Artist Charles Clary has been quite the busy creative lately. From his inspired New York apartment studio, he has produced a body of work that is quite literally taking over his world. Clary’s work, most akin to the patient scientific study of a new organism, has spawned onto walls far and near – most recently in concurrent solo exhibitions in Miami, FL and Nashville, TN. We asked the artist if he would take a few moments to indulge us in our curiosity of these layered hand-cut paper sculptures, and were allowed a view into his increasingly colorful world. Nathan Spoor reports in.
So Charles, tell us a little about how you became the artist that you are today. Where and how did you begin this creative saga?
As far as the current work goes it started about 2 years ago when I was urged to apply for an off campus studio space in New York City, during my second year of grad school at the Savannah College of Art and Design. While I was there I had a great internship at Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn and began to question whether or not my paintings were working in regards to my concept. I was portraying a documentation of this musical viral realm in 2D and it was screaming to be let out of that format. Luckily I listened, explored several materials, and settled on paper installation as a solution. From there it all kind of happened fast. I started out making small paper sculpture objects that were only 4 layer deep, and soon realized it wasn’t enough; so I dove head first into the shallow end and created a piece that was 8’ x 45’ x 10” and never looked back.
These creations appear to have taken quite a while to evolve into this very interesting state. How did you find your way to this particular dimensional
Painting began to be a documentation of this world that I was envisioning and I wanted to create a space in which the viewer could explore. I chose paper b/c of its versatility; it is both fragile and rigid. After some experimentation with made board, which is a pain to cut in such a precise manner, I settled on a scrapbooking paper called Bazzill Basics. This paper has an excellent light fastness, and comes in 500 separate colors. I started off doing very small singular objects with no wood backing and it became somewhat problematic b/c I couldn’t really adhere them to a surface so I scrapped that idea and went
more towards installation, creating wooden supports to mount my paper towers to. Since then, all the cuts have become infinitely more detailed and delicate,
opening my world up to more evolution. It sounds like it just happened over night, but this took almost 2.5 years to of 12hr days to achieve.
Correct me if I’m mistaken, but these bear a strong resemblance to topographical maps or fantastic desert plateaus. Is that your intention, or is the visual just an outcome of your creative process?
It’s all intentional for the most part. I have a wide range of influences including: archipelagos, Petri dish growths, electron microscope images, topographical
maps, aerial photography, fungal growths, mold colonies, bacterial colonies and so much more. I want to make each installation look like a chaotic growth on the wall that, if given enough time, will continue to replicate and fester, take over the space it inhabits.
What do you find being the most stimulating or exciting moments for you in your studio time?
There are a couple of moments that are always the most exciting. First it’s the meditative process of cutting paper for 8-12 hrs a day. After you spend that
much time with anything it begins to feel as though it is an extension of yourself. The second moment is when I begin to affix all the towers to the panels. At
that moment I begin to see the colonies growing and taking shape. Before this stage everything has this flatness to it b/c nothing is put together. Finally, and
probably the most exciting is when I place it into the gallery space. My studio is fairly small, just a second bedroom in my apartment, so I can’t install the work until I get to the exhibition space, and I have no idea what anything will look like beforehand.
If memory serves correctly, you have not one, but two solo exhibitions currently on display now. We’d enjoy hearing more about the works and exhibits. When you are able to have concurrently running shows, does the work stand apart from the other, or do they tie in directly to each other?
It’s absolutely exhausting. It took, no joke, 5 months of consistent 12hr days to get all 30 pieces completed on time. There is a ton of planning that goes into
just one show, never mind two, but I enjoyed the challenge. I try and make sure that there is a common thread that runs through each exhibition. For the Miami exhibition, Fermatic Pandemic, at the Diana Lowenstein Fine Art Gallery, it was more about these viral growths and their life cycles. For example, I had 5 pieces that were in the early stages of colonization, so instead of these large installations they are just groupings of 6-10 individual smaller islands. Then it
transitions to 3 larger vertical pieces that are examples of mid life growth, so there is more definition, and larger panels. Finally, I have a large corner piece,
which becomes more of a focal piece for the exhibition. It is meant to look as if this growth has been left to grow and multiply over several months. For
Flamtastic Ejections at the Rymer Gallery in Nashville, TN, it was more about the focal piece, Flameobic Opulation, which measured 8’ x 25’ x 10” it has 12 larger panels and 60 smaller islands. The rest of the installations are meant to seem as though they are the mutant spawns of Flameobic Opulation, while the shadow box work is always meant to represent a microscopic cross sectional studies of the layers that make up my installations. So all the work has a commonality, while still being able to stand on its own.
These wall installations are impressive and quite attractive. And please pardon me if this seems too bold, but do you see this on a much larger scale, or as a template or rough for something on a much grander scale?
It’s not bold at all. It has always been my goal to create room-sized installations combining the shadow box work and the installations into one cohesive
environment encompassing the ceiling, floor and walls. Hopefully in the next year or two I will be provided the opportunity to create such an installation. Ultimately I would build a small room and excavate the walls to create these necrotic openings that will then form the paper towers, which will resemble
playful pustules. Then the growths will spread into my organic installations and cover every surface, including larger sculptural elements on the floor. I
would also like to use some of my existing installations as mock-ups for public installations created from powder coated metal bolted to the façade of buildings.
As we close out, are there any parting thoughts or ideas you’d like to share with the class?
I would just like to thank everyone who has given me so much support and the opportunity to exhibit my work to a very receptive audience including The Rymer Gallery in Nashville, TN, the Diana Lowenstein Fine Art in Miami, FL, and to you and the wonderful people at Hi Fructose. I would also like to reiterate that yes; all my work is cut by hand – no lasers here folks! I just find that it adds so much more personality to the work.