s always responsive to what’s already there. If I’m in a bad mood I usually don’t come and work because I know it’ll just feel frustrating, and the work will suffer. There’s a method to it. The early pours make the structure of the works.
How do you figure when to stop with a work? You’ve mentioned this feeling of something being resolved.
It’s another thing that’s quite difficult to discuss. If I’m not sure about a work and feel like it could be ‘there’ (wherever ‘there’ is – a movement, feeling, or whatever I’ve been trying to get to), I sit there looking at it for a while. I might leave it for a month and will spend time looking at it while I’m working on other pieces. Then it might just occur to me that yes, it is done. Like with this work, Vesper – it happened quite quickly.
Is your painting process quite solitary? Some artists I’ve spoken to seem to almost be in constant dialogue with others about their work as it progresses.
It’s just me. No one else really sees the works. Very occasionally I’ll have a friend come by, but I have to make those decisions. The work is so much of me that only I could know when they’re finished. They’re solitary works.