We are excited to present our latest collaboration with multi-disciplinary artist Claire Johnson.
Based in New South Wales, Australia, Claire breathes life into ceramics and canvases, using clay, ink and collage techniques. Her work celebrates beauty, love and mythology.
Working with the theme of “two gods, two lovers”, Claire’s artistic interpretation resulted in two paper collages featuring twirling mandalas, laurel wreaths and sparkling eyes, which we adapted into prints.
The outcome is a set of paper vases with spellbinding faces of ancient gods, whispering loving words.
How would you define your artistic style?
My style varies quite a lot depending on the medium I am using. For my paper collage work I’d define it as a homage to maximalism. My ink works on paper I’d define as an exploration of movement and in my ceramic work I like to combine both maximalism, movement and the idea of ‘the artists hand’ through my mark marking.
What is your creative approach when facing new projects?
The most important thing for me firstly is to create a clear and succinct brief with whoever I am collaborating with. It’s important for me to know what their vision and expectations are from me as an artist. I choose my collaborations carefully as I think it’s paramount for my own values to align with that of the brand/label. Most of my initial (and sometimes all) meetings happen over the phone because I live in regional Australia so it’s also important for me to feel a rapport with whoever my contact person will be. I think if a potential collaborator is coming to you they are coming to you because they resonate with your already established aesthetic. I won’t work with brands or labels who want me to create work for them based off of an idea that’s completely removed from what I do aesthetically. It’s hard then for me to work true to my creative voice, the freer I can be the better the outcome.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from many places. On a surface level obviously my art heroes; Picasso, Matisse and Chagall but also a love of the materials I work with. The process of making is just (if not more) important to me than the finished works themselves. Having danced my whole life and having a mother who was a professional ballerina I have always been inspired by line and movement, this is why ink and clay as mediums to me are so beautiful. Being able to make gestural marks, seeing perfection in imperfection (wabi sabi) and not always having control over your medium. My love of line and movement also translates over to my work with paper collage. My paper collaged work is a lot more controlled, using a scalpel and scissors to cut sharp shapes. This intricate work for me is a special kind of mindfulness. I can zone out and be content for hours just cutting shapes, surrounded by colourful scraps.
What is the importance of experimentation and playfulness in your life, and how do you integrate it into your work?
I think it’s very important to have the ability to step away from every day stress in order to reconnect with our inner child, and therefore our playfulness. Art is perfect for that. It’s something I’m still working on in my own day to day but when it comes to my creative work it is paramount and I find it a lot easier. The best work I have made always seems to happen when I don’t put too many expectations on myself or what the outcome will be. Experimenting, happy accidents, not being too precious, not having unrealistic expectations, it’s all part of it. I think it’s so easy for anyone to make comparisons of themselves against those around them, but I think it’s even more so in the creative industry. As artists we do work incredibly hard, often without financial incentive or recognition, and many times I’ve experienced burnout. Comparing myself to my peers, feeling like I’m not where I should be at this age or time in my career isn’t helpful. It’s during these moments when I feel it’s important to play and experiment and I try to do that if I can.
What unique opportunities have you experienced as a result of choosing to become an artist?
One of the most unique and one of the most rewarding was being asked to speak at the Australian Ceramics Triennale in Hobart, Tasmania in 2019. I gave a short lecture on art and mental health where I spoke about the importance of art as therapy. I also shared my personal story of my own struggles with addiction, deep depression and how my art practice, alongside professional intervention has helped me (and continues to help me). It was a very emotional but very healing experience.
Another incredible experience was being a part of Milan Fashion Week where I collaborated with the incredible Italian based label La Double J. Collaborating with the magical JJ Martin was one of the most beautiful experiences. Her authenticity and spirituality saw us connect on a deep level which helped me to create a collaboration I was extremely proud of. I was working out of my parents garage at the time and I never could have dreamed that a country girl from Port Macquarie, Australia would have her artworks on the runways of Milan.
How do you balance work and personal life?
Just over a year ago I started working casually at our regional theatre and art gallery, The Glasshouse here in Port Macquarie. Being able to step away from my practice a little bit has been really refreshing. Working as a gallery technician especially has given me the opportunity to meet and work with some incredible artists. After exhibiting for quite a few years now I absolutely love being on the other side of the process, installing and learning new skills. I’m super lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner who loves seeing me in my element in the studio. We live right next to the beach so whenever we have a day off together it’s always a beach walk and lunch.
The thing you can’t live without while working on a project:
I unashamedly binge watch documentaries and reality tv while I work. I’ve tried podcasts and music but that’s what works for me. I try to balance out my love for the Real Housewives with things that aren’t as mind numbing and I go through phases of things that I’m interested in. At the moment I’m a bit obsessed with RMS Titanic documentaries, before that it was the Romanov’s.
Currently obsessed with:
The already mentioned RMS Titanic. I’ve spent quite a few nights going down the rabbit hole reading survivor accounts, watching old footage of survivors retelling their harrowing stories and researching the discovery dive. I do have a bit of an obsessive nature and tend to fixate on certain things or topics for a time but I’ve found they often inform some part of my practice, however subtle. I definitely won’t be making collaged Jack and Rose homages any time soon though.
Three greatest influences:
1. My Mum. My mum is one of my greatest inspirations and influences. She left home at 15 to move 13 hours away interstate by herself to join The Australian Ballet. Her elegance and grace as well as her incredible gift of gardening seem to find their way conceptually into my work quite often. I feel very lucky that my parents have always been supportive and encouraging of my passion for the arts, they are two of my biggest advocates.
2. Marc Chagall. I think a lot of people would expect Picasso or Matisse to be my greatest influences, and I guess it would be easy to judge that based off my aesthetic and love of paper collage but the work of Chagall has always made my heart sing. His colour palettes alone I find inspirational with a career spanning across several art movements. The reoccurring theme of love in his paintings were inspired by his lifelong muse and first wife Bella Chagall. Their love story is one for the ages. I’ve always used love and romance as inspiration for my own work and I think he is one of the greatest romantic painters of all time.
3. My chosen mediums. As I’ve already noted the mediums I choose to create work with are just as (if not more so) important as the finished work itself. I love to work in different mediums, and I feel like my work evolves and changes with each one. Putting medium to paper or sculpting in clay is a very physical and meditative experience for me. It is often the only time my mind can be quiet and I’m not overanalyzing everything.
Favorite space to work:
Wherever my workbench is. I am obsessed with my workbench and it has travelled to quite a few different places with me over the years
If you weren’t a designer, you’d be:
I’d love to have my own label. I think that’s why I love collaborating with fashion labels so much. It is so much fun designing special and unique prints and then to see them reimagined onto fabric… Who knows though? Maybe one day?
Current music album on repeat:
I’m more of a playlist person. I always go back to my favourite jazz playlist that I made 5 years ago which tends to drive my partner a bit nuts.
Biggest creative risk you’ve taken in your career:
Moving back to my hometown after living in Sydney for 7 years. I didn’t know it then but it turned out to be my saving grace, and I’m incredibly grateful.