A friend described Clare Price’s paintings to me by saying “they look like they’ve been made by Courtney Love”. I got it straight away – baby-doll dress, smudged liptstick, messed up hair. . . it looks thrown together and incidental but is consciously packaged as a style. When I saw Price’s paintings in the flesh, that’s exactly what they were like – a blend of computer generated image and something handmade, realised in a well-matched pick-and-mix of abstract painting styles and techniques.
When I arrive at Price’s studio I can tell she’s really tidied up. “I’m not used to visitors,” she explains. I instantly like the vibe I get from Clare; she is very confident but without a massive ego. It’s as if she knows what she’s making is good but she doesn’t try to talk it up into some kind of theoretical spider web. I walk around looking for signs of activity and clues as to how her work gets from computer screen to finished canvas. There is one small area of jars and brushes and there are drips all over the floor; otherwise everything is neatly placed and the space filled with finished work or skeleton stretchers.
I find Price’s paintings incredibly seductive — layers of colours feed in and out of carefully drawn doodles, effortlessly pairing strong gestural brushwork with precise colouring in. When I look at them, I feel like I’m getting all the aesthetic plus points of abstraction but without having to care about the intellectual purity of that.
To make her work, Price uses a dated computer programme called Claris Works and roughs out an image from diagonal lines and random squiggles. These are then printed on acetate and projected onto canvas, and become the structure for the final painting. Price, like many formalists, follows a set of applied rules. The final painting hardly veers from the original grid, despite being worked into with a variety of mediums from Japanese acrylic and aerosol paint to Hammerite and garage door paint. The rudimentary nature of the computer programme gives the drawings a pixellated effect which, when meticulously transcribed on to the canvas, adds a nostalgic ’80s feel, whereas her palette actually seems very current: black-and-white, dayglo-and-silver — colours that feel fashionable and are applied (like Courtney Love’s make up), in intentionally messy ways.
Before going to her studio, I checked out Price’s work in a couple of trendy current shows and thought it had the freshness of a recent graduate. So I was surprised to learn that she has only recently returned to painting after a ten-year break. Price graduated from Central St Martin’s back in the early ’90s. She explains that she found the teaching limiting and old fashioned and didn’t enjoy her time there, other than a three month (extended to one year) exchange trip to the Hochshule der Kunst in Berlin where she felt that artists and art were more respected:
“I went to Berlin in my second year and when I came back to London I realised how much the culture in Berlin valued art in comparison to the British system. They offer a six-year course which is very serious. When I came back to St Martins I felt a lot of my contemporaries didn’t get me and what I was doing and I became disenfranchised with the painting thing and thought… I can’t do that right now.”
With a positive time in Berlin under her belt and back on home turf, she turned her attention to a more graphic approach, abandoning traditional painting methods in favour of computer drawing and animation. When her degree show caught the attention of design collective Tomato, she received an endorsement that convinced her she was moving in the right direction. Tomato, under the leadership of Graham Wood, bought a number of Price’s typographic drawings and paintings and fitted them together in a video for Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’, the radio-friendly Trainspotting anthem. If that wasn’t enough, she was then approached by a scout from MTV to use their studio facilities to explore ways of turning her work into graphic fine art. She quickly became successful and adept in animation, directing and making title sequences.
It feels almost too obvious, but I ask: why would she give up a successfully established creative career like this to go back to painting?
“People think I’m absolutely mad. My contemporaries in that field want to make feature films or get into advertising… but I never truly felt like it was my medium. It has taken a bit of bravery but I’ve also been lucky because things have started to happen. I feel like the art scene is so broad now there is room for anything. Coming back into showing work I’ve got a different take on things because I’ve got a different way to make sense of it.”
This goes some way to explaining the coloured-in pixels. Price still harbours a love of the digital aesthetic while craving the satisfaction of a handmade interpretation. Maybe it’s these divided reference points that make her work exciting. Not only does she borrow from favourite artists such as De Kooning, Georg Baselitz, Peter Lanyon, Christopher Wool and Albert Oehlen, but she also has a solid reference available to her from her graphic design background: she cites Peter Saville as one of her greatest influences. Price’s work demonstrates both these influences and shows her attempt to fit them together — almost as if she is playfully trying to fuse the coldness of formal painting and the mechanical nature of a digital aesthetic.
It’s no surprise that Price’s paintings feel very controlled; she herself admits “I am an obsessive person!” I can see a lot of constrained emotion in her work, but it’s like a double bluff— and that is what I find engaging; that this artist can take an expressive gesture, rein it in, and apply it in an unsentimental way while still revealing a genuine energy and spontaneity.
Price tells me: “I’m a huge fan of 1950’s British abstract painting, but I don’t feel like I’m making a serious comment on that.” This makes sense. Price’s work doesn’t feel like an earnest homage to that kind of art; it feel completely current. Add this to a number of ambitious curatorial projects, like her recent Blitzkrieg Bop – a major self-funded show which included work by Ian Davenport and Gillian Ayers — and it’s clear that she’s aiming for the complete package. It’s exactly what an artist should want: to make and show work that is as clearly defined as possible, in as interesting a way as possible. She’s surely right — if you’re going to jack in a successful career to kickstart your artistic profile, why not do it in the most ambitious way?
While I’m at her studio she quizzes me on the idea of a show about female sexuality. Listening to what she has to say, and her choice of artists Liz Neal, Rebecca Warren et al, I support the idea and am impressed with her enthusiasm. Still, I’m thinking… Price already has a lot on her plate. She’s juggling her paid work and her studio time (not to mention a young family). She’s finally getting some serious attention, so I wonder why she would embark on another curatorial project at this time. She’s not interested in being a curator over being an artist, so why create more work for herself? For Price, curating shows is tied into working out what the context is for her work and what she wants to say about it within that. And, it defines her from lots of other artists without her ambition. So of course, it makes total sense to keep going while she has the ideas and the incentive. Her attitude is, if you can get the space and enough funding — why not do it?
I’m already looking forward to seeing the show.
Gemma De Cruz