Interview: Claudia Wilburn
Luca Curci talks with Claudia Wilburn during FRAGMENTED IDENTITIES, second appointment of BORDERS Art Fair 2020, at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello.
Claudia Wilburn is a mixed-media artist currently living in Northeastern Georgia and teaching as an Associate Professor at Brenau University where she is the Department Chair for Art & Design and the Director of the Center for the Arts & Design. She received her Masters of Fine Art from the University of South Carolina and her BFA from Clemson University. She grew up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and has lived throughout the South. Her work draws on the connections, paths, family and community present in the Southeastern American experience. Her academic research has been presented internationally and her work has been exhibited all over the US. Much of my art is autobiographical; I often draw on my life experiences, emotional journeys and memorabilia. For the body of work Navigate by Reckoning, I am drawing on a new element somewhat outside of myself: oral histories. The first three pieces are approximately 36” x 48” mixed-media pieces including: digital prints, found objects, acrylic paint, relief printing and encaustic transfers. These pieces tell the story of my grandparents. I knew each of them personally, but over the years since their passing their history has become an oral one, one which my family tells at gatherings and other social occasions. Some of these stories are simple, some dramatic and some complicated, but all are interwoven in my memory with the complex evolving tales told around the family table. Eight years ago I became very interested in my family history and began to research the branches of my family tree from the present to the Revolutionary War and back to the Old World. I have researched and found photographic portraits of my great-grandparents and I am in the process of developing nine prints using these portraits as references. These pieces begin as blackline woodblock prints, which are then impressioned onto different types of paper and collaged back together into a unified image on a panel. I started interviewing members of my family and recording stories, memories and oral histories. Due to the historical nature of these stories, most of my documentation is verbal or still photographs, but in a few cases I had video footage of the people being discussed which I can weave into the narrative being presented. As the generations progress back in history, hard sources will fall by the wayside and I will have to pull more of the people and situations represented from the shadowy past based on the available sources. The facts on the census ledger may tell of the individual, but the stories and legends contained in a spoken narrative tell about the person. In this way, with a combination of facts and shared general histories the subject no longer belongs simply to me or my family. Rather, they become a touchstone that can be a part of everyone’s story. My hope is that when viewing these artworks of my ancestors you are reminded of your own historical connection to your forebears and the stories shared that connect us all.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Claudia Wilburn – Much of my art is autobiographical; I often draw on my life experiences, emotional journeys and memorabilia. I am also inspired by experimenting with different artistic media and processes. I have a Master of Fine Arts in Drawing, but I have always used drawing as an exceptionally versatile discipline. I have recently strayed further into printmaking, with multiple prints of the same image collaged together. I have always struggled with labeling the “media” of my work because of my affinity for not just mixing media, but crossing the lines of artistic disciplines altogether.
LC – Which subject are you working on?
CW – My current project is titled Danse Macabre and it is a series inspired by Han Holbein’s Dance of Death illustrations (1523 and 1526). Holbein’s prints all present an anthropomorphizing of Death as a skeleton or several skeletons collecting people of various social standing. In his vignettes, Death is a great equalizer, coming for everyone, no matter their occupation or status. I began working on elements of the human skeleton by using my own body for scale, and my x-rays as a direct source for the individual bones: spinal column, hip bones and teeth. I have drawn and carved life-sized, separate bones of the human body as individual blocks and from multiple perspectives. I will then assemble these prints into the skeletons in various positions for the series. In line with Holbien’s series, The Dance of Death, I plan to create twelve large scale mixed media works that each include the full-size woodblock printed skeleton interacting with people from different representations. By using my own skeleton, I posit myself as both Death and as the soul being collected. In the first work in this series, a mixed-media composition using photography and mixed-media elements, I present death and his attendant soul on a bicycle built for two.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
CW – The most challenging aspect of creating for me is the work/life balance. As a full-time art professor with growing administrative duties at my university, it is difficult to make the time needed for the creative process in my studio. Even though I have to find creative solutions to problems that arise on a daily basis at work, it is not the same as art making.
LC – What is your creative process like?
CW – There is a Jack London quote I keep in my office, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club”. It is often in the process of making something else that I find a path to follow. To that end, I keep sketchbooks and I put both the good and the bad ideas in there – many times my sketchbooks are full of things that will never exist in any other place, but I have to get through the bad ideas to land on the good ones. I also keep a record of my progress in these books, so they become three dimensional and interactive with elements that unfold and items that are stacked on top of one another. I found that I have to make my sketchbooks in order to actually feel some kind of attachment to them. For over a decade now, I have been unable to consistently use a store bought sketchbook.e. These homemade books travel with me and allow me to have a creative outlet outside of the studio as well as being a repository for process and concept.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
CW – Quarantine for the coronavirus started in March in the United States. During this time I found myself managing high levels of anxiety due to the fighting needs to stay locked away and to stay in contact with people. When I wasn’t working on preparations to teach my visual art classes remotely, I was in the studio carving linoleum blocks as a distraction. I printed quite a few beetles, moths and other insects that I sent as mail art to friends, family, students and colleagues. The act of making so many prints and the goal of sending them out every week to connect with or encourage others, helped my anxiety tremendously. I had more time to “play” in the studio during this time and it was liberating to not over-focus on what I was making and to just experiment with materials, process and format.
LC – We were attracted by your last artistic production, has the artwork presented been created for the festival or as a part of preexisting works?
CW – The works included in the Fragmented Identities show are all part of a larger body of work titled Navigate by Reckoning. In this series the first three pieces are large-scale, mixed-media works that tell the story of my grandparents. I knew each of them personally, but over the years since their passing their history has become an oral one told at family gatherings and other social occasions. Some of these stories are simple, some dramatic and some complicated, but all are interwoven in my memory with the complex evolving tales told around the family table. These pieces serve as a material translation of these histories and use groups of ephemeral source material to bring the transitory biography passed back and forth between family members into a fixed pictorial realm.
I have researched and found photographic portraits of my great-grandparents and have developed nine prints using these portraits as references. These pieces begin as blackline woodblock prints, which are then impressioned onto different types of paper and collaged back together into a unified image on a panel.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the festival?
CW – My own philosophy relating to art, and specifically the work I have done with my family history, lines up well with the theme of the festival. Looking over census data, family documentation, and recording the stories told about the people I knew or discovered, all relate back to identity. The facts on the census ledger may tell of the individual, but the stories and legends contained in a spoken narrative tell about the person. In this way, with a combination of facts and shared general histories, the subject no longer belongs simply to me or my family; the stories become a touchstone that can be a part of everyone’s story. My hope is that when viewing these artworks, the audience is reminded of their own historical connections to their forebears and the stories shared that connect us all.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
CW – I have been following @ITSLIQUID on Instagram and I am impressed with the quality of the work selected for this festival and the engaging material that has been published throughout this exhibition. I have enjoyed the artist interviews and seeing the variety of works that have been included in the Borders Festival.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
CW – The services and communication from the ItsLiquid staff have been wonderful!! You guys managed the questions that came up with customs, kept in contact with me about the submission, acceptance, and shipping of my work to Venice. The documentation per your website and social media has been very well done and I am thrilled to have been a part of the Fragmented Identities exhibition. I hope to be included in future exhibitions with ItsLiquid.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
CW – Definitely, I look forward to future collaborations and opportunities provided by ItsLiquid Group.