City Art Reader 14: ‘Undertow’ discussion – Clare Logan

9th May 2019

Clare Logan is a New Zealand artist who creates rich and powerful responses to the New Zealand wilderness and psychological experiences through the deliberate yet intuitive processes of pouring, layering, drying, brushing and glazing. Cameron Ralston discussed Logan’s latest body of work with her ahead of her exhibition Undertow at City Art Depot which opens 5.30pm on Tuesday 14 May and runs to 4 June 2019.

Cameron: These works still have that look, although different from previous shows you’ve had. These feel more volcanic and have a more bodily feel as opposed to some of your other pieces which are perhaps more serene, natural, landscapes with idyllic greens.

Clare: I think there is more of a sense of movement. The idea of cataclysm has been a preoccupation for me over the last year or so. I think perhaps its reflective of things I’ve been reading, seeing, thinking about – it’s starting to come through in the works.

Yes, there’s definitely a lot of action that you can read into these. You’re still working with watery textures and movement.

I find water interesting as a symbol reflective of flow and flux, and of life and entropy. It has changed and shifted from earlier work, I think, the land-like forms have a sense of fluidity about them too.

Tumult, oil on board, 2019

Previously your works have evoked almost real places or memories of places. With these are you starting with an action, a narrative you want to tell?

These are still emerging from a really intuitive responsive process. So they might start in one place but look completely different by the end. With these works I started by thinking about how an experience of a place might be transmuted or filtered through a consciousness and be overlaid with imagination, memory and myth and all the things that come alongside a physical experience. I was trying to think about and write down kinds of landscape archetypes which were more significant in my consciousness. I wasn’t thinking ‘I’ll make a painting of this thing’ but it helped to frame things while I was making the body of work. I have been thinking a lot about entropy in the landscape and how humans are accelerating those processes. I found a sense of swamping, swamping waters particularly, coming up in my notes and thoughts. This might be related to the impacts we’re having on the environment and why it keeps recurring for me.

Cloud gatherer, oil on board, 2019

Can you talk a bit more about this idea of swamping?

I think it’s a kind of symbol. It’s all quite esoteric and difficult to articulate. So much of what I am interested in is this metaphysical side of how we experience the world. How our physical experience of the world is coloured by our psychological or imaginary worlds that we project onto things. For these works it’s a sense of swamping tides, a disquiet, blurry cataclysm and things that hover on the edge of our perception, possibly portents of dark things.

That’s reflective in the paintings and how people have different reactions to the physicality of the works. Some are perhaps more direct to me such as Swamper looking like a geyser and others having valleys that can be read into. They have a very visceral look.

Swamper especially is quite bodily.

Swamper, oil on board, 2018

 Previously we’ve talked about your fascination with body-horror films. Does this tie into the works at all?

I think it does in the way that my interest in horror film, like any of my interests, becomes one of the many points of reference for the way I see the world and make work. Body-horror uses mutilation or changing of the body as a means of talking about existential concerns, anxieties and fears that humans have. The disconnect between having a mind and a soul and then also being in these flesh prisons. I see parallels between that and oil paint, it being such a bodily substance that gets manipulated as a means of manifesting ideas. And there’s a sensibility that I really like in supernatural horror films. Have you seen The Vvitch?

That’s the film set in old America, out exiled in the woods right?

In that film the landscape becomes this oppressive foreboding character, a thing the people living within it project their hopes and fears onto.

I can definitely see how you can read corporeal ideas into the works. That physicality of the human body, interior exterior tension, blood, skin – all these can be imparted onto landscapes.

I like that both the physicality of the paint, allowing it to pour and pull, and this other metaphysical thinking can exist together in the works. It again reflects that space between physical and psychological experiences.

So, the first time your brush touches the board are you painting a form or are you pouring and experimenting right from the start?

I often do little sketches beforehand looking at form and composition. Thinking about where a work might go and understanding that it’s all completely subject to change, and it often does. So from there I’ll paint out a layer underneath of loose forms and then pour on top of that and respond to what happens then. Sometimes I return to initial compositional sketches and some works resolve much quicker than others. Works like Wader resolved really quickly, whereas Cloaked shifters took a really long time. It just wasn’t resolving, wasn’t resolving, and then it finally shifted towards something that felt right. It took a lot of pouring and over pouring, turning it, working on it at different orientations.

Wader, oil on board, 2019

You get these really interesting edges on your paintings, some even have a dripping effect which changes the shape of the board, especially on the more worked paintings.

I like the edges as a process reveal, as a relic of the material as it was moving through to the finished work. The accumulation of layers is reflective of the life of each work – each misstep, a mark left or covered, each tangent or moment of serendipity remains in the work, even if covered by subsequent layers. Thought is embedded through the process, via the materials.

This also comes through the surface of the paintings where you have bleeding happening between layers. Are the ridges and bumps on the surface of the paintings naturally occurring or are you working them in?

They’re the result of something I’ve done to one of the underneath layers which is still showing through. I like the bodily surface quality of them, and as vestiges of the history of the making of the work.

They give a bit of three-dimensionality as well.

Yes, they’re quite strange twilight-zone works, so having the bodily matter-ness present in the paintings is something I like.

You mention the twilight zone a bit. These have almost like a science-fictiony feel. Or other-planetary/other-worldly. Are you trying to challenge the viewer and play with their expectation of what a landscape is, or should look like?

I want them to have a sense of other-worldliness about them. I want viewers to feel like they’re looking at something strange that’s hovering on the edge of something they know and something they don’t know. I’m not sure if that’s challenging but I want them to sit in that in-between space.

Through the way you title your works you’re often giving them a personality or active noun. They’re a Wader, a Cloud gatherer, a Sea-breather

Yes, when titling the works I was thinking about the personifying or characterising a land or place. And thinking about land as character or land as having agency and how that can make you feel about, and experience, a place.

Sea-breather, oil on board, 2018

I think the titles of the works also inform the way we look at them. Looker-down perhaps informs the perspective of the work whereas a work like Soft arms has the viewer looking for soft forms.

Yes. I kept a dream diary over the past year because I was interested in how my lived waking experience of being in a landscape might be linked to how they were manifesting my subconscious. The titles have mostly been drawn from little stories and notes I was writing about the spaces experienced in dreams.

Do you ever use a dream dictionary?

(Laughs) I have one actually, I found it in a book fridge. But it sucks. I found the interpretations in it mostly nonsense, but very funny. I’m more interested in dreams as an experience, and how the feelings that are very real within the dream context are reflective of the ways in which your environment is seeping into your brain and manifesting.

Is there any example in these works where you can point to where some of that has been translated into paint?

As I was saying, the swamping thing has been recurring for me in my subconscious and dreams. A sense of being subsumed by a rising sea. So, I think you have a sense of that in some works such as a kind of deluge in Sinking step.

Sinking step, oil on board, 2018

Are you seeing these changes in landscapes happening in your excursions into the mountains?

I don’t know if I’m seeing them in the way I’m dreaming or thinking about them, but I’m very conscious of a shifting in the land. The glaciers have receded so much, snows are changing. And it’s not just climate change, it’s also a general way in which all the landforms in Aotearoa are everchanging and things are very mutable, in a constant state of flux. When I was at Blue Lake last week I was aware of how the glacial lakes, or lakes that have been formed by glacial processes are being infilled by screes and matter around them that gets washed down. There’s a sense of impermanence about everything. Water is a strong symbol and metaphor as part of that change.

Along with water, there is also often this soft moon, sun, star form in your work that you use as a formal device.

I don’t know if I’d call it a moon but it’s something that pushes the work further into the world of the metaphysical and esoteric. It helps place the work in that space.

It also give the viewer a sky to work from. Without devices like that you could almost imagine these works being planes of colours.

Yes, I think they’d read as more abstract. They give people a little starting point.

Have you changed anything about your process for this show?

Nothing major, just more a constant refining of my understanding of how the mediums and pigment react to each other. Through trial and error, I’ve developed a more sophisticated understanding of how things interact.

When do you know that you’ve finished a work?

Often with these works there’s a long period of it not being right and going back and back. But then there comes a point when I see what the work is going to be which is in keeping with my interest in intuition. It’s a feeling of what the work is going to be and I pursue that until I feel like it’s fully resolved.