Interview with Clara Claus

Clara Claus is a multidisciplinary artist from France, she studied Spatial Design at Duperré (Paris) and holds a BFA from The Cooper Union (NY). She has exhibited her work internationally in cities like Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Barcelona in the form of solo exhibitions and performances. She has also collaborated with musicians such as Bryce Dessner (The National), Sufjan Stevens and Joakim, and filmmakers Margarita Jimeno and Derrick Belcham.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm a french visual artist and I moved back to Paris last year after living in Brooklyn NY for many years

I'm a multidisciplinary artist and I use painting, drawing, video and sculpture, I also collaborate with musicians through creations of graphic scores and live performances. 

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Banyuls-sur-mer, a small town in the south of France near Perpignan, where the Pyrenees fall into the Mediterranean sea right by the Spanish border. Then I moved to Perpignan, a bigger town, then Montpellier, a bigger town, then Paris and then New York. I just went crescendo between 0 and 20 years old.

You lived in Brooklyn for 12 years, what made you decide to move back to Paris? 

I came back to France for a few months in 2016, and during that time I could feel that something had shifted, it became harder to justify being so far away from my family and where I come from. 

A big part of my decision comes from the inspiration that I draw from my environment. I left France for New York because I was inspired by New York, it was providing me with the mindset and tools that I needed for my artistic exploration. New York is a place where you are invited to produce, to build, to create, it's very exciting and stimulating, but the day you want to slow down and reflect, it gets harder. I felt that I needed to go back to my roots, to the source in order to recharge my inspiration and creative drive. 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in Art?

I come from an artistic family -musicians mostly- so growing up I had the encouragement from my surroundings to imagine a life guided by creativity. I started by studying design but the utilitarian aspect of the challenge was hard for me, and I soon realized I need to explore disciplines that allow me to explore more metaphysical aspects without having to compromise with utilitarian parameters. So when I moved to New York I went to the art school Cooper Union which was a really inspiring experience. New York City and Cooper Union gave me the confidence to follow an artistic path.

How would you describe your creative process?

I have diverse practices that allow me to explore different aspects of my creative impulse, but in all of them, with my drawings, my performances or my videos, I am trying to explore the invisible, what is hard to grasp, and that can be revealed by a gesture, an action, a mark. As an example of my exploration of the invisible; I have a brother who died a long time ago, and at some point in my work I was examining how he continues to exist. Not as a ghost in the way our collective imaginary sees it, but more in the way his invisible presence animates me, or things around me, the rituals we create to compensate his physical presence, the energy we deploy to remember and keep life flowing. Artmaking processes like painting can help to grasp what this intangible and invisible subjects “look like”, not through the objects that we keep (like photographs or objects triggering our memory) but more as a figure on itself.

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual?

Yes very much, and I became aware of this when I moved to New York; the contrast made me realized how much we are shaped by our environment. My experience is shaped by various sizes of cities; a small town in my early years, a bigger town in my teens, then Paris, and then New York. 

Now that I'm back in Paris I travel between Paris and the south of France, I have a studio in both places, and I there are things that I can't do in Paris but I can do in Banyuls. For example I've been using fire in my work lately, and it's complicated to make fires in Paris, but in Banyuls I have the appropriate space for it. What my surrounding allows me to do shapes my practice. For example in the last months in New York I didn't have a studio anymore and I was doing mostly small drawings, I made a sort of travel kit and I could draw from anywhere, but it was all small scale. Now that I have two good sizes studios I can tell that my work and my thought process is affected by the space in which I can experiment. 

Also since I came back to France my creative mechanisms are different and I'm taking some time to adjust. It's destabilizing but also great because it's the way to a new phase, a new skin, a new direction, new perspectives. I can feel that the transition to the next layer is tedious but it's exciting, trying to dive deeper to reach a deeper meaning.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Paris? 

I've been back for more than a year and during the first few months I was calling this period my honeymoon phase. The excitement to be back, to be welcomed back, to reconnect with an ancient self, friends from a previous life, childhood memories etc... I was enjoying being back as if I had not had water for a long time and finally found a fountain to drink. And slowly the honeymoon phase faded away, and I had to start projecting long term. The few years before I moved back to Paris I've been used to being in constant movement, following what comes my way, I travelled a lot, I was always coming back to New York but never staying long enough to really plant roots. Now I want to be in one place and stay, make it home. And what it requires is daunting, because I'm not used to it, it's a deep adjustment, but also very exciting and exactly what I want. 

For me New York was a city of action; my artistic gestures were what would give value to my work, more than what I have to say about it. I learned to take leaps of faith, and to trust my intuition to take action, a project becomes solid by making it. In France intuition is important but a project becomes solid in its idea, the making comes only when the idea went far enough in the thought process. New York was perfect for disinhibiting me and gave me the confidence I needed. Now That I'm back I'm quite intimidated by the need to justify a deeper meaning. But I think it's exactly what I need in my work right now.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in Paris?

Yes Paris is pretty good for artists, even though like everywhere in the world things are always changing, and art and culture are always in danger. I am still understanding how it works because France is much more bureaucratic and I'm not used to it, but I am convinced that it's important to take the time to understand how the system works because it's built to support me and in order to get the best help I have to study how it works, even though I'm not very comfortable with administrative stuff. 

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

Yes absolutely. By providing spaces – mental and physical – in which people can think differently, and sharpen their sense of space, community, their relationship with poetry, imagination. A city is a place where a lot of people cohabit in a small territory, there has to be a lot of rules, laws, systems, and everybody has to constantly comply to those systems. Artists have the power to imagine parallel spaces – again mental and physical- in which another way to interact with its community and surrounding is possible. It is necessary to question what is in place in order to keep alive the people's free will in a restricted place like a city. 

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

I had an uncanny experience in June, I was invited by a residency program to spend 48 hours in the basement of a fortress in the south of France, without a watch, my phone and any daylight. I was invited to create something out of this experience, and I will have an exhibition in the FILAF Gallery in Perpignan in the fall.

I'm very excited to participate in Fey Arts for the weekend of September 20-22, a multidisciplinary arts festival, in a beautiful castle in Burgundy. My project is inspired by the tradition of Ex-Votos, and I'm presenting a performance during which I will be painting on little pieces of wood, leftovers from a lumber yard, and I will invite people to pick one and write a message on the back, a secret, a wish, a memory, each piece will be disposed on a pile. On the last evening we will burn the pile of messages.

And next year I have been invited for a residency with the Rivesaltes Memorial Camp, a museum in the south of France honouring the memory of Spanish refugees, Jewish refugees, gypsies and Harkis in an internment camp. I'm very honoured to be invited to reflect on these multiple tragedies of our history through my work.

If you could add or change something about Paris, what would that be?

Honestly nothing right now. Not that Paris is perfect, and I wouldn't want Paris to be perfect, but right now I'm just enjoying the challenge to adjust. And in terms of quality of life, it feels better than New York so far, the subway system is better, it's smaller so everything is easier to access, I'm surrounded by amazing people, I feel artistically challenged in the right way, the paste allows me to reflect more and reach a deeper meaning for things in general. It wouldn't be fair of me to look for something to change when so far Paris has just given me so much to help me feel at home, and where I need to be right now. 

Describe the perfect day for you in Paris.

A full day in the studio! An exhibition, an opening, a cultural event at the end of the day to get back into the world, to see people and confront my day of work to what is happening out there.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

I have collaborated with many great artists and musicians, I've worked with my brother the cellist Gaspar Claus and my father the flamenco guitarist Pedro Soler, I also have a duo with my artist friend Melissa Godoy-Nieto with whom we do a drawing performance, we draw together for hours on each other's drawings, I collaborating with Amedeo Pace (Blond Redhead), Joakim, David Moore (Bing and Ruth) so I am lucky to have had many wishes granted already. 

What do you do to switch off?

I cook, I read, I watch movies, I get lost on the internet, I see my friends, depending on the season I go swim, I go on walks, pretty basic stuff that I'm sure lots of people can relate to. 

What Does Home Mean to You?

One major reason why I left New York was because I realized it wasn't home. It was so many other things and I loved the big adventure, the great challenge, but eventually I wanted to settle down somewhere that felt like home. I'm still trying to figure it out, but I think for now home is the place where I can plant roots, and feel nurtured. Inspiration is the main drive, if I wake up and feel that the day will be rich and exciting then I'm home. It's where I'm learning that I can stay still and be fulfilled. 

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Paris evoke a personal smell to you?

Paris is a very mineral city, it doesn't have lots of smells, like trees, or flowers, or food, or trash. Maybe the smell of the wet street after the rain, a sort of acidic and mineral smell.

What is your favourite time of the day?

Waking up in the morning. I love my first cup of tea, checking the weather through the window, listening to the radio to catch up with the world, and getting ready for the day.

If you weren’t living in Paris and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

In February I went to Mexico City with Melissa Godoy Nieto to perform our drawing duo for the ACME salon, we spent 10 days there and I loved it. At some point when I realized that New York wasn't home and that I wanted to go back to France, I thought maybe I should think of another place to go, just in case something would ring a bell, and no places really clicked in my mind, I realized that all I wanted was to go back to France. But I think that if I had gone to Mexico city when I gave myself the possibility of another place than France, I would probably have seriously thought about it. 

Mexico is a very interesting city, full of action and contradiction. It has a really interesting culture, the food is delicious and the city is lush and beautiful. It's a very inspiring city and I hope to go back again soon.

paris by Clara claus

A selection of places in Paris - recommended by artist Clara Claus. See all of Clara's favourite places here

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