Kelly Clare is one of the current artists in residence at Main Street Arts. She will be working out one of the studio spaces in the gallery during the months of January and February 2018. We asked Kelly a few questions about her work and studio practice.
Q: Tell us about your background
Right now I live in Benzie County, the smallest county in Michigan. It has only one full stoplight. Midwinter, there’s a frozen turkey bowling tournament on the ice, right out on the lake. I studied both creative writing and art at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where there is also a lot of ice, but more stoplights, and an incredibly generous group of faculty and students. I spent the last year there as a Post Baccalaureate Fellow managing a letterpress shop.
Q: How would you describe your work?
Most of my work pursues a longer predicament. In thinking about language, for example, I often struggle with its collective nature—how can I use “carpet” when senators are suggesting “carpet bombing”; what do I do when the thing I love is used in both impossibly kind and impossibly cruel ways, and what is my responsibility as a participant in this human project.
At the same time, words have a physical, tangible echo to them when they’re spoken, drawn, molded out of lead, poured out in pancake batter. We absorb their vibrations, eat them as crackers, rearrange them so please gets to be elapse and asleep. There’s something playful there, but also almost holy. A pile of pretzels gets to be wheat and salt—miraculously harvested, ground up, cooked in giant ovens, packaged and shipped worldwide—but at the same time spells out I was and I was / whirling feathers, either bird — / Every hunger / is first century, lines from “Keats is Coughing” by Marianne Boruch. The shape gets to be two things, many things, at once.
To my mind, a lot of my work is built on a sort of serious play. Often, even when I’m not thinking about language, about the anagram, I’m invoking that sort of endless possible undo and redo in whatever medium I’m holding onto—printmaking, the essay, installations, sculpture, fibers, drawing, the poem. And I think, as an artist, I’m still getting my legs. I hope to spend most of my life getting my hands dirty like this.
Q: What is your process for creating a work of art?
I don’t know if I have a single, stable process. I show up, I think, mostly, or I try to. Some of my work functions in response to some long, articulable thought, something I can point to and say this anchorable fact is what I’ve been circling around all this time. Some of my work, especially more recent sculptures and drawings, come from impulse. Which isn’t to say they’re not deeply grounded in experience and gathered thought, but they’re much harder to talk about. I can tell you what paint, what sweater, what piece of wood, where the dirt came from, and I could sit with you for a very long time sorting through what the piece is doing successfully or unsuccessfully. I think there is more than one way to cross a river, and sometimes you’re tunneling underneath.
Q: Who are your favorite artists and why?
The list is very long, and includes just as many writers as artists. Mary Ruefle, Eula Biss, and Marilynne Robinson have all been essential in shaping how I think of the world—there’s this thoroughness, integrity, and sometimes delight there in those essays and novels. And I have loved too many poets to name. Ralph Angel, Marianne Boruch, Heather Christle, Carl Phillips. James Tate. C.D. Wright. I feel like I’m writing a thank you note and forgetting everyone. I mean, I wouldn’t be myself without a whole summer of just reading Carole Maso. Or the time I’ve spent listening to Lorrie Moore, Don Delilo, Grace Paley. Not to mention my incredible friends and the faculty I’ve worked with.
It’s the same with artists. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Jen Bervin and Ann Hamilton’s respective bodies of work, their longer thoughts. I love Nina Katchadourian, Sarah Sze, Jessica Stockholder. I love Pedro Reyes piece, Palas por Pistolas, which I think is a brilliant instance of material transformation. The Fluxus movement and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s pad thai. Doris Salcedo, and Cathy Park Hong’s essay responding to her retrospective.
Everyone I gravitate towards thinks along different lines, but throughout there’s a longer, insistent pressure in their work, even when it’s incredibly playful. And I often think of them speaking to each other, across discipline, time, distance, movement. If you asked, I would draw you a little map.
Q: What are your goals for this residency?
I have a few threads I’ve been working on lately, playing with tactility and language, and I hope to stage an installation or two. I would like to continue my reading, drawing, and writing practices, but more than anything else I’m going to try to give myself permission to throw my efforts into serious play, into following the idea, the object, wherever it takes me. To listen in, and hard.
Q: What’s next for you?
After another summer in Northern Michigan, I hope to settle into an MFA program, fingers crossed.
Q: Where else can we find you?
Kelly is leading two workshops during her residency at Main Street Arts: paper marbling on Saturday, January 20 and Japanese stab binding on Saturday, February 17. Sign up through the online gallery shop.