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Claire Oswalt | A Visit in the Studio

Austin-based artist Claire Oswalt works in various disciplines – drawing, painting, and sculpture.  After two years designing textiles with a fellow artist, she wanted to return artisanship and craft to her daily life in the studio. Oswalt began working antithetically to her older, rigorous and representational work, redirecting the discipline towards minimal, watercolor compositions, relying on “the energy behind quick decisions, and the ruthlessness to pair the work down to the essential.” She seeks to juxtapose spontaneity with restraint, dynamic with static, until reaching a harmonious form, largely worked over yet clear in its intention to never show it. 

We're excited to revisit Claire and hear her thoughts on her creation process, who she admires and what keeps her going. 

Tell us a little bit about this new works you’ve been creating. Where do you source your materials?

I am constantly working towards a sense of harmony. It could be harmony in a design sense, or it could be one of very personal thoughts and feelings, but regardless, the work holds a precious process within it. Even beneath the clean outer layers you can see my struggle beneath. The process is everything to me. I rarely sketch out a work beforehand, but in turn choose to discover it in the process. That’s the joy and the self-discovery of what we do as artists.

There is a sense of personal relief that I aim to match on paper.

Photo credit Claire Oswalt 

Have the cities you’ve lived in influenced your practice? If so, tell us a bit about that, and what elements in particular steered you in certain directions.

LA gave me courage, New York gave me humility, and Austin, so far, is offering me a set of blinders to keep my focus directed solely toward work and improving my process.

Tell us about the best studio visit you’ve had.

The best visit was probably the hardest one as well. I may have been 25 and I had a professor from the Yale School of Art come for a visit. While talking about my work he specifically brought to light the parts of the work where I had the most insecurity. It was if he was calling me out for not listening to my gut and putting in more work where it was needed. It was the beginning of my understanding that there was a small but decisive voice inside of me that would guide me if I just trusted it.

What is one artist living or dead you feel a great connection to? Someone who’s work has inspired your own practice and what you’re creating these days?

Sophie Tauber-Arp. She inspires in so many different ways - to crossover into another discipline, to merge design with art, to not allow the trends and sensibilities of the art world dictate the direction of my work. She was a badass of her time who went about things her own way.

What's one accomplishment you're most proud of? 

Taking a momentary break from art to make quilts and other textiles with a dear artist friend of mine. Little did I know it would build my personal voice and largely inform my work.

Best gift you’ve ever received?

Hard to say, but a recent one that comes to mind is a “float” in a sensory deprivation tank. Totally unique and wild.

Last gallery show you went to?

The Goya exhibit at the Blanton. That’s a museum, does that count?

What is your favorite quote?

My friend Andrew Zuckerman interviewed Chuck Close where Close said “inspiration is for amateurs”. I relate to this so much. Art is work just like anything else. You have to show up every day and go through the process for anything worthwhile to emerge.

Photo credit Claire Oswalt 

What countries are on your travel list?

I like extremes and I like a physical adventure, so where does that put me? In Africa perhaps? Climbing Mr. Kilamajaro? My husband and I have big plans to climb, dive, and trek all over the world, but right now we’re busy with the little guys at home.

Can you describe an experience you felt most nervous?

The first time I went scuba diving at night, I felt extremely overexcited and nervous. Descending into dark water, as a stranger in a foreign world, with little more than a small flashlight wrapped around your wrist and a limited source of oxygen will surely alter your perspective.  It was like descending into a parallel dimension. Totally wild.  Intellectually, you know that underwater world  exists perpetually, but you’re not completely and viscerally aware of it at night.  All the night crawlers are in plain view, out from behind the rocks. Spider crabs with long legs walked across the ocean floor like some sort of Martian rover. I thought it was spectacular to say the least.

What makes you laugh no matter what? 

My kid’s full blown belly laugh.

What's the bravest thing you've ever done?

Leave a potential career in medicine for one in art.

Whats the first thing you do when you begin formulating an idea for a painting?

Clear my mind.

What work took you the longest to complete?

In 2009 I built, The Speed of the Sound of Silence, a 6 ft tall wooden puppet that lived within an enclosed, see-through box.

Tell us about some of your favorite artists.

Sophie Tauber-Arp, Sonia Delaunay, Louise Bourgeois, Luc Tuymans, Ellsworth Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler, Milton Avery, Hockney, and the list goes on.

Photo credit Claire Oswalt 

What’s one habit you wish you could break.

The fact that I can’t think of one either makes me think that I am not very discerning, or that I am a saint.

What does creativity mean to you?

Committing to a process long enough to watch the fragile bud of an idea grow, wind, and expand into a new one.

What's something you can't do? 


What's the most adventurous thing you've done? 

Hiked straight across the entire country of Spain with no more than a backpack.

What's one thing you still have from your childhood? 

My idealism.

Is art making therapeutic for you?

You have no idea. It’s akin to milking a cow. Without it you get all backed up.

What are you most proud of?

 That I can leap from being a mom, a wife, and an artist at any time and in no particular order.

What are your other hobbies?

I make ceramics, embroidery, and mobiles.

What’s your studio philosophy?

There are no philosophies nor rules in the studio other than to show up and to listen to my instinct.

Photo credit Claire Oswalt 

What else are you working on right now?

A zine with some Austin creatives.

Tools or mediums you’re dying to experiment with?

I am dying to explore the paper in the bookbinding world.

 Photo credit Claire Oswalt