We’re delighted to bring you this nice wee interview with artist, Claire Kidd. In this interview we chat about her work, creativity during quarantine, and accessibility in the arts. The interview took place over Zoom as per lockdown rules and we'd love to be able to show you the video, but technical issues have prevented this for now. We're working on it! but for now, you can read the transcript below.
Claire Kidd is a talented painter from Aberdeen. Her work focuses on human interaction and connection, entwining surrealist elements with scenes from travels and home. We’re currently hosting an exhibition for Claire with a private exhibitor. Given the current situation, no one is able to see her work which is incredibly disappointing for all of us. So we thought we’d bring it to you here. You can keep scrolling for examples of Claire’s work, or see her instagram here, or her website here.
If you would like to see her work in real life, there is a mural in Eric Hendrie Park in Mastrick, Aberdeen. I know you don't need to be reminded because you're NAILING social distancing, but if this area is not in walking distance for you, please don't visit it at this time. :)
Kirsty: Can you start by just giving us a bit of background about you and about your practice?
Claire: Yep, so I graduated from Gray’s School of Art last June and started a masters programme at Glasgow School of Art. Due to COVID-19, that’s obviously on hold at the moment. My practice for the last couple of years has mostly been looking at human interaction and connection both at home in Scotland, in Aberdeen where I grew up, and more recently on my travels. I’ve been to Marrakech, Bilbao, Barcelona and more recently, Lahore in Pakistan so a lot of the work has been stemming from community aspects and interaction that I’ve had along those travels.
K: So, you mentioned that you were doing your masters at GSA. I imagine that’s been quite turbulent given that there has been all the issues with GSA and now this pandemic. Whats going on with your masters, are you going to graduate?
C: GSA have given us three options for the continuation of our studies. We were supposed to graduate in September but they’ve give us the option to graduate in September with no facilities, no workshop access and no teaching. There would be some online tuition and that’s about it. No degree show at the end and [they’ll] still take full fees. They’re not budging on the fact that despite being closed they won’t reduce fees for anyone. The second option is the same thing but instead of graduating in September, you’d graduate in January next year. The third option is to just leave. They will not give you any reimbursement for the time that you’ve been there. So it’s not a good position to be in. We have to make that decision by May 9th and they’re not responding to anyone before then. So we just have to make that decision blind. We’ve done what we can to try and protest that and see if we can get some answers. I still don’t know which of the three options I‘ll take. I’d really rather not leave but I think it’s quite opportunist of them to try and take the full fee even though they’re not teaching so hopefully we can find a way around it. Theres a campaign from students which has been put forward called Pause or Pay UK and they’re trying to team up with other schools around the country which are facing similar problems. It’s worth checking out for a slightly more in-depth evaluation of what’s happening.
K: Obviously we are in the middle of lockdown at the moment. How is this affecting your creativity? Are you finding it easier or more difficult to be creative?
C: It’s a good test of adaptability! I’ve moved to Skye to do some key work so I’m making on the side of that. I’m staying at a farm so for a while I was able to use a deer abattoir, which is where they hang up deer carcasses after hunting, which is really not what I thought I’d be working in but it’s been okay! That space is now no longer available so I’ll probably be making on a slightly smaller scale, maybe using some slightly different materials. I usually use oil paints and turpentine but you need a room with ventilation to use those so you don’t gas yourself out. It’s definitely a difficult time but I think creatives always find a way to continue working throughout these problems - which is not to say that adjustments shouldn’t be made for university courses etc - but I have great faith in creatives to do what their plans are anyway. It just might look slightly different than expected.
K: During lockdown, it’s been interesting to see people that wouldn’t normally consider themselves creative, have found creative means as a way to not only keep themselves occupied, but are using creative means to stay mental well also.
C: Yeah, it’s been a really interesting time to see people start appreciating things in the arts context. It’s great to see people now reach out and try and do things that in their personal lives they’d been too busy to do, or considered themselves to busy to do. So now they’re seeing the value in those small breaks, be it for mental health or as a way to keep challenging yourself to think differently, or to try out things they thought they weren’t capable of doing. We’re seeing it in lots of ways - arts and crafts, pottery and ceramics, baking and cooking, and it’s just really nice to see people embracing those things and finding time for them. I’m quite interested to see how that’s going to affect the art world in the long term. I like to think that people are going to come out if this with a higher appreciation of what art can do for you.
K: You mentioned that your work focuses on human connection, whether that’s here at home or during your travels on the Carnegie Vacation Scholarship. Could you tell us more about that?
C: It took a while to realise that is what I was interested in. I kept tapping into these topics that weren’t necessarily about human connection but had elements of it and it took me a while to realise that that’s what kept me coming back to certain topics was that element of human interaction. So once I figured that out, it became a while lot easier to start making artworks. Basically, I’ve always quite enjoyed thinking about what it is that makes people tick, what makes the culture you’re in specifically your culture, what’s different from someone else’s culture to yours. I think that’s specifically quite interesting as globalisation is starting to adjust. You’re now never part of just one culture really at this point. So many people have mixed parentage from completely far off parts of the world and you find yourself part of a culture that you’ve maybe never been in the country of but you have smaller experiences of that place. It’s just been a case of watching a documentation of human interaction that I’ve taken part in, in this time, and how that’s going to be in 20 years is different to how it’ll be 100 years. COVID-19 again is making that quite interesting because the interconnectivity we had globally has now changed up in a way we didn’t expect - we never thought we’d be unable to go places. It’ll be interesting to see how that affects social interaction and tourism. Hopefully its going to have a positive overall ending but I think in the short term it’ll separate us and make us more aware of our at home culture, at home tourism and history. I think people are going to start finding out more about their roots rather than just zipping off every summer. I guess what draws me towards people is just the way they work and how people express themselves and how that over long periods of time becomes culture.
K: When you’re making a piece, do you think about the reaction of the viewer?
C: It’s kind of a mixed bag on that one. So sometimes it is quite heavily centred around that, especially when I make works that are a bit more odd or a bit more surreal it becomes interesting to see what people are going to read into it. I try to do it in a way that if I’m thinking about it, I don’t let that dictate where the piece goes because then it just becomes about trying to please some aspect of the viewing process. I’d much rather just try and make it in a way where it’s authentic to what I’m thinking about but I’m very interested in what people think in the end. It’s just if I try and put their opinion into it before they see it, it starts to change the process. Other times it is just a personal process, especially if it is about places I’ve travelled to. It then becomes a trying just to get it out of myself kind of thing rather than entering around what other people will make of it. What I would say is that I do try [when exhibiting] to make the spaces I exhibit in quite accessible. Thats something that’s become a bit more important to me in the last couple of years, especially at GSA where I’ve been friends with a few students who have some ability issues. They’ve raised really valid points about how exhibitions are really not fit for people with mobility problems a lot of the time so that’s now become on my radar. It’s become a really important part of the process to think about physically how people will access my work as well as what they make of it when they can access it. I think that’s something that every creator should, to an extent, think about. I think especially with art being a very visual language, it's quite nice that it can transcend language barriers. My work is usually quite heavily visual rather than being poetry, which I am interested in and do want to incorporate somehow. Especially my work around travel, has been quite centred around this idea of making artwork that doesn’t require some kind of linguistic equivalent. You don’t need to understand what I’m saying, you just need to see what I’m doing and it’s nice to create some kind of communication through that.
K: Some really valid and really interesting points there. I think especially with what you said earlier about the spaces we live in becoming more multi-cultural - we should be making spaces that little bit more accessible whether that crosses language barriers, or ability, or racial and cultural. We should really be thinking about that.
C: Yeah, I think as well that there is some responsibility to me as an artist, especially when making artwork about places that I’ve travelled to, culturally and racial there’s some responsibility in when I’m making to be aware of the fact that what I have is only a very small experience of a vastly complex place, with vastly complex people, and language, culture and religion. So it’s always worth mentioning that my experience of a place was that slice of time that I was there.
K: Travel has obviously played a big part in your work, is there anywhere that you’d like to travel to for research specifically?
C: Ooh, these are questions I ask myself this all the time and it just kind of becomes a game of anytime I watch a documentary about a place, I’m like “there, there! Immediately, I want to go there!”. The more I research, the more I think South America is a big interest to me, specifically Panama. I’ve also done a little bit of painting about magical realism and Columbia. I have quite a bit interest in Latin American literature around magical realism and these spaces between what is perceivably possible and a magical element of artwork. Latin America seems to be the goal at the moment but it’s quite far, quite expensive so it’s maybe a bit of a long goal. But travel is still very much in the forefront of my practice. Maybe right now it’s just about reflecting on previous travel, which is quite nice. You can’t just keep going places, you have to stew a little bit sometimes.
K: Yeah, I think having that time to reflect over the work that you made straight away and seeing it five years on, is really interesting and it can be a kind of personal reflection.
C: Yeah definitely. I always try and make something while I’m in the place that I’ve travelled to, but for the most part the stuff that I make while I’m there is just quite surface level, maybe just a few on-site drawing of things like flora, fauna, people. Not very well thought out or structured and it usually doesn’t get used for anything. The real work comes when I come home and think about it and look through the photos, draw things that I only half remember. Theres something quite nice about trying to remember something that you haven’t seen in months but it stuck out to you for some reason. Also coming home from a few different places of travel, you start making informing connections between them that you wouldn’t of seen otherwise. You have time to think about what was really special about a place and was that singular to that place, or was it singular to multiple places? It then forms this net of connections about what it is that makes travel so important. Stewing is half the battle. It’s not just going somewhere, it’s once you’ve been there, what do you do with that.
K: So we opened up questions on our Instagram story and we had a question sent through. It says “You’re use of colour is amazing! What is your thought process when putting together your colour palette?”
C: Ooh, that’s a good question. I think especially when I’m painting from memory, the colours all become more vivid than they probably ever were when I was there. I don’t know if I just naturally gravitate towards vibrancy. Colour is massively important to me and I’m subtle as a brick. I really like over doing it. I’m not a minimalist in any way. In a small way, I direct the mood of the composition, or I let where I was at the time dictate the colour palette. So things are never really the colour that they were. You’re not going to have slightly blue sky, it’s going to be dark, bright purply-blue, in a way that it never could have been, but maybe that day it just felt a bit more magic than what it was. I’m just trying to bring in how I was feeling that day. I think as well, I was really lucky that they focus quite heavily on colour theory. So that really helped me understand the fundamental building blocks of how colour works. I might be seen as quite an antiquated way of learning art but I think it really benefited me to know how it works in its’ most basic sense. Sometimes you need to know the rules before you can break them,. If you just break them all the time and in every way, it can become a bit of a mish-mash and you loose your path a bit. The way I choose colour is based on quite an emotional reaction to place but, that too comes with a real amount of time dedicated to understanding colour. Theres good books on that. Joesph Albers has some really great books on colour theory.
Big thanks to Claire for chatting with me, and big thanks to you for reading!