Clare and I first met at the Derby Print open in May this year. When I entered the front room at Banks Mills Studios together with the rest of my family, it was she who greeted us, made us feel welcome, and helped us around.
Her work is as inviting as she is, her prints burst with colour and action. They show women jumping, falling and dancing. At first glance I took them for line etchings or lithography because they had this hand-sketched feel and look. When I asked, she was more than happy to explain her process, and it turned out I was looking at photo-exposed screen prints.
Once I got aware of her work, I saw her prints everywhere in Nottingham. It didn’t take long for me to ask her for an interview and for her to say “yes”. We decided to meet at Green Door Printmaking Studio an open access print studio where she is a member. When I arrived she was busy hanging her prints for an upcoming exhibition.
Hilke: Hello Clare, thank you for taking your time to meet me again, and for being open to my questions!
Clare: Of course! I am glad you came.
Hilke: Do you exclusively work here or do you also have studio space somewhere else?
Clare: I feel so lucky to have my own little space at home, hidden away in the attic – even if I can only stand up in the middle of it. [laughs] That’s where on Sundays I draw, develop colour ideas and prepare acetates ready to expose my screens. On Mondays I then come to Green door studio here at Banks Mills and print. The rest of the week I am dedicated to being a teacher at a secondary school in Nottingham.
Hilke: [looking around at the prints Clare is hanging] Preparing for this interview, I of course read what you write about yourself and your art on your website. I can indeed spot circles in almost every one of your prints. – You mention that they are related to your medical history. Can you tell me more about that?
Clare: I first introduced them when I wanted to illustrate the bubble you can feel like you are in when you are seriously ill. You can become quite locked out when people feel they don’t want to bother you with their worries.
I used circles to separate the main subject from the rest of the image. It [the circle] is also about protection, and growth.
Hilke: May I ask what kind of diagnosis you had? – And are you alright now?
Clare: Yes. I had non-hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I am very open about it and now volunteer for Lymphoma action which is a charity that really helped me through. I had a donor stem cell transplant two years ago after getting into remission through a regime of intensive chemotherapy. The transplant is to give me the best chance of staying disease free. It is amazing that this kind of treatment is possible, and I am so thankful that my donor joined the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register. It really has given me a restart. For two years now I have been cancer free.
In the process of diagnosing my Lymphoma, it also became apparent that I had a rare immune disorder called CVID.
When you have something like that from an early age, you kind of assume that it’s normal to feel so tired and have repeated infections. Now that I have treatment I feel more energetic and healthier than ever before.
Hilke: So you have done all this work in the past two years?!
Clare: One and a half years, really. [laughs] It’s maybe a bit surprising, but that’s just how I am. During treatment I only stopped my job for as briefly as possible. During chemo, I kept on working, even through the hairloss. The students were great and loved the headscarves. Working helped me to not focus solely on being ill.
But I couldn’t do art during that time.
Hilke: Was there a definite moment, some kind of trigger that got you going again after?
Clare: At some point during treatment I was forced out of school because the risk of infection was too high, and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I went to a portraiture session to draw from a sitter, and that experience changed something for me; I regained my enthusiasm for creating.
As my future started to feel more certain, I felt this was the best time to embark on a body of work to reflect on my experiences and hopefully create something positive to leave in the world – almost like a legacy.
Hilke: And you also picked up teaching again. You mentioned you are working in school right now.
Clare: Yes, I am a passionate teacher. I love my work at school!
I don’t keep a sketchbook[…], all is experimentation.
Hilke: You said you kept on working through cancer treatment. – You really must love your work. But I am curious how you do it! From talking to others I know I am not alone in feeling that planning lessons is consuming all my creative energy. And then there’s the marking and all the many small things a teacher does for their pupils… How do you cope and keep on working on your own projects?
Clare: I made the decision to work part time on my return and to reduce responsibilities in school in order to find better balance and nurture my reignited passion for creating. Being a teacher can easily be all consuming. When I am in school, I give my pupils 100% of me, and I love it. But when I am out of school, there is this switch in my head – and I am off work and can work on my art.
Hilke: Do you feel your pupils and the work in school give you something that then manifests itself in your prints?
Clare: No, not really. I think it is rather the other way around: Because I am active as an artist, I have a better feeling and understanding for what I ask of my students. They profit from my practise that way in the end.
You know, it’s a bit funny but, although I require that from my students, I don’t keep a sketchbook or something similar. I turn my sketches right into screens, use ink to paint directly and intuitively onto acetate. There’s no in between stage, all is experimentation.
So although my students have to do that to document their progress, my work gives me that understanding that free practise and experimentation is something that has to have its place, too.
We can be broken, taken apart, and then reassembled. And […] there is beauty in that.
Hilke: Let’s talk a little more about your art work again. You said your practise changed from before the diagnosis. Do you see development in your prints since?
Clare: Yes, definitely. I can see three connected series of prints. In the beginning when I picked up my work, all my figures were falling to illustrate the lack of control and uncertainty. They explode with colour as I see opportunity for growth in embracing change. Their bodies are not whole: in motion they leave fragments behind. They show how we can be broken, taken apart, and then reassembled. And that there is beauty in that. The bright colours are integral to that concept and this is where the circles started to appear.
As time went on, as I got to a better place myself and grew stronger, my figures take more active roles: they jump and leap, taking control and radiating energy.
When I had the chance to watch a circus aerial acrobat training session, I thought their bodies might appear to fall, so I could use images from that session to develop the falling series further. But I was surprised to see how comfortable they were, sitting high up on hoops, wrapped up in the silks. The photos that I took developed into my third series: You can still see the circle, in the hoops and wrapping, but these women are no longer falling.
Hilke: Can we expect something similar from your prints in the future, or do you think you’ll choose something radically different soon?
Clare: Moving forward for me is often in little steps: I keep some elements that I like and change some other factors. I think I’ll stay with the idea of portraying women in action, but I’d like to find a different kind of motion. There are some ideas floating in my mind, but all still a little vague. I am thinking of dancing maybe, and my thoughts also linger on aspects of multiple exposure photography; definitely lots of layering and hopefully a much bigger scale!
Hilke: Oooh, that sounds very interesting. I’d love to see it when you have first results! – Do you have any exhibitions planned in the near future? Or where can we see your work?
Clare: I have some work at venues in Derby such as Banks Mills, elements café and Artcore. I will also be doing a number of open studios and art trails over the autumn, and last Friday the “Loovre” opened with my work at Surface Gallery.
To keep up to date please go to my website www.curisousinkyme.com.
Hilke: Thank you so much for your time today. And good luck with your upcoming exhibition!
Clare: Thank you!
A final tip from me, the author: If you are curious about her artwork do go and have a look at her instagram feed. There she shares work in progress, quick sketches, and newly finished prints.
All images in this post have been used with kind permission of Clare Morgan.