Interview with artist Claudia Whitman

The art wall is featuring the work of Claudia Whitman this month. Her work keeps evolving and becoming more and more interesting. We decided to do an interview with her to get her perspective!

MPL: Claudia, when did your interest in art begin?

CLAUDIA: My interest in drawing started about when I could hold a pencil or a brush. I was fortunate to grow up in a home that encouraged drawing. I don't think we had art in school back in the dark ages of my early education, but my mother was friends with the cartoonist, Charlie Addams, and I had a number of his books to look at as a little kid. I was always a dog person, and I began to copy the dogs from his cartoons. When he would come to the house for dinner, we would have drawing contests to see who could draw the best dogs. Somehow, I always "won" and then I would be given an assignment by him to draw my cocker spaniel in lots of poses before his next visit. Growing up in Puerto Rico and Aruba after I was ten, I don't think I did much artwork and I went to college after two years of high school, so there was a hiatus in my development except that I was always doodling. When I hit college at 16, I chose an art major, but studio art was not a major so I studied art history and took sculpture classes. Sculpture was definitely not my medium and when I chose to do my senior "thesis" in sculpture, I was told by the professor that I had no talent and would have to choose something else. Flash forward to the Boston Museum School, where I took their first year program, starting in the Fall after graduation. I left somewhat in disgrace at the end of that year because I didn't take the muscles exam of the yearlong anatomy course.

In the 60s, the Museum School was still very much an old guard place and not at all inspirational to me. I moved to New York, enrolled at the Art Students League and NYU graduate school and spent two great years learning how to paint the way I wanted to paint. At each institution I had a fantastic mentor/teacher. Vaclav Vytlacil, at the League and Esteban Vicente at NYU. Both were abstract artists who taught me about color and space and that visual communication was not just putting thoughts into picture form. Esteban also got me going on collage, which has continued to be my primary visual expression. Years later, I returned to art school in Portland, Maine and studied with a fantastic teacher and painter, Ed Douglas. He gave me the advice that has stuck with me through all my projects. "Just be a maker", he would say to our class, "not a judge". Meanwhile, he clarified for me the key issues in making art, namely that every line and every piece of color exists in a relationship to everything else in the painting. After 9 years of higher education, mostly in art, art history and art education, I ended up with an MA in Art Education and a BFA in painting. Hopefully, my training continues through the ongoing process of painting and exploring new ideas as I go.

MPL: Do you have a favorite artist or one that has influenced you more than others?

CLAUDIA: I have so many favorite artists, I don't think I could begin to list them all. Because I like abstract ideas expressed through some recognizable forms, I guess I would mention Goya, Matisse, Vuillard, and my most favorite, Bonnard. In the next generation, I love Avery, Bacon and Diebenkorn.

MPL: Tell us a little about your process and why you continue to make art.

CLAUDIA: My art has always been about relationships and collaboration. In a country that is littered with excess, I have tried to construct my paintings largely from things I find. I am an avid recycler, so I combine old cards and papers, pieces of old paintings, stuff on the ground, cloth, food wrappers and netting, in fact, anything that catches my eye. Color drives me, but the works are about how one piece of color, one line, one mark relates to another. I usually work on a theme so the magic of relationships can unfold for me as I explore many aspects of that theme. Ultimately, it is the playfulness of visual art that excites me and allows me to stay a kid forever. And that is what keeps me making art.

Consistent with my overall philosophy that a painting is an instant stopped in time, an immediate visual message, I have become really interested in condensing that message into a small space. I see each painting as a visual experience that has travelled from my eye, through my mind and my hand to a flat surface.

Because I am interested in relationships, I am also intensely involved in social justice issues. Often I have kept these parts of my life separated, but, whenever it is possible to merge them, I feel that I have achieved an ongoing goal to have all of my interests integrated.

It is also very important for me for art to be affordable and accessible. No matter how long a piece takes me or how big it is, it is never high priced. I believe all people have creative abilities, though often not developed. By making art affordable so that almost anyone can have original artwork around them, I hope to encourage viewers to take the risk of making their own art and sharing it with others. Hopefully there is an element of playfulness in the experience, a chance to enjoy a visual collaboration.

MPL: What inspires you?

CLAUDIA: It is very important for me for art to be affordable and accessible. No matter how long a piece takes me or how big it is, it is never high priced. I believe all people have creative abilities, though often not developed. By making art affordable so that almost anyone can have original artwork around them, I hope to encourage viewers to take the risk of making their own art and sharing it with others. Hopefully there is an element of playfulness in the experience, a chance to enjoy a visual collaboration

What makes art interesting is that each of us filters our world in different ways. Yet we also havemany common experiences. Art allows us to honor that uniqueness and also to share our personal vision with all who view what each of us has created. Thus it expands our vision and, ultimately, inspires us both to enjoy differences and to find connections. As a pin someone once gave me that I have on my bathroom mirror says, "Art saves lives".

We are grateful to Claudia for displaying her work at the Library. Stop in and view some of this amazing work. It will hang through the month of December.