Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Speaking with Clare McFarlane

For this month's Speaking with Clare McFarlane took some time to speak with bear among bees about her work, her formative experiences and future projects. You can currently see an exhibition of McFarlane's work at Turner Galleries (running till the 12 May) or find her work in a Laneway in Perth.

Sky’s chorus I, Clare McFarlane, 2012, acrylic and spray-paint on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

bear among bees: Can you tell us a little about your creative background?

Clare McFarlane: My mother always encouraged me to do art and be creative. I grew up on a farm in a small town and compared to many people I know now I had a rather culturally sparse experience growing up.  No art galleries, no public art - well I remember the high school kids did a mural in town once. There was just the art prize at the local show which was one day, once a year. My mother always encouraged me to take part in this. I remember you won 50c for a second prize and $1 for a first.

Luckily the school I went to had a specialised art teacher (unlike many primary schools) so I did get a lot out of art at school - I was also part of an extension program at the school and one part of that I remember (apart from computer programming and chess) was learning to paint with oils - this would have been maybe year 6 or 7. I really remember those classes and what I learnt then. My mother organised once a week out of school art classes for me with the art teacher. Just me and the teacher... but it was probably really good to have that one-on-one tutoring.

Anyway, I got into the special art program at Applecross SHS, which was wonderful really. Learnt a lot, had some great tutors, met other really talented individuals which was good for me - I'd always been the best at art at my school before but also one of only a few people with any interest in it, so it was great to meet others who were also interested. Though it did take a while to fit in - well... okay, I never really felt like I fit in but that was another story. It was my plan to do biology at uni but in year 12 I got a crush on one of my tutors and decided do art at Curtin (which is what he had done).

Spring’s lament i-ii, Clare McFarlane, 2012, acrylic and spray-paint on canvas, 70 x 100 cm

The year I started at Curtin had a very large percentage of mature age students - I mention this because I think being straight out of school actually benefited me because I was still in the "do what teacher tells you" mindset.  So while some other students, especially mature age ones, had issues with some of the more 'avant-garde' projects, I was quite happy to try new things.  Still I was probably a relatively 'conservative' student - majoring in painting and with a minor in printmaking in second year, then majoring and minoring in painting in third year - all the cool kids did sculpture back then :)

I went on to do Honours and then was part of the first group of students to do the newly created Masters of Creative Arts.  The research I did for that has had the most influence on all the work that followed...

bab: It sounds like your mum was instrumental in your becoming an artist, was she creative herself? 

CM: Well, apparently my mother always wanted one of her children to be an artist - this is what I've been told though I don't feel too pushed into that area.  But she wasn't particularly creative - she did photography and writing I suppose but she didn't come from a creative background, she was a teacher at the local school, teaching English, social studies and health.

Wishful Thinking i-ii, Clare McFarlane, 2010, acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, each 45 x 100 cm

bab: Also, I saw you did a Graduate Diploma in Cultural Heritage. Did that come before or after your Masters work? Did this play a big part in shaping your ideas on Australian identity and the historical references in your work?

CM: Ah yes, after doing Masters and discovering it qualified me to do retail I decided to do yet another degree. This time something that would get me a job. I already had romantic ideals about museums and history before I started the Grad Dip - kind of why I chose it instead of Library studies which I was also looking at.

During my Masters I became interested in the Pre-Raphaelites and I had an interest in history especially in terms of the feminine and sublime (honours) and the Victorian period - (by then my mother was studying and she ended up doing a PhD in women's journals from the 1830s).  And my interest in Australian identity came more from my interest in flora and fauna - it occurred to me at the time it was really 'not done' to use Australian flowers in contemporary art and that would be a bit of a challenge.

Also, at some point someone asked me about my use of Victorian patterns and what this said about Australian identity - so I thought that was interesting and continued to explore that.

The Grad dip in cultural heritage fed into the aesthetics of display in my work I think while also reinforcing ideas of Australian identity and other historical references.

Ideas of display and collecting I suppose actually - Cabinets of wonder, etc

A Murder’s verse ii, Clare McFarlane, 2011, acrylic and spray-paint on canvas, 70 x 70 cm

bab: I worked for a while at the State Library of WA in private archives so I'm always interested to see collections cross over into being art, rather than art being just a part of the static collection. Your recent work for the Fringe Festival as half of The Exit Stencilists duo definitely references that cabinet of curiosity tradition and museum display. Can you tell us more about this project & how it came about? And what role does collecting play in your individual practice?

CM: I actually worked in the Curtin Library for six years while doing post grads at uni - and I did think about becoming a Librarian at one point. :) I also have worked for the Holmes √† Court Collection and the UWA collection.  I am very interested in 'collecting'.  Collecting plays a big part in my practice - apart from the references in my work, I have a collection of dead birds, insects and photos of birds and wildflowers, as well as other related matter (books, patterns etc).

I am a bit of a collector at heart so I collect many things - random and otherwise - and sometimes they may become relevant to my work and then sometimes not. I have a collection of tea cups but they have yet to be part of my practice ;)

As for 'Enter through the Window' - Leon Ewing and I decided while doing the work for City of Perth (he was my dogsbody for the project) to form The Exit Stencilists to try and get further art projects - the Fringe Festival exhibition kind of just happened - being part of Gotham Studios I was aware that we had nominated The Peekaboo Gallery as a space for the festival and I thought 'why not be a part of it your self?'.

Leon and I eventually came up with the rather self-indulgent idea of a kind of wunderkammer of changing displays which really suited the situation of the exhibition place - it is viewable to the public constantly and gets an awful lot of passing traffic, so the idea of a changing display gave it more meaning for those that would pass by many times during the length of the festival - and then a few days in we came up with the idea of actually adding to the display as opposed to changing it completely. Seemed so logical when you think about it - and both Leon and I basically got to show off some of our stuff. He is also a compulsive collector - and then we just went extreme at the end - seeing just how much stuff we could display within reason. Of course we documented it everyday - within the display with Polaroids so the passer by could see the evolution - as well as online.  We certainly enjoyed it and it would be good to be able to do it again and refine the idea...

bab: In my recent interview with Maria Hildrick she spoke of her collection of dead little creatures too, we touched on the overlooked history of these creatures, the “once was” life. Can you talk a little about what it is that attracts you to collecting the birds and insects? 

CM: Hmm... I suppose I find them very poetic - to me they really speak of loss - of death, of the briefness of life - fleeting joy of a bird’s life - of flight. But the other attraction is the tradition of the 'gentlemen scientist' of the Georgian and Victorian times. Quite a quaint idea but an idea of its time.

Lilt of the Firetail, Clare McFarlane, 2012, acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 45 x 100 cm

bab: The Victorian aesthetic seems quite important in your work; can you tell us about that and the patterning you use which are also rooted in those times? Where do the patterns come from are they found patterns, or do you design them?

CM: Actually, I'd say my aesthetic was definitely more Japanese in nature, when you look at my positioning and composition. Japanese and Scandinavian design are where I would define a lot of my aesthetic. But yes, Victorian patterning is a very important element of my work - more precisely it started with Pre-Raphaelite design and the work of William Morris.

These were patterns designed in the romantic period - Victorian in England - and they came from very romantic ideals and ideas.  What interested me was their romanticism of nature as represented in these designs.  At the time (when I was doing my MCA, 98-99) I was looking for a credible way of representing the feminine and technology without reverting to images of sexualised robot women ah-la Metropolis.

The William Morris patterns were a beautiful vehicle for this - they were these networks of interconnected plants - nature redesigned to fit the Victorian aesthetic - they were like a background structure to which we culturally adhere, or a growing network or nodes, hardware, software, servers and information.  They were perfect for integrating the feminine and technology.

SO that was where it started but they have grown to be more - I have used them to talk about Australian identity, as well as the scientific inquiry of nature and the need for humans to classify and catalogue nature.  At the moment I am thinking about it in terms of history and memory - of layers of wallpaper ripped off revealing more underneath.

Most of the patterns I source from books - a lot are William Morris patterns while others are from the same/similar period - the mid to late 19th Century. Sometimes I may change them I bit but I'm not really interested in designing new patterns - I'm just interested in using old ones :)

Dragon’s verse i-iii, Clare McFarlane, 2010-12, acrylic and silkscreen on board, each 26 x 16 cm
bab: What’s coming up for the rest of 2012 for you? Any upcoming shows or special projects? 

CM: Well, there is of course my current exhibition at Turner (a murder's chorus + other winged verse) which has been rather all consuming.  I'm going to go in a few art awards - I am definitely going to try and do at least one more wall mural this year - should be able to get one in Subiaco I hope - been talking to Jenny Kerr but the one we organised got pulled by the building owner - he wanted to put advertising there instead.

I'd like to organise something in Melbourne some time soon and to visit there this year.  I was going to see how much work was left over from the Turner show to see if there was enough to form the basis of something for Melbourne. Or maybe somewhere else - I have not been as forward as I could be when it comes to trying for exhibitions outside Perth - I need to correct that.

bab: And where can people find out more about your work?

CM: Really the best place to find out more about my work is through the Turner Galleries website:

1 comment:

  1. Meagan GianattiMay 1, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    I have followed Clare's work for a long time and have continually been beyond impressed. To have some of her work around me serves as a reminder of her immense capacity as well as to massage my senses. The 'Ally work' is simply divine and sooo worth seeking out. The Turner Gallery Exhibition is so arrestingly beautiful. The Gallery serves as the perfect backdrop to enable one to view from various angles and distances. To see each of these paintings up close reveals an intense beauty and detail that explodes the mind and drags you to want to inch closer and closer to each piece. In doing so, you're rewarded with genuine awe as to the crystalline beauty, integrity and insight into each and every piece. Just brilliant really.