Q&A with Clare Humphries

‘I’m inspired by questions that I can’t answer easily, and by unexpected connections I discover through artworks, experimentation, conversations and reading.’ 

Why do you make art?

What draws me to art – as a maker, and also as someone who experiences the work of others – is its potential to produce a contemplative state formed through the senses. Art allows me to engage ideas through the body and to explore alternative spaces and temporalities. Making is also an act of attention, a way to form questions and to materialise the immaterial. Simon O’Sullivan suggests art engages introspection as a ‘technology of transformation’; this resonates with my experience of working with materials and processes, and it also reflects the kinds of effects an encounter with another person’s practice can have on me.

What is your relationship to printmaking?

Ever since I produced my first print I have been fascinated by touch as both an intimate and yet distanced element within the means of production. I remember my first printmaking experience in which I spent hours making sustained and intense physical contact with the printing plate as I carved an image. I then stood back and witnessed the detached, momentary and mechanical contact between paper and plate as they passed through the press together. I was compelled by the intimacy of plate-making coupled with the fleeting contact necessary to pull a print. Since then, much of my work has been concerned with exploring and re-configuring the relations between the hand and the printed surface.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

My father was an art teacher, so I was exposed to many fields of practice from an early age. Our home was full of artworks including screenprints, linocuts, paintings and hand-forged objects. My father gave me many opportunities to explore different materials and processes and through this I discovered a fascination for what I call the ‘haptics’ of printmaking. Since these experiences I have also uncovered an enduring interest in imaging technologies that function beyond their ‘time’, that is, beyond the time when they function as a commercially viable medium. New possibilities are always uncovered in obsolescence. 

Who is your favourite artist?

Different artists and artworks inform and enrich my practice at different times. Recently I have been looking at Anni Albers in relation to a new body of work I am developing. I’m investigating the potential of cloth to trace a liminal zone between presence and absence, particularly as it might be evoked through the idea of a winding sheet or burial cloth.

I’ve been investigating Albers’ weavings and writings because of their exploration into the materiality of cloth, including the ideas of the ‘path’ and ‘event’ of a thread. It’s interesting to consider her move to printmaking later in her career, and to look at works where she has translated qualities of tactility, tension and pliable surfaces to the two-dimensional picture plane.

What is your favourite artwork?

A number of still life works by Spanish Baroque artists were very influential on the work in my current exhibition. For many years I kept a reproduction of Juan Sánchez Cotán’s Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber (c. 1602) on my studio wall. Whenever I look at this work my sense of worldly vision seems to stop at the far edge of the shelf depicted in the painting. Beyond the ledge the intimately rendered vegetables have no spatial coordinates and the darkness seems to suggest that even gravity may cease to exist there.

In Cotán’s work ordinary objects emerge from dense black fields and appear somehow more than real, transfigured by a dramatic play of darkness and light. 

Where do you go for inspiration?

I’m inspired by questions that I can’t answer easily, and by unexpected connections I discover through artworks, experimentation, conversations and reading. Inspiration, for me, is a desire to act and, like curiosity, it feeds on itself: I find the more I act, investigate and experiment the more I want to act, investigate and experiment. Inspiration also arises when something gets displaced in my thinking, so I find the more I can be open to questions and experiences, the more curious I become about future possibilities.

What are you working on now?

I have just finished hanging a solo exhibition called Exhume at Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. It presents a body of work I produced as part of my postgraduate research and includes some new work that extends on the project. The exhibition addresses the idea that after a person dies their personal belongings enter new systems of circulation and value. I extended a methodology of printing for the project that aims to reconfigure the relation between the hand and the printed surface.

My next project represents a shift of focus that extends on some of my persistent concerns. As I mentioned earlier I’m exploring the space between bodily presence and absence, between ‘here’ and ‘not-here’. My starting point is an investigation of cloth that has potential as a wrapping for the body. I’m interested in how the notion of a winding sheet might suggest the limits of embodiment and evoke notions of ritual and transition.

Clare Humphries‘ exhibition Exhume will be on display at Counihan Gallery in Brunswick from 22 July to 14 August.