The Collective /SHARE
“I definitely come alive at night,” says Sydney-based artist Catherine Clayton-Smith. “Often I will arrive at the studio in the late afternoon and go home at sunrise.” Since moving into the light-filled inner-city studio a year and a half ago, the National Art School graduate has undoubtedly made the most of the space. The longest amount of time she’s spent here without going home, she tells us, was three full days in the lead-up to her last solo show, Spirit Level, at ALASKA Projects. “I was desperately attempting to finish a work, which I didn’t manage to complete in time for the show, but thankfully is now resolved,” she says.
The week we visit is no exception. Clayton-Smith is in the throes of two major projects: the first, her latest solo exhibition, Obstacle Course, which showed at Studio W in Sydney in February, and the second, a series entitled Stutter – A.S.A.P, which showed in March at The Cross Art Projects as part of SafARI – the ‘unofficial’ fringe event of the Biennale of Sydney.
She speaks of her practice as “an exploration of the boundaries between representation and abstraction”, which is realised through painting and drawing. “At the moment, I seem to be working primarily in acrylic as it functions well with my process of extensive layering and alterations, as you don’t need to wait for the drying time like oil paint,” she says. Along with the layering process, Clayton-Smith employs strategies of repetition and deconstruction to “condense the chosen imagery to a state of faltering permanence”.
Her works often combine elements of a variety of subjects, including images gathered from online press and social media sources, photographs she takes of herself, and forms constructed from memory. “My work oscillates between the spaces of the digital and the real,” says Clayton-Smith, adding that “memory and image co-operate, leading the work back and forward between past and present, personal and universal, mundane and monumental, mirroring a manner in which we interpret images today.”
For inspiration, she says music is key. “When working alone I find having a rhythm to work to keeps me energised. At the moment it is pretty much just Cocteau Twins, Lucy Cliché, Superstar and Kate Bush, on repeat.” She also points to her collection of plants, which have been finding their way into the artist’s work of late. “I love having plants in the studio. Unfortunately for them, as they are probably absorbing some of the toxic solvent fumes,” she says. But when pressed to choose the thing she loves most about the studio: “I would probably say the group of cockatoos that come and sit at my window every day.”