I has the honour to ask artist Clare Trevens about her highly intriguing work!
Check out the interview below!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became an artist? What inspires you to create?
I’ve been attracted to art and creation since I was a child, as I think most artists have. I was lucky to experiment painting as an early age, to be able to discover so young how pleasant it was. Nowadays I’m inspired by many, many painters, whether they’re contemporary or artists from the Renaissance, from masters of chiaroscuro to abstract portraitists. Seeing their work is a true motivation to paint.
2. Did you study art or are you self taught? What are your thoughts on art education, and what kind of skills do people need to be a good artist?
After some long time of painful indecision, I finally chose not to go to art school and to study English instead – another thing I loved – which I did for five years. After two years of working as a teacher, I finally quit my job and started to paint professionally. I did attend a masterclass with painter Henrik Aa. Uldalen but globally I could say I’m self-taught. I don’t know about art education, I think students can get valuable and precious knowledge out of this, especially if they have a good teacher, but to me some of the art schools tend to be more and more about conceptual art and performances. This can be interesting, but in the long run it’s a shame to let aside traditional arts such as sculpture and painting. Anyway, talent alone is not enough. Work is essential, as much as nourishing it with inspirations all around you. Having your own style is important, but you can’t build it if you don’t get inspired by others first. That’s why these two components – producing and receiving – are equally important. It’s important to have faith and passion in what you do. I’m only starting painting as a career though, so it can seem a bit premature to start giving advice-with-a-wise-vibe about it.
3.What is the most challenging aspect of being an artist, and is there anything you don’t like about it?
Achieving a painting is a long run process. It takes time, dedication and a lot of patience. I get excited when I start a new canvas, but as soon as the enthusiasm fades away, it’s very difficult to find the energy to develop the painting as a new idea appears… It’s about long hours of being totally focused on what you do: keeping your goal in mind can be very challenging and exhausting.
4. We currently live in a society that is oversaturated with imagery. How do you think visual overload affects the way that people view and react to art?
Art is more accessible to people, which is a good thing. There are many social media which encourage artistic display, and they allow anyone to show their work. The downside of this situation is that there’s an endless flow of artworks, as people – including me – tend to follow many artists: we don’t have time to really look at them anymore, there are so many of them. Now and then something special will catch our attention for more than one second, but it’ll never be as good as seeing them in real life. So many people are talented and it’s a shame that their artworks don’t get the attention they deserve.
Is art still considered important, and do you think people still value the time and effort it takes to create something?
I think people still value art. A really good artwork often gets a lot of response. Paradoxically, in this society which values productivity and effectiveness, the fact of being able to spend so much time on a painting, a sculpture, etc. is seen as something very positive.
5. Your work is extremely fascinating. The way that you paint portraits in dim, almost low light settings, really gives your work a disquieting and mysterious vibe. Also, the way you paint the backgrounds dark reminds me a lot of the work of Caravaggio, and the old masters, where what you can’t see is just as important than what you can see.
Is the idea of dark and mysterious imagery an intentional style that you have included in your work and, even though it’s not as dark as it could be, do you ever think that people might be turned off by such imagery?
Additionally, how do you know where to draw the line between creating work that is attention grabbing and deep, whilst trying not to be cliched or just be created purely for shock value?
Wow, this is a deep analysis! Yes, Caravaggio’s work is truly inspirational to me as it’s both so subtle and powerful… There’s so much to learn from his work and the old masters’. I wouldn’t say mysterious imagery in my work is intentional though. I just find this dim atmosphere fascinating and beautiful. After all, mystery is part of beauty. However I don’t have any agenda when I start a new painting. I don’t think “I want this to be shocking”. I just paint something because the model inspires me in the first place. And if after people are showing any type of emotion, it means the painting is a good one. The key not to be attention-grabbing is to remain authentic and honest during the whole process of creation.
Some people are turned off by what I do. It’s strangely satisfactory to see your work stirring such strong emotions, even those generally considered as negative ones.
6. Another theme that I personally see in your work is that of the destruction. or the disintegration, of identity. You have painted an extremely captivating image of a portrait that looks as though it is being reflected through a series of shattered glass panels. Could you talk a little bit about this image, the idea behind it, how it explores the themes you are interested in?
Although painting realistic portraits is difficult, I find abstraction and expressionism even more challenging to achieve. They’re more likely to stir emotions, because it’s about seeing beyond reality. The shattered portrait is an example of combining realism and abstraction: I cut the canvas and I discovered it had gained more strength once it was fragmented. It was an interesting experiment since it changes the way we look at the face. As you say, it’s like a reflection, both confusing and satisfying. Some of my favourite contemporary portraitists tend to blend figurative and abstraction, and the result is powerful and vibrant. Identity is ever-changing, and this combined technique is a good way of displaying the unsettled human nature.
7. I’m also really drawn to your portraits that are either upside down, or are fragmented features backed onto a Rorschach test like backgrounds. By creating portraits that subvert the standard top to bottom view, how do you think that this work is read, and what do you think this element of unexpected perspective adds to the images?
I like the way upside-down portraits look like: they’re falling, drifting away. They have a sense of abandonment, as if they had decided to surrender. Most of them have their eyes closed, and I wanted to emphasize the strange appeasement that comes with letting things go.
8. Your series, Dandy Puppets, is extremely intriguing series depicting people dangling from thin red threads and in your bio, you state that the series “questions our own relationship with freedom; to what extent can we master our own fate?”. Can you talk a little bit about this series and this concept of freedom that surrounds it? Why did you decide to depict this theme in this particular way and what are you thoughts on the ideals of freedom in our current age? Why is this topic important for you to discuss and what do you hope that viewers will get from this body of work?
It was a pleasure to see the Dandy Puppets series displayed during an exhibition, so I had the occasion to see people’s reactions and to speak to them about it. Some of them were appalled by the dark atmosphere, and some were intrigued about the theme, underlining the lack of freedom that transpired through the paintings. This notion of freedom is so important, especially during these times when people fight so hard to keep it. It can be viewed as a more intimate struggle too, where we try to get rid of our fears that prevent us from moving on. There’s something hopeless about the way I represented the characters of this series, yet I decided to include a puppet trying to cut their threads, and another one fleeing away, free at last.
9. I’m very interested in the way that your characters interact with the viewer. Most them are rather passive, opting not to look at the viewer and allowing us to study them and their situation. How much consideration do you put into the gaze of your characters and the dynamic between the viewer and the subject whilst you are creating an image?
So much emotion can be expressed through the eyes, and painting them is my favourite part. When the characters don’t stare directly at the viewer, it’s easier to look freely (and maybe feel like a voyeur). But when the characters’ eyes meet the viewer’s, there’s no escape: you have to maintain eye contact. This is another experience, equally interesting.
10. Can you talk a bit about your creative process when creating an image? How much research do you initially do, and how do you know when an idea is good enough to be translated into a painting?
Also, how long does it take to complete a painting and how do you know when it’s finished?
Usually I work from photos, I try to see which ones have the kind of atmosphere I want to create. I often take a series of photographs with different perspectives, poses, facial expressions… Once I have enough images I go through all of them and I decide which ones I want to exploit, because of a special light, a shadow on a face, a spark in the eyes…
The time to complete a painting can vary from a few days to a whole month. Once again, it’s way more comfortable for me not to spend too much time on a piece, because my energy doesn’t have time to fade away. Once I decide that a painting is finished – when I’m happy with the result and I don’t know how to push it any further – it’s very difficult to work on it again afterwards.
11. Being an artist and creating art can often be a very personal pursuit, in which people may or may not understand your intentions for creating the type of work you create. Do you find being artist to be isolating or liberating, and what do you think your work says about you as a person?
Being an artist is both isolating, because you spend so much time working alone, and liberating as you can do whatever you want, creatively and personally speaking. There can be a split between what you create and who you are. In public I can appear as social and easy-going, so people who don’t know me well are surprised of the darkness which transpire through my paintings. I think all artists are showing their true self in their work, at least those who are real in what they do. However I’m not sure how I appear as a person through my work, I don’t have enough judgement nor experience yet.
12. Social Media has completely revolutionised the way that we view and interact with art, and by allowing ourselves to share our work openly, we have the potential for a plethora of global opportunities.
What are your thoughts on social media and how has it impacted your practice? Is it something you enjoy using and does it affect the way that you create you work?
Additionally, does posting work online lessen it’s impact?
Yes, the image of a painting, sculpture, etc. diminishes the impact because it’ll never be as good as the original one. Social media is a great way to share your work and see what the others are doing, but it’s easy to get obsessed with the “likes” when you post an image. Maybe it’s better to show less, but more achieved artworks. I try to live by this principle, even if it can be difficult at times.
13. Would you say that you create for yourself or for others? Would you still create art if no-one was able to see it?
Additionally, do you think that a piece of art is worth making if it’s not commercial or saleable?
Yes, I would still create art since I’m doing it for myself in the first place. And if people like what I do, this is great. As I don’t have the selling abilities of some other artists, I don’t look for buyers or galleries as much as I should be doing. That’s why it’s very easy for me to answer that a piece of art is worth making, even though it’s not made to be sold.
14. As an artist, what are your thoughts on creative freedom? Do you think that we live in a society that allows full creative expression and how do you manage to balance creating work that is personal and interesting to you, but will also be saleable?
Additionally, have you ever had an idea for an image, but didn’t create it because of the reaction it may get?
Society has a double standards speech: it both encourages creative expression and censors women’s nipples on social media, so I guess we still have to think about what real profanity is. So far I haven’t been confronted to this kind of issue since I’m mostly interested in relatively “harmless” subjects.
15. How often do you think about the audience when you create work and does knowing that your work will be viewed mostly online affect the way that you create it?
Also, does having an audience that views your work regularly put any pressure on you to create more work and how do you try to market your work to people that will ultimately buy it?
This is one problem of Instagram (among other social media): keeping posting stuff, even if you don’t have nothing new to show, so that you won’t lose followers or visibility. This can be hard to manage, so it’s important not to make a big deal of the number of people following your art page. I try not to be too concerned about it, and just keep doing what I do. I have a website, but most of the sales happened during exhibitions or collective shows.
16. What do you think it means to be a successful artist and how do you measure the success of an image? Has your idea of success changed as your career has progressed?
This is so hard to answer this! I guess you’re financially successful when you start living on what you do. But there are so many other parameters, such as recognition or visibility. I’m not looking for success at the moment, that’d be way too premature, I’m rather trying to improve my painting techniques. And for the rest, we’ll see.
17. In your opinion, what makes a good piece of art? What was the last image, or piece of media that really impacted you and what was it about it that left such an impression on you?
Art should definitely have beauty and power or depth in it, in a broad sense of course. As soon as an artwork stirs any type of emotion, it’s likely to be a good one. There are so many paintings that left me with this impression, for instance Jenny Saville’s portraits. They are so vivid, provocative and beautiful at the same time.
18. In this current society, what do you think the role of the artist is and can anyone be an artist?
Nothing would be the same without art (whether it’s music, visual art)… Art challenges our vision of the world, and that’s why it’s so important. I honestly don’t know if everyone can be an artist. But everyone should try to do art.
19. We all know that one of the best, and worse things about art is the subjectivity it allows. What are your thoughts about this and do you like the fact that people may or may not understand your work, especially if they see it out of context?
As you’re saying, subjectivity is part of every form of art. Art is mostly about emotions, and it’s very easy to see it out of context. The artist’s speech may bring a light on their intentions, and thus help the others understand their vision. I’m not too worried about my own work, since they’re mostly specific, unique portraits. They can be considered individually.
20. Do you have a question you’d like me to ask the next artist I interview?
When was the time you understood you wanted to become an artist?
21. What are you currently working on where can people find more about you and your work?
I’m currently painting studies on linen paper. They’re visible on my website:
www.claretrevens.com or my Instagram/Facebook page, along other selected paintings.