Welcome to Makers, where we talk to the people behind the art and share the stories that define them.
Through a rainy window, I watch as Cathleen Clarke sets up a painting for her upcoming solo show at 625 Sutter Gallery. The rain grows louder and the people sprinting by outside seem to only have shelter in mind. They don’t notice the artist in the window, holding up the people she cares about. The Chicago native now calls San Francisco home and brings with her the experiences and the people that have shaped her life. You can see it in the paintings as the ghostly figures reveal themselves through layers of time and paint. These moments seem far removed from the circumstances of her life today but grounded in abstracted reality. They are stories about family and growing up – something we can all understand. She steps out into the rain to get a better view of the window display. When she looks at her painting she finds it looking straight back at her.
Midnight Steak: Why do you want to share your artwork with the world?
Cathleen Clarke: It’s hard to explain. I’m not trying to change the world or anything, but I feel like I have something to say, something to show. I’ve never felt well understood, but my paintings enable me to express myself more. I’ve always been attracted to melancholy and the darker side of life. These are the emotions that we all have. I want to be able to share what I really feel through my artwork and I hope that as people see it they will understand it or interpret it in their own ways. It’s great when I meet people that see my work the way I do.
MS: Why did you choose to move to San Francisco and how did it influence your work?
CC: I don’t think I moved here for the right reasons but after moving here I realized that it was the perfect city for artists that are just beginning. The Bay Area Figurative Movement is a huge influence on my work and I wasn’t aware of it before I moved to San Francisco. It’s big enough to immerse yourself in an art community but it’s small enough for an emerging artist to feel comfortable and meet people involved in the art world. I feel like the San Francisco art scene right now is different from what I’m interested in. There’s a big emphasis on street style art. I feel like I’m doing something more old fashioned.
MS: What is the most difficult part of being an artist right now?
CC: Maybe the fact that anyone can do it now. More people are able to create art digitally and instantly upload it online to different websites. It’s a good tool but sometimes I don’t feel like keeping things updated on my website or Twitter. It’s just something that you need to use now though. It also makes it harder to get noticed because there are more people doing it now. It was also difficult for me because I moved across the country on my own without knowing anyone else. After I lost my job as a flight attendant, I had no direction. I kept going back to an idea I had when I was a kid and I wanted to be an artist but it didn’t seem realistic. Finally, I just did it and moved out to California – somewhere I’ve always wanted to live. Maybe I wasn’t prepared for the costs of the city and the thought of paying off my student loans but going to art school was a good decision. It’s difficult to go to art school and try to do shows, go to class, have a social life, buy art supplies. Sometimes you get a break and sell a painting.
MS: What would you say to someone that is still on the fence about taking that step to be an artist?
CC: I think you need to dive into it because no matter what happens you’ll be able to use the skills you gain as an artist. Having a good eye for design and composition is something you can apply to many fields. You’ll never regret doing it. Every day I think about all the things that weigh me down but I know that if I died tomorrow I would be satisfied because I’m living my dream at the moment.
MS: Where do you see yourself going from here?
CC: When I moved here I was wondering if this would be a place I would live for the rest of my life. San Francisco will always be one of my favorite, if not my favorite city to live, but I still have the urge to keep moving to new places. I’ll be content with the thought that I had the chance to live here for a few years. I think I would learn a lot from moving to bigger cities like Chicago or New York. I want to keep challenging myself and continue to meet new people that will influence me. I want to keep working on looser abstract art. When I first came here, I was mostly painting realism. It wasn’t photo-realistic, but I didn’t know enough to venture off into abstraction. After going to a traditional art school, I’ve learned a lot of fundamental skills, but I’m able to express myself better through abstraction. Art should be expressive. You need to realize that there are no rules in art.
More of Cathleen Clarke’s artwork can be found at www.cathleenclarke.com