V I D E O S &. I N T E R V I E W S - 2 0 2 2
David Richard Gallery
“Violets Are Blue”
“If It's Not One Thing It's Another"
Maine Museum of Photographic Arts
Jan Pieter v. Voorst v. Beest Interviews Claire Seidl August 26, 2022
Jan Pieter: You studied and took up photography almost 20 years into your career as a painter, what awakened your interest into photography?
Claire Seidl: My husband and I bought an old camp in Rangeley in 1986, and from the start I felt compelled to communicate what I was seeing and feeling there. I am fully committed to making abstract paintings, so I knew I was not interested in making representational work, but after ten years of taking snapshots, I decided that I wanted to learn about photography and see if it was for me. After teaching in the art department at Hunter, College for ten years, I took a break from teaching and began studying at the International Center for Photography in NYC. I stayed for three years.
For about twenty-five years now, I have been shooting in one setting: our 19th century camp in the woods on a lake. We’ve had three children grow up there; friends and family come and go; and our parents and older friends have died. This provides the narrative elements in my photographs. On another level, I am keenly interested in how the camera sees, especially over time or in the dark. My photographs show more than the unassisted eye can see.
Jan Pieter: I see many artists nowadays embarking into mixing photography with other media. Although you practice both very well, you seem to be keeping the media separate. Have you ever wanted to use both media combined into one work?
And looking at your work, at first I struggled to see similarities between your photographic work and your other work. Then I discovered rather subtle similarities. In your photography, because of your use of long time exposures you create layers of time. For example, the furniture in your photographs is sharp and in focus, it does not move but the people, and other stuff (Fans, etc.) that move are out of focus and blurry, which creates a rather out of world mysterious scene. In your paintings I see the sharp lines of drawing versus the more blurry painted brush strokes often combined in one work. This contradiction also seems to create a similar tension as do the long exposures in your photographs. Is the creation of these layers instinctual or planned?
Claire: I have always kept my painting and photography separate. While they share formal concerns and visual elements, they are parallel pursuits. This is not to say that my photographs do not influence my paintings and that my paintings do not influence my photographs –they do. In the photographs, the blurring of people and other moving elements has a narrative aspect in addition to the literal passing of time during the shooting . In the paintings, the blurring and partial covering of early layers in the painting connote time and allow the viewer to see the process.
The focus of sharply drawn lines next to soft-edged, translucent areas of paint expands the vocabulary of the painting and adds to the tension in the work.
I try to leave the ‘meaning’ of my work to the viewer.
I would say that my instincts in making both the paintings and the photographs have become learned practice, and it is ongoing. My approach to making art is intuitive. I don’t plan my photographs any more than I plan my paintings. I am open to seeing and reacting to what is there.
Jan Pieter: You stated that the use of Mylar might represent a bridge between your photographic work and your other work. Could you tell us why?
Claire: The works on Mylar are a combination of printing and trace drawing. I work on the back of the Mylar sheet as it is placed on top of a glass palette with etching or litho ink rolled or squeegeed onto it. Already, there is an element of chance, as I don’t know quite what I will get on the front of the piece. I’m working on it backwards, too, the way I see through the viewfinder on my camera. (I don’t know what I’m going to get on the film I shoot, either.) The Mylars even look like large pieces of film, or negatives: they are translucent. Like the paintings, they are about mark-making and built-up layers. And, they are abstract. Trace drawing is drawing on the back of the Mylar while it is on the glass plate (palette). I often use a stick to draw. And, I only have the memory of the lines and forms I’ve made because the drawing is invisible until I pull the print up from the glass and I can see what I’ve done. I arrive at an image on film in the same way.
Jan Pieter: Your painting definitely would be classified as abstract. Of course your photography is not although I feel some of your work might be leaning that way. (Depending on the rather subjective definition of Abstract!) But in your painting: “Green Light” I detect a similarity with the photograph:”Girl Torso, 2011.” I could not find the date of the painting, but was there a connection?
Claire: Looking at “Girl, Torso , 2011”, alongside the painting “Green Light” (from 2019), I can see the similarity of form. But the girl is lit (by a flashlight) and in darkness. In “Green Light” the form that I see resembling the girl is made of light, but I read that light as space or ground with the dark forms and drawing coming forward. They are opposite in terms of figure/ground. The forms are similar, but there is no literal figure in Green Light.
Jan Pieter: Coming from Connecticut, you now divide your time between New York and Maine. It appears that most of your photography was done in Maine. Does location play a role in what media you work on? And if so. Why?
Claire: I shoot all my photographs in Maine and print them in my darkroom in the city, over the winter, for a month or two. I don’t make paintings when I’m printing photographs. I make paintings in both places and I don’t see a difference between paintings done in NYC and in Rangeley. Lately, I have been making the oils on Mylar in Maine, but for no reason other than having more time and space there.
I find it easier to work in Maine. I don’t know if that’s because of nature or despite it. I suspect it’s because I have fewer commitments and distractions. I see a lot of art in New York and visit studios, often. Here, there are fewer shows and artists and I am 2 ½ to 3 hours from the coast, where art is everywhere.