DAVE CLAY

Representation and Abstraction

I prefer my work to have recognizable subjects over pure abstraction to encourage emotional connections in the viewer’s mind. These subjects allow an opening to engage the viewer and stir personal experiences. It is extremely important that my paintings be accessible to everyone. As Rothko said:

“One does not paint for design students or historians but for human beings, and the reaction in human terms is the only thing that is really satisfactory to the artist”

The figure partially obstructed by abstract textures and distortions then presents a challenge. There is a representation of something real, it is not purely a technical rendering. Nor is it realism as a vehicle for symbolism or commentary on culture. The abstractions leave space for internal reflections on ennui, solitude, love, and remembrance. 

Our emotions are complex and connect seemingly opposing states of being. Like nostalgia that sits somewhere between sorrow and beauty. Yet the delineations and categories of emotions we construct are not the experience themselves. They are a set of abstractions used to communicate and contend with an infinitely complicated and interconnected world.

These paintings can then be thought of as another mode of contending with our complex emotional existence in an exceedingly complex and difficult external world. From personal relationships to cultural fears to climate change and environment, our internal worlds feed back into the external world for better or worse. I hope that the time spent reflecting on internal experiences and emotional connections in the art manifests a physical, external change for the better of us all.


I Struggle With Art

I struggle creating my art. My inner critic, my demon, wants this to be due to my shortcomings, inability, lack of skill and education. That demon says those artists on YouTube who paint a landscape from blank canvas to finished painting in 30 minutes know far more about painting than I do. Colors are just applied without hesitation. Composition is second nature.

That demon says I’m amateur. None of these things come without deliberation and experimentation. It takes weeks for me to finish paintings. Not because I’m painting the veins in the hand for days or rendering the reflection of fluorescent light on the iris, but because I’m just looking at the painting wondering what comes next, what it needs. Hours of just looking, questioning, trying, and failing. 

I’m tempered against the demon with my ego and my intimate, personal passion for creating. I enjoy painting despite the struggle. I argue that my pieces don’t follow a procedure to achieve some predetermined end. They must be a battle with both my limits and my preconceived ideas of what each painting and subject should be. If it were easy, it wouldn’t contain the emotional, personal strength. It would be a technical achievement only, a testament to skill rather than a conduit for empathy and connection to humanity.

But the demon and the ego are just stories I tell myself, and others, about my work. They’re as true or false as any story.

The work must live on its own, withstand the cold criticism of the viewer, without my story there to explain and protect it. My stories are just my own. The viewer tells their own story. The struggle with the artwork, the battle with the demon, the doubt I hold are mine. The artwork connects best when the story of the viewer and the artwork resonate together. I can watch them find strength in each other, find comfort in each other’s pains and passions and fears, vulnerabilities.

I continue to fight my demon, the cruel inner critic that demands emotions be systematic and passions procedural because that’s what a “professional artist” does and I’m not one of those. My goal is to worry less about these stories and just exist in the process of creating art. In the end I hope it connects people to something powerful within themselves. Capture that resonance of personal experience and greater history, personal loves, pains, and fear. 


Gesture Drawings

The gesture drawing is vital to my figurative work. I attend life drawing sessions regularly and focus on the 1 and 2 minute poses. I spend half of the short time simply looking at the model. I’m finding a way into the pose or connecting with the model. There’s always something there. In a few seconds I can then capture what’s most important about the form in space - maybe the energy, a curve, collapsing into oneself. 

In longer poses, I take more time to look without making any initial mark. I have to find a sort of inner zen moment where I’m open to anything and not concerned with an outcome or particular difficulty. It’s partly study, but also partly simply being there with the model in the pose.

I then start with the same gesture - making fairly broad and quick gesture marks to capture what I’ve found. If I find that I’m struggling for more than a few minutes, I won’t end up with a good result.


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