Clare GrillLong Island City, NYC
Right now I would say they are some sort of search for color. I think that they’ve been getting more complex in how color is arrived at. I write down lists of color as combinations when I see. Sometimes I’ll look at that list and try to remember those colors as words. If I’m stuck or wanting to begin something I’ll try to mix those colors, or my memory of those colors, in order to begin.
I love linen. I think linen has such a story of its own. I like the irregularity of it; that you’ll get a weird little snag or a bump that can be just as much information as the body of paint. It’s the foundation. The texture and color of that first layer is what the painting is built on
not what the painting is covering. It’s part of it. I like something to respond to. When I start these paintings I almost always begin by rubbing some dirty rags into the white surface, just to season it. I feel like the linen fabric is another form of that.
The ground is oil ground over rabbit skin. I do 2 coats of rabbit skin; 1 with titanium powder in it which lightens it but also gives it a bit of a drag or graininess. It also doesn’t get absorbed evenly into the rabbit skin, so again, nothing in this process is uniform. I mix it in to the rabbit skin glue while it’s hot. The titanium powder doesn’t completely dissolve and so you get irregular strokes of white when applied. It’s not perfect and there are little chunks and those probably will never be apparent in the end but it will inform the first layer and this will inform the next layer. I forget who it was but somebody said to me it’s like melting cheddar cheese as opposed to American cheese where cheddar is going to separate into oil and chunks, it doesn’t melt nicely or uniformly. But a Kraft single is going to give you a uniform color and sheen. I like the cheddar and the titanium powder is kind of the same.
Then I’ll add the oil ground which I buy from Doak. I like to apply the ground with a scraper so that the relief of the linen comes through. It’s dry to the touch in 2 days and set at 5. Compared to acrylic gesso the oil ground is softer. It wants linen like bread wants butter. It makes sense to me, it feels right.
Most of my paint I buy from Doak. Sometimes I put paint piles on a piece of cardboard to leach out the oil so that the color is a lot more saturated and less shiny; it becomes super opaque, drier and thicker.
Goop is a product that Robert Doak makes, who I buy almost everything from. It’s kind of like Galkyd gel. It’s a Vaseline-like consistency. It’s basically filler and I use tons of it. I love it. It creates just a bit of a drag and it suspends the color but it’s not shiny. It’s less than satin I’d say. I also use a safflower oil and odorless mineral spirit medium that I dip my brush into.
And sometimes I’ll use glass powder in the paint as an additive to give it a little bit of body. I like a matte surface because I think you can get sucked into a painting more if it’s matte, if the darks are simply dark voids and not reflecting back at you, pushing you out. So I try to achieve that.
Brushes and Tools:
I buy cheap bristle brushes, and I never wash my brushes. I put them in safflower oil to clean them which maybe keeps them a little softer. I have a couple of softer brushes but I use chip brushes from Home Depot. I go through brushes a lot.
Titles are determined after the fact. I keep another list of words that I like, that I’ve read in novels usually or words that I like how they feel to say or how they look. It’s intuitive and then I’ll sit with the painting and my list and match words to paintings.
The drawings are blue pastels, different blues, on red rosin paper. I had these blue pastels for a long time and I love how they look but I don’t like spraying so I never used them. Then when I got here there was a roll of that paper in the studio and I thought that is the perfect color with the blue.
I wanted them to hold so I decided to rabbit skin glue the paper and add oil mediums to the pastels. Because I’m gluing them after they’re shaped they get this great kind of hang and curl. I really love these as objects because they remind me of skins. They have a material weight to them. They’re responses to shapes I see in the paintings. It’s a lot of back and forth that happens with the material, the medium changing the shape of the drawing or the wrinkle of the paper informing the marks.
Some paintings come quicker than others and some kill me. Lately the smaller ones are giving me a lot more trouble, they’re just resisting being finished. I think it has a lot to do with their size in relation to me and that I can see all of them more easily. So I get stuck. I start thinking about what it looks like and that can stop me up, whereas if I’m just looking at a tiny part I can do the thing I want to do which is to just touch the surface, paint it, finesse it. I don’t plan it. It can be just a gut reaction instead of a thought.
They all almost necessarily go through so many different color lives that it’s like a constant back and forth and there is a precariousness to them. I say precarious because there are things about this process that I really enjoy and so the decision to cover over it and assign a new identity or color identity to the painting feels really risky but I know that is how I find my best work.
I never rip them up when they don’t work. I never would. I would cover over it, take it in a totally new color direction. Instead of dry-sanding I cover the whole thing with just clear safflower oil first and then lightly take the tooth out. Then I can wipe it out with a rag. I’ve found the more opposite this layer is to the original, or the more I’m able to leave my allegiance to the earlier painting, the more successful it is. I can let the previous painting go aside and let this new painting surprise me.
And I know that about myself and yet it still takes a lot of nerve for me to get there; to cover over it. All of that structure and body is still under there ultimately informing the decisions that I make. A lot of the marks and forms in the paintings are determined by the texture that I can see surfacing from a raking light falling on it or the color relationships that I can half see but that are now entirely different because now they will relate to this whole other skin.
The only premixing I do is according to the list of colors so like I have peach/tan/black or coral/powder blue. These are just words so if I’m really stuck I might try to mix those 3 or 4 colors and look at them and see what they’re like and begin a painting that way.
Often if I reveal a color from underneath I’ll try to mix that color to use as an additive color so that there’s a funny little play; they’re almost the same but the light is coming from a different space.
I want them to have some kind of skeleton, or tension and to look deliberate so if they’re feeling too allover, then I’ll impose a strong couple of counterpoints to anchor it or pin it down. Sometimes it’s a matter of sitting and looking at them long enough and then calling them done. There are works in here that I turn around. Taking them out a year later when there’s some distance, I can start looking at them again.
I don’t like to repeat myself. This process is so much about uncovering or the surprise of what a surface looks like in changing light. Maybe it’s going to show me a new color just because it’s 2:00 and the sun highlights it in a certain way. They’re very fluid like that.
It’s precarious and it’s fleeting. It’s not intellectual. It’s very bodily. It’s me seeing something because of where my body is in relation. I’m responding to things that are just the conditions of this painting, in this moment, of this day.