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Wilde Essex Exhibition - 'In Conversation'

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

Mary in conversation with Clare Wilde

Clare's exhibition 'Wilde Essex' runs from the 8th October to 7th November 2021 at Wonky Wheel Gallery. All of Clare's artwork will be available to purchase online and in the gallery.

Q. Can you tell me a little about yourself and how your art career started?

I was working with horses to support myself as I researched my PhD when I met a South African artist, Cherie Roe-Dirksen, who was living here at the time. We were friends from the first moment. I so envied her working life, making beautiful things to sell, while I was mucking out stables in the dark, rain and cold! I wasn’t painting at all at the time, all my creativity was going into my academic research and writing. I really needed an outlet and she made me realise how much I missed painting. Something about what she was doing spoke to something in me. When she left to go home to SA, she gave me all her supplies and said, ‘just go home and paint!’ I did, and have never stopped.

Q. How long have you been painting? All my life, with occasional breaks due to other things in life taking over and me mistakenly thinking they were more important.

Q. Did you always want to be an artist? I don’t believe that being an artist is really a choice. It’s just who you are. Thinking back, when I was I think about 4, I was given a ‘How to Draw Horses’ book for a birthday or Christmas present. I had already been covering everything I could in pictures and using every pen and pencil in the place. All I usually wanted for presents were sketch books and paper, pens and pencils and paint. I think the horse book was also because I really wanted to be either a) Black Beauty (the horse, not the girl who rode him), or if I had to be a person, then, b) a cowboy. The idea of painting and making pictures was the next best thing and meant I didn’t have to actually be a) a horse or b) an American man who spent his life in pointy boots and a neckerchief.

Q. What do you personally find the most challenging thing about being an artist?

- Time. There is never, ever enough time. I am always conflicted; some days I want to do nothing at all but paint, and having to do anything else, even something I dearly love like walking my dogs or looking after my horses, gets in the way. Physically I can find it hard work, too, I get pain in my hands, neck and back from working too long and sometimes just have to stop. I can’t believe how fast the time passes and how long it takes me to make what I want to make, I will never manage to make it all! - Materials. I can’t bear running out of anything. I have a pencil addiction and often fill up my online shopping baskets with hundreds of pencils and other materials I can’t afford to buy, only to have to take them all out again when I need to buy one essential item. Suppliers not having or running out of what I need, especially since Covid, which has disrupted supply chains, makes me really upset. Not having materials is the artists’s equivalent of being hungry or cold or thirsty, it’s horrible. - PR. Like many creatives, I am rubbish at my own PR, and resent having to spend any time actually trying to sell what I make, because it eats into time that I could spend making something else! I am not fond of social media at all, but it does the job.

Q. What medium do you work with?

Everything I can get my hands on. Ochres – basically muds – of various colours and hues, from the local area, and from the 7,000 year old ochre mines at Clearwell Caves. Dug chalks, charcoals, walnut and oak gall inks, ground rocks and powdered metals. Anything dug from the ground, made from a tree or plant, and I’m happy. I also use a vast array of inks and pencils (not much makes me happier than a pencil), soft pastels, some acrylics, hand-made oil sticks, you name it, really. I’ve used wood shavings from my fiddle, sand from a beach, mud from my allotment. Almost everything is vegetarian and/or vegan and as sustainably sourced as possible. I’d draw with a rock if it did something I liked. Actually I have done some scratching with flint, now I come to think of it...

Q. What is it about these mediums that particularly attracts you to use this method of art?

I like using the earth to paint the earth, trees (charcoal and wooden pencils) to make trees, rainwater to make clouds. It makes most sense to me and gives the most natural effect. Touching a bit of earth while I paint the earth, it’s alchemical.

Q. Can you describe how do you go from your initial idea (and how does that come to you) through to the end result?

With my landscape work, I don’t really feel these pieces as ideas. They’re moments I experience, and am astounded by their peace and beauty, like a rainy sky, or completely awe-struck by their power, like a storm. I feel the atmosphere of the moment so strongly I need to paint it just to be able to cope with the strength of the feeling. Sometimes I think, other people would like to see/feel this too, sometimes I think, I wish people would notice this instead of looking at a bloody screen or just rushing past without noticing. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with sadness at the sense of loss of our landscape and how very little anyone seems to care. When I sit down to work I have an initial sense of colour, volume and proportion – and whether I want to work flat or aim for a different perspective – and I just sit and work feeling the feeling I felt at the time, until it starts to come through into the piece. Sometimes it’s quite a struggle. Other times, if I have a long enough stretch to work undisturbed, it will come gradually but steadily and then at some point when I stand back, it’s there.

Q. Are there any little tips or tricks you’ve learned over the years, that would help or inspire budding artists?

Completely ignore anyone who tells you to get a proper job! It will only make you miserable and sick. It’s a much healthier way of life all around to be poor and do what you need to do, rather than stuck in a job you hate and dam up all your creativity. I don’t believe that genuinely, being an artist is a choice. If it is a choice for you, you could probably do something else less difficult. If an artist is just who are what you seem to be, then you have to work hard, really, really hard, be very dedicated through complete misery and isolation at times, when nobody cares about what you’re doing, and just keep working. Being an srtist is not fun, easy or simple. It’s HARD. Learn what’s inside you, what wants to come through you, and find ways to express it. Life is very short. Time wasted doing something else, trying to be something else, is a loss. Always do anything you can to have a big supply of materials, it makes you feel safer and means you don’t get stopped in the middle of something that’s coming through. For me personally, I literally am my work – so I never, ever stop working. It’s not part-time!

Q. Tell us about your workspace – what do you like about it?

I work on the landing. We have a one-bedroom house, and I work on the bit of floor between the bedroom door and the stairs. I love the floorboards, they are ancient, and the feel of my bare feet on them always makes me happy. Most of the floor is taken up by Brock, my lurcher’s, huge bed, having him with me helps me work. I love being surrounded by all my materials and clutter. I like my stool, which was made for me, and has made working life much more comfortable. My paints are in a little old tool chest I got for £5 on Saffron Walden market and it has a magical smell of some old man’s shed, I love that, too. My pots of pigment are on a shelf my husband Shaun made me so I can see them all at once. It’s really near the biscuit tin, my chocolate library, the fridge, and the kettle. (It’s MUCH too small).

Q. Do you listen to music /radio, if so what kind of music?

I listen to spoken word radio; as a musician, I can find music too distracting. If I do listen to music I listen to old punk, the Clash, Levellers, New Model Army, Tom Waits, Julian Cope, old dub and reggae, 1950’s soul, and some traditional Irish, Scottish and English fiddle music; but that is all pretty rare. If I have to learn a tune, I will have it playing in the background, and it goes in, so I don’t really have to practise it. Most of the spoken word radio I listen to is either vintage 1950’s American radio, mainly mystery and thrillers, psychological stuff, and I love all the adverts where doctors recommend certain brands of cigarette because they’re good for your lungs! I love old stories from the times where there were all kinds of mysteries in the world. I listen to a lot of spooky stuff; Edgar Allen Poe, Algernon Blackwood, M.R James, E.F Benson, anything really atmospheric.

Q. Do you listen to podcast, if so, what is your favourite one at present?

I listen to a guy called Tony Walker who reads ghost stories, old and new, he always talks a lot about the writers and their lives afterwards and I’m fascinated to hear about their lives and the processes behind their writing. I think it’s called the Classic Ghost Stories Podcast. The interviews with writers make me think about writing more, I had a previous life before art as a writer and I often think about doing more now. My narrative and still life work is very story-based, stories appear in my head as often as paintings do, so if I can ever stop the red-shoes-type compulsion to paint for long enough to write again, I will see what happens. Q. What is the highlight of your career so far, or your proudest moment?

Every time someone comes to buy a piece and tells me how happy it makes them or what it makes them feel, I am totally humbled and thrilled. It’s a feeling like nothing else - that something which came from inside me, a response I felt, and travelled onto a surface through my hands and eyes, makes someone else feel something, too. If I put something up for sale and it goes within a couple of hours, I’m always overwhelmed. Not proud, but my happiest moment was probably selling my first piece way back when I first used to sell on ebay – and also making the paintings which I swapped with Luthier Rod Ward for my fiddle, Chanter. In a pub at a music session once Rod offered to make me a fiddle in return for a painting of his house; I could never have dreamed of having a fiddle made just for me, otherwise; and Chanter has a very, very special magic which affects people when I play him.

Q Who is your favourite artist, and why?

Rothko, Bowling for abstracts; Hodgkin, Turner, for landscapes; Josef Mangold, Coorte, Sanchez-Cotan and Van der Ast (along with many Dutch medieval still life masters) for still life; Rembrandt’s tiny precise pencil drawings, and Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Julie Speed for surrealist/detailed work, also Leonor Fini’s Little Hermit Sphnix.

Q. Which artists are you most influenced by?

I try really hard not to be influenced by anyone, and if I said any of those greats had influenced what I do, it would just sound rude. So myself, really.

Q. If you could choose any artist to do your portrait, who would it be and what instructions would you give them? Julie Speed. I’d ask for my third eye (she often does 3) to be a really bright sparkly turquoise right in the middle of my forehead, and if I could have green-blue skin and turquoise, violet and silver anti-gravity hair as in Dorothea Tanning’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Honestly I’d rather have a picture of my dog or horse, though, than anything with my face on it. Perhaps she could paint the back of my head. If Rothko was alive I’d have him do it and hope it was green and blue and silver and turquoise and violet, just a big colour field. Hm, I might try my own version of that and call it a self-portrait.

Q. Which one is your favourite piece in your collection the is coming into Wonky Wheel Gallery, as part of the “Wilde Essex” Exhibition?

Probably Untitled 15. Or is it 14. Or 21. Or 27. Hm. Probably 15. I think. Probably.

Q. Can you describe your collection coming into Wonky Wheel to someone that has never seen your artwork before?

That’s probably the most difficult thing you can ask someone who has very little perspective on their own work. I’ll try. This is a collection of small English landscape pieces (and a couple of still lifes) which may at first appear quite peaceful and plain, but on closer attention are full of detail, light and colour. I am very much a colourist and concerned with light. My working marks are often still visible and the surfaces are disrupted, to call for closer attention and a focus on the atmosphere conveyed by the work. I hope that they continue to convey the dreamlike atmosphere my work is known for, and give the viewer a sense of the feeling I had during my original experience. These pieces are often described as meditative, atmospheric and as providing a conversation piece where viewers find their own memories and feelings evoked in response to the work. Does that do it? I don’t know.

Q. I would like you to write a short note to your younger self about your art career, (your journey, how it started, what you have learned along the way, and if anything, what you would do differently)

DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR PARENTS. Or, in fact, to anyone else who tells you that art is not a proper job, and to go and work in a office where your soul will be crushed and your body and brain will start to rebel. Life is not about having a proper job, life is about feeling every moment you possibly can and living it. Learn this early on: being creative is not a choice, certainly not for you, whether that is through art, or music, or writing. Honour your creativity; never, ever, try to avoid it or squash it. Find out who you are, and what you need to do, and live that life, in absolute dedication and to the exclusion of all other social and material distractions or pressures, because every moment is slipping through your fingers like sand in an hour-glass. Do not ever try to fit in! That way lies ruin. Accept that you will have to make massive sacrifices, live a very lonely life, have very few friends, not be able to do what other people do, will never be understood by anyone except your animals and your dear husband, and that you will never be like other people because you feel the world around you, the sky, the land, the weather, so very strongly. It’s tough, but that’s how it is. Be out in the elements as much as you can, and when you get overwhelmed by it all, go indoors and just paint. Being who you are and how you are is enough. The sooner you accept that and forget about it, the easier life will be, and the less energy you will waste wondering why you can’t be like other people. You seem to be an artist. Just be that. Try, try really hard, to be brave enough to get your work out there, because people love it and want to see it. Be brave, keep going, stop trying to run away from it and stop trying to find an easier way. There is no easier way. There’s only one way of life, and that’s your own.

Author: Wonky Wheel & Artist Clare Wilde

Last updated : 9th October 2021

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