‘A Story About a Sinking Ship,’ 2018, courtesy of Katie Cooper.
Claire Oswalt Follows Her Intuition
“Art can be considered a record of one’s experiences,” says Claire Oswalt. “I think that’s why artists have such a hard talking about their work.” In many ways, the Texan artist finds her work a form of meditation through which she lets her intuition roam free. “I think there are two distinct sides of me,” she explains. “One is the Claire that wanted to study medicine, who was interested in anatomy and the minutiae of things. Then I have this other side that’s much wilder and more creative.” On the page, this dichotomy is translated in the form of raw, soft-hued paintings, multidisciplinary collages, and elegantly detailed pencil drawings.
There is a storytelling aspect to Oswalt’s creations as well. If life is a compilation of our experiences, then her body of work reads like a narrative, beautifully punctuating her personal trajectory. “I was pretty late to discovering [art],” she says. “I wanted to study medicine and then thought I was going to be a writer.” It wasn’t until her early twenties—while she was in between writing projects—that Oswalt started drawing every day to pass the time. “It was a much more natural process for me, so I made the switch,” she recalls. It was a bold leap, but one that perfectly reflects the artist’s intuitive process.
“I was painting what I was writing about in school—and I still have visuals of words come to mind while I’m painting,” Oswalt reveals. “I don’t necessarily know what they mean; it’s not like I’m applying a meaning to them, but they work hand-in-hand with my art. I still have a really big literary process and I feel like the work kind of reads as a story.” If that story were written down, it would traverse Oswalt’s long stints living in both Los Angeles and New York, the birth of her two sons, and her decision to return to her native Austin a few years ago.
The expansive landscapes characteristic of Texas play an important role in her creative process, Oswalt says, and it was a desire for expansiveness that inspired her to abandon the crowded streets of Los Angeles and New York for the wild plains of Austin. “Texas works well for me because physical space allows me to be happier and work on a larger scale,” she elaborates. “I spend a lot more time in nature here and I do think the big, open sky affects me.” Plus, the creative energy is very different in Texas, where the artistic community is growing fast, but still very much evolving.
“There is stuff that I miss about New York and Los Angeles, but I do feel like my work tends to be better [in Austin] because I have more peace of mind,” Oswalt adds. “When I was in New York, I was constantly comparing myself. Once you lose that sense of comparison, you also lose the ego and I feel like the work evolves out of a more natural place.” In other words, then, Oswalt takes a seemingly almost instinctual approach to her work, both in terms of the environment she requires to create and the medium through which she does so.
“I get a little restless when I sit with one medium for a long time,” Oswalt explains. Although the artist first began her practice with drawing, her work now spans many different mediums, from painting to collage and, most recently, weaving. Often incorporating more than one medium in a particular piece, she also creates small-scale collages as a blueprint for what each finished work will look like. “There’s a dialogue between [my collages and paintings],” she says. “When I sit down to make the collages, I work quickly and try not to get too involved in it. Then once I know what I’m creating, it becomes an act of refinement.”
Weaving is the latest medium that Oswalt has been exploring, and she is excited to refine her tapestry techniques to see where this process takes her. “I just feel like there’s been so much growth over the last three years—with moving to Austin—and I want to see that growth through. I want the focus to be not on who is collecting [my art] or which institutions get to see it, but on making good work,” she says, reflecting an attitude that makes sense for an artist who so clearly enjoys being immersed in the creative process.
“If there’s something new happening, I just go with it, because there’s a wonderful discovery there,” Oswalt notes. “With that discovery comes a sense of wonderment, which I think is what makes my work special. For me, the works are like little gifts—I don’t know where they come from, but I’m so grateful because that’s the coolest part: just sitting down and having no idea what I’m going to make.”
In this sense, Claire Oswalt is often surprised by her own work and where it takes her—which is all part of the fun. “Sometimes I just feel like I have to show up and be a sort of medium between the work and what comes out on paper,” she says. Fortunately for us, the resulting works are as complex and multifaceted as the artist herself.
For more information, please visit ClaireOswalt.net.