"Small things become big and big things small, both in terms of their size and feeling. I paint and draw, and I like to keep the works open, with an emphasis on drawing. Ideas come from day to day drawing, note taking, captured moments and visual journals which are revisited at a time when I can be more objective about what still feels important. The hope is that I am able to tap into something seen, thought or felt that others can bring their own narrative to, without the work being too specific to myself. An obsession with objects and sculpture and their concrete existence informs the physical presence and play of the work, as well as the imagery; and as a friend once said "You don't make pictures though do you?"
Jes is an independent curator and writer based in Essex, UK. She works with galleries, architectural practices and public realm organisations on public programmes, commissioning schemes, exhibitions and residency projects across the UK and abroad. Working primarily beyond gallery walls, Jes is interested in an expansive idea of contemporary artistic practice, which encompasses dialogue, research, engagement and serendipity.
Jes has worked with organisations including Focal Point Gallery, Tate, Museum of London, Serpentine Gallery, RIBA, Manchester International Festival, Olympic Delivery Authority, St Paul's Cathedral, Central St Martins, University of Essex, Lund Cathedral and the RCA.
In Conversation: Claire Dorsett and Jes Fernie
Miles Thurlow Okay, so good evening. My name is Miles Thurlow and I'm the co-founder of Workplace Foundation, which is a charity set up by Workplace Gallery to support emerging and underrepresented artists based in the North of England. This evening, we'll be hosting the first in a series of conversation events. We'll be doing this every Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. This week, artist Claire Dorsett will be in conversation with curator and writer Jes Fernie. Claire Dorsett was born in 1985 in the U.K. and graduated from her B.A. honours in Fine Art Painting at the University of Brighton in 2007 and from MFA Painting at the Slade School of Art in 2010. Since then, she has exhibited both nationally and internationally. She lives and works in Manchester. Claire had a solo exhibition with Workplace Foundation in 2019. And Jes is an independent curator and writer based in Essex, UK. She works with galleries, architectural practices and public realm organisations on public programmes, commissioning schemes, exhibitions and residency projects across the UK and abroad. Working primarily beyond gallery walls, Jes is interested in an expansive idea of contemporary artistic practice which encompasses dialogue, research, engagement and serendipity. Jes has worked with organisations including Focal Point Gallery, Tate, Museum of London, Serpentine Gallery, RIBA, Manchester International Festival, Olympic Delivery Authority, St Paul's Cathedral, Central St. Martins, University of Essex, London Cathedral and the RCA.
Miles Thurlow So, welcome. I'm I'm in my hut, everybody is in these strange and intimate settings around the country. Apologies in advance if we have any technical issues and we'll just stumble through and hopefully it'll be all fine and dandy. There'll be plenty of time at the end, hopefully, for questions. So if you can, if you can use the chat function to send them through and I'll read them out at the end. So welcome, Jes.... and welcome, Claire. It should be... can we hear you? Yeah.
Jes Fernie Hi, Miles. Hi, Claire. Hello. Hi, everyone out there. Wherever you are. As Miles says, I'm in in Essex in my my really tiny shed. And actually, I'm in Colchester, where Miles apparently grew up. So all roads lead to Essex. I just found that out yesterday. So thanks very much for inviting me Miles and Claire, it was a really nice invitation in these incredibly strange times. I started becoming aware of Claire's work in 2014 when I was the associate curator of public programmes at Firstsite Gallery in Colchester, and we had a solo show of Bruce McLean's work, which is one of the massive highlights of my time at Firstsite, it was just such a joy to work on. You can imagine, Claire. A laugh a minute, it was amazing. And so I devised a public programme and part of the kind of impetus behind one of the events was to sort of honour and reflect, and think about Bruce's career as a tutor at the Slade and his influence. So we decided to have an event where we invited artists' who had worked with.... Who'd worked... been taught by Bruce at the Slade, and that was Claire as well as Corinna Till, Eddie Farrell and Chloe Steele, most of whom I'm still in contact with, which is really really nice. But what was brilliant about that evening, it's just like completely kind of locked into my mind as one of my sort of favourite events I did at Firstsite, is that it was totally nuts. Do you remember it Claire?
Claire Dorsett Yeah it was.
Jes Fernie It was like each of you did a talk performance, a screening. And it was really playful and respectful and dynamic. It really kind of reflected Bruce's kind of practice, and also, obviously, your practice, which I thought was, you know, just really, really touching. And so we've kept in contact ever since. So that's six years ago and it's really nice to see you.
Claire Dorsett Yeah! Time flies! I was worried that night that we'd all do similar things, but we didn't. We totally did different things.
Jes Fernie No, I know you totally did do very different things, but there was this lovely strand, which I can't really express, but it was, you know, the sort of essence of Bruce. So we're here tonight to talk about, primarily, your show at the Workplace Foundation last year, but we can sort of bob about and I can see Miles has got other images, but the thing that I really love... There are many things I love about Claire's work but, you know, it's it's the kind of honesty, the humour, the awkwardness, the fact that they're kind of both dumb and sharp. And really importantly, I think they sort of very easily could fail or there's a sort of sense that there's a sort of fragility about them that I have always really, really enjoyed. And also the fact that a lot of them are large scale paintings and the interest is, I think, in the sort of historical reference points and the trajectory of painting, trying to kind of, you know... Interest in the kind of bombast and the physicality and the machismo that is often connected to paintings and often is related to the kind of...the male artist. And there's a sense that the paint has been applied really quickly, but there's a kind of really tight visual language. And then the balance of the colour and the words and imagery really kind of work within the framework of the canvas. And I think this painting, actually the one that Miles has just put up here "Bad Lighting" is the work that I used to publicise the Firstsite event. Do you remember that Claire?
Claire Dorsett It was. Yeah, it was. Yes. You said it felt quite 'Bruce'.
Jes Fernie Exactly! I absolutely loved it! And I, I thought I'd just, you know, mention it before we kicked off the conversation, because I think this is work that kind of really struck me as, just really it's so abject. It's funny. It's tragic. There's this sort of central light bulb with these cartoon flicks off them, which kind of are supposed to kind of represent a sense of a kind of impressive, sparkly, active idea. But the fact is that the lamp has no shade and that the the wire's all bent. And that the... I just love the fact that the title.. this is what you do, we can get onto this and I'm sure in a bit, but the title is just such a direct reference to the work. It just says exactly what it is. It's bad lighting. And then you've got this really kind of wit, sort of outmoded '70s decor, sort of green wallpaper and orange paint. It's kind of the perfect painting for me. It balances formal concerns. You've got the division of the canvas. Your eye rests at the bottom. It feels secure because you've got this blue horizontal line and you can kind of appreciate the lamp riding up from that point. But yes, I just wanted to start off with that. And then we can and we can move into the, the actual, the exhibition that you did at Workplace. So we can go into some of those. Actually. Claire, before we do that, do you want to just say, it would be lovely to hear you talk a bit about that painting, 'Bad Lighting'. I know it was a while ago, but I love it so much.
Claire Dorsett Erm yes, so that painting was made in the garage of my mum's house, which I wouldn't... feels important actually as to maybe what's gone into it. Subconciously or consciously.
Jes Fernie Yes.
Claire Dorsett And also it was after a series of paintings I made that had been, I guess if you could imagine, the sort of right hand side of the painting, where it's blue lines on the orange, it would probably be like two layers like that. Very, very crisp. Very, very flat. With no sense of error in them whatsoever. And they were just a little bit dead, like they just had like, that series of paintings just really felt flat. And so I think I was frustrated. And, and this was one of those classic times where you're just sort of doing something and then you go back to it and go 'oh wait, that actually really works'. It's like you had to do, you had to fail at four of them, for one of them to work. And I couldn't necessarily say I went in with the intention in any painting of knowing what was gonna happen. It's always like a backwards discovery of 'Oh, yeah, that works. What happened there?' So I think the background for me was kind of like a rebellion against these, these very slick, very sharp, almost kind of, not perfect, but, you know, a little bit more controlled than normal for me, I guess. With no sense of fall in them whatsoever, and that's what came out. And I love things that are a little bit crap. You know, they have a tender part in my heart because I just think ultimately, like, we're all a little bit crap, you know, in our own ways. And that's kind of interesting. You know, it gives character. So I think it adds character to the actual object as well.
Jes Fernie And that's what you've done with "Sofa". I know Miles has it up on the screen now, I'm sort of thinking that that lamp would look really good next to that Sofa.
Claire Dorsett No, that's actually a really good point. I should probably try that, I probably in some way have got like a whole variety to make some sort of living room.
Jes Fernie Yeah. Yeah. Exactly the same abject owner I think.
Claire Dorsett Yeah. Yeah! And that's something that's been said before, like people look at the work and they feel like, like this character has walked out the room.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett Which I kind of understand that they have like a persona. Without that persona necessarily being physically present.
Jes Fernie Yeah. Let's talk a bit about this. "Sofa" now it's here, Miles is just presenting us with random images. That's great.
Claire Dorsett Keep it going.
Jes Fernie So this is another example of a work that's just very straightforwardly called exactly what it is. It's just sofa and "Sofa". It's like a word and a painting that is almost the same thing. I love that kind of doubling up. Is that something that you know. I mean, obviously, you're massively aware of it, but it's so playful. And I'm sure there's a really fancy term for it in kind of linguistic terms about an idea of sort of, kind of double vision or two things representing the same thing at once, you know, sofa and "Sofa". Is that something that you, you know, obviously, you've clearly thought about?
Claire Dorsett Just sometimes I just think that obvious things aren't that obvious, like we all assume that they are. But actually being able to, or taking the time to start from the very beginning is something that... We all rush to the end of things very often. And and, I try not to... I try and work on the premise that assumption is the mother of all mess ups. So it's like 'This is a sofa'. And also if I did some big philosophical title, you know, and I'm trying to lead people into certain thoughts or feelings about the work, I just feel like that's too much of me. It's like I'm just going to give you the bare bones of what this is and the rest is kind of up to you. You can... I don't want to put so much of myself in it that there's... there's not enough for other people. And also I want the work to be fairly...
Jes Fernie It could be seen as being really prescriptive if it's overly sort of described or you know, located in the work, I think there's a sense if a painting's title has too much in it, it's just loading too much on the painting. It just seems to be that you're just saying this is a sofa. Look at what it is. This is what it's standing for.
Claire Dorsett Yeah, and also erm, I think there's something kind of funny about pointing at the elephant in the room as well. You know, just being like, no, there it is! That's what that is. I think about. I think about play and I think about the way that children look at things like particularly now a lot of my friends are having children. Like having children. And it's brilliant because they they don't assume anything. Everything is kind of new to them. And they're looking at it freshly. You know, they're learning about things. And I just think there's that kind of curiosity and wonder, of stripping things back to the basics. Is important, I think. And it's something that we forget about. I mean, I forget about it, too. It's like, hang on, let's just take stock of what is actually around us.
Jes Fernie But there's also something slightly tragic about it, it has to be said. You know, you can sort of marvel in the simplicity of it. But if you look at it, it's it's you know, it's really, really well used. Probably should be replaced. It's kind of old fashioned decor, like the lamp. It doesn't, it looks like one of those old sofas that doesn't allow for, you know, serious comfort. You wouldn't really lounge on it, certainly not two people. There's a sense of sort of abjectness about it. That is. It's not quite cosy. It's kind of a bit sad, is that..?
Claire Dorsett Yeah, I think yeah, I think a lot... There is an underlying sadness in a lot of the work and kind of like a, like a "Ha!", like, laughing and then "Oh wait, hang on, errr, there's something maybe not great going on here." The kind of, I'd wanted to paint a sofa for a really long time.
Jes Fernie Why? Why?
Claire Dorsett Like years ago, I did a show in a project space in the studio space that I'm at. For a while I was like, "Should I do a project space? Maybe I should do a project space." And I kind of really liked the idea of, that if I did do a project space, that it would be called SOFA. And that just be this really chintzy sofa in the middle of the gallery instead of like a hard bench. I think having somewhere to sit to look at work is is important. But those benches have no back support. It's just all a little bit like it's not conducive to sitting with something. And I like the idea that you could have like these curators. I mean, this is pie... You know, like up in the sky thinking, you know, you have these like well-known curators sat having a cup of tea on this chintzy sofa looking at a piece of work. And so I guess that kind of like demystifying...
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett ..Of the gallery space. And then I decided that actually it was project space or painting. So painting won. And then I guess I kind of identified with the sofa a little bit. It's like. I'm in my mid-thirties now... I'm alright with that, I'm a little bit softer. That's OK. And so there's an element of this sort of like well-worn, I guess similar to the lampshade. It's just like you say the fragility like you know, the humanity of like living in the world and kind of wanting to tap into that. I guess the way that I know how to, or attempt to know how to.
Jes Fernie Yeah, I think there's a hell of a lot of humanity in your work. But also the way you express yourself and the way that you live I think there's a big crossover. But we can, talk about that in a bit but... Miles, can you put "No Pressure" on the screen? It's another one of the paintings that Claire did for the Workplace Foundation exhibition,.
Claire Dorsett It's like we've got a floating ghost.
Jes Fernie We have.
Claire Dorsett Thank you, Miles.
Jes Fernie Yeah. Thanks, Miles.
Jes Fernie So I remember when I met you, you told me a story about Bruce, when you first met him and what he said to you and your sort of first interaction. I wonder if you can relay it here, because I think there's a connection with this painting.
Claire Dorsett Like very often with things they repeat like over years and years, either as images... Until they find homes in the work or they might have multiple homes. Erm... Kind of like, I think the first week at Slade where we'd sort of got settled into our studios, I was up a ladder, putting some works on a ledge just sort of trying things out and Bruce came in and pointed at me, when I'm on the ladder and went... "You. I'm expecting big things from you". And my automatic reaction without even thinking was "Errrrr...no pressure" and he started laughing and I started laughing, and then it just it's a running joke now, he'll still say it, if I speak to him like "No pressure, no pressure, no pressure" because ultimately there's always pressure.
Jes Fernie So every time someone says no pressure, there is definitely pressure to do that. And certainly from Bruce as well.
Claire Dorsett Yeah, I was like "Oh, that's... That's... That's... Yeah, nowhere to aim there, right, yeah cool."
Jes Fernie So this painting is called "No Pressure". And this is, er, what... When were you, when did you have that conversation with Bruce? When was that? Like, ten years ago?
Claire Dorsett That was 2008 when I started. So, yeah.
Jes Fernie Twelve years ago. I love it, the way that things kind of, you know, bubble through into later works. That's great. And I think this is, it's a, it's another kind of key... Well, you know, [00:17:38]there aren't loads of works in the show, [1.5s] it's one of things I love, I love about it, is that each one is just, you know, a very particular kind of language in itself. And there are only, what eight of them, in the Workplace Foundation show?
Claire Dorsett Sorry, I just got a text message from Bruce that threw me off. So he knew we were talking about him.
Jes Fernie Oh Bruce! What did he... Did he say "No pressure"?
Claire Dorsett Bruce McLean. They want to... Oh, Bruce McLean is who we're talking about, sorry, there's a question there... Bruce McLean.
Jes Fernie Right. Yes. Sorry everyone, Bruce McLean is a brilliant artist who's now in his 70's but he he taught at the Slade for 25 years and is as a result there's loads and loads of artists across Britain who sort of, you know who bow at the altar of Bruce McLean.
Claire Dorsett Yeah. Yeah, it was actually Miles who texted me, not Bruce. I just saw Bruce on the side. So yeah, to explain who Bruce was: Bruce McLean. So, yeah. There were, let's see, three, four, five, six... Six paintings in total.
Jes Fernie Yeah. I like that kind of show. Six paintings. That's brilliant. And Miles, if we go back to the "No Pressure" one, if we look at that, you know, I'm interested in the relationship of the text to the painting. As you can see, for everyone who's looking at it, there's all these references to kind of social and physical, financial, emotional connections. So it's you know, it's the pressure of living a viable life, you know, finding a husband and being emotionally stable, having the perfect body, having just the right amount of availability of sex and fear of being alone. All of that is all in there. All absolutely kind of rammed, but it's very beautifully formed. I'm not quite sure how you manage it, but it looks in the painting as if it's absolutely every element is perfectly balanced and it creates, there's a sort of idea of, you know, that every bit of it is in the right place and yet it's sort of chaotic and all over the place. But I'm just wondering if you can talk a bit about this work and the relationship to social media and pressure and what you feel as an artist about expectations on you and how that's reflected in this work.
Claire Dorsett I think also the expectations just as a person as well; just as a person living in the world. So, I guess this... Probably this set of works so, "Sofa" was the last of, sort of, three: the most recent paintings in that show. So "No Pressure", the telly painting which we will probably come onto, and then "Sofa". "Sofa" I would say is probably the most... Possibly familiar, in terms of the visuals of it, to other works that perhaps I've made, of it being quite empty. Whereas these works, I'd made three paintings before that had really fought back with me. And so I go through this if I feel... If I make quite a bare, minimal painting, there's something in me that then wants to react to make something completely different to that. And I think something to do with that is, like, the energy; that if I feel like I know what I'm going to do, then I'm not interested in it particularly, and I kind of feel that if I'm not interested then you could probably feel that in the actual painting when it's done.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett So I wanted to play with that, to play with something that was a little bit more of a battle: that fought back. So this did fight back and it went on... In terms of painting it, it took me a lot longer than usual to to to to balance it, as you say, to be like well I've done this. It's like a series of moves I've done this move. And then oh, but that... I need to do this move now. In terms of imagery and colour. I knew I wanted to reflect something of this onslaught of visual imagery that like, I was thinking about this the other day, like, the only time when I'm not influenced by anything is probably when I'm sat in complete silence: like anything, like reading a book, listening to a podcast, listening to the radio, like, having a conversation. All of those things are perhaps other people's thoughts that you're coming into contact with and trying to filter and decipher and then trying to figure out what you think from all of that as well. And also this emphasis on how things... How things look and how we look. And sort of showing, I think throughout the work I have this interest between what is presented and and what is behind closed doors, I guess, so this idea of a persona. There's a book I read years ago that talked about musicians and how, like, you know, David Bowie is a prime example of somebody who has an alter ego or a persona; and then the artist Bob and Roberta Smith talks about Mark Boland being on stage with his hot silver jacket on and then Mark Boland being at home, sat on the sofa, having a cup of tea with his hot silver jacket on and I kind of like both of those things. So yeah, and just outbursts of contradictory thoughts that I have myself as well. It's like... I don't know if you can properly read it, it doesn't even matter. It's like, "Oh, it's too easy now. It's too easy with all these apps," and, well, is it? Because it still feels quite difficult, actually! And what is this perfect life? And does anyone actually have it? Because as far as I'm aware, most people I've spoke to don't, you know, and do you, do you want that, you know? And also just poking fun at the whole thing, because I think... I can't stand apart and say, "Oh, I don't participate in social media." I totally do. You know, like I love Instagram. It's this kind of like love hate relationship that I think everybody has. And and I'm not perfect with it. And so I'm not trying to be judgmental of anyone who does use it or how they use it, I'm just trying to kind of hold it up and be like, "What is this? I'm thinking about this. Do you think about that?" But using figures as well, was kind of new and fairly difficult actually, of trying to make sure that I felt that the the the figures were sort of balanced. And it felt quite important for me for the central figure to feel more male than female, just because...
Jes Fernie Why is that?
Claire Dorsett I didn't want it to be seen as a self portrait. And I felt like if I put a female figure in, or what would look like a possibly a female figure that perhaps people would read it as me. So. Yeah, yeah.
Jes Fernie And you've said in an interview I was reading a couple of days ago that "...really bad tends to happen when I over think it."
Claire Dorsett Yeah.
Jes Fernie I can really get the sense that there's this kind of tight rope in so much of your work between being really spontaneous, but also having a, you know, conviction, or intension about what it is that you want to do.
Claire Dorsett Yeah.
Jes Fernie You talked about it just now maintaining the energy of the painting. And it just seems I think that's one of the things I really like about the painting, is that there's just this really close sort of point of which everything could fall to pieces and everything could fail. And that, I'm thinking maybe many paintings do fail and that you just select the ones that you know, that don't. But, is that, is that how you kind of see the paintings. Do you have the sense that this is something that sort of magical, holding them together, this energy, this unknown thing, but then this intention that brings it to a sort of formal presence?
Claire Dorsett There was many points in that painting that I was like, what am I doing?
Jes Fernie Yeah...
Claire Dorsett Like, and you want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were, but I'm like... To some extent, I have to commit to it. It's like, if it's going to fail you may as well be committed, don't, like, half arse it: just fully fall flat on your face and I kind of swing between hate... Very often I'll finish a piece of work and I'll hate it: I'll absolutely hate it, and I have to run away from it. And the reason I have to run away from it is because I'm in danger of not actually looking at what I've done, because I'm so in the, I guess, the emotional moment of hating what I've done that I can't get any perspective on it. So these ones I mean, there's not another set of four paintings this big that didn't make the cut. I would say the kind of editing process is in drawing. So I'll keep a lot of... I keep sketchbooks all the time. I don't have set parameters for them. It's like, it's like they contain a series of outbursts, I guess, as I kind of grab things.
Jes Fernie [Laughs]
So there's like, a lot of that. And so actually getting to the point where I'm making painting can take quite a long time. And then making paintings probably feel quite, quite quick. So, I guess that's kind of how the editing... And like I say, you just have to commit with it. It's like, well, there it is: for good or for bad. And that painting as well I was thinking about Laura Owens. And I think I talked about that in the interview with Ambit magazine at the end of last year.
Jes Fernie Oh, yeah!
Claire Dorsett Like she did this fantastic painting: huge painting, like bigger than anything I've made. Like floor to ceiling in Workplace's gallery space, and it's covered in cats: cats almost about the same size as a cat, almost like a line drawing of a cat. To form a sort of pattern, but it kind of feels sort of fuller than that. And I just thought that that was fascinating, in terms of formally, like how can you... Very often there'll be one centre point in my paintings; it'll be something zoomed in or zoomed out, but how... Is it possible to do a painting where your eye is roaming all over and sort of internally within that, within the frame? So that was kind of, I guess a bit of a challenge as well.
Jes Fernie Yeah. Now I was looking at, I know you've talked about Laura Owens and Philip Guston in the past; I think it's interesting that they're both American but, I read an interview with Laura Owens in, I think it was The New Yorker or The LA Times or something. And there were just so many bits in her conversations that reminded me of your work. And I had to... Let me just see if I can find this quote.
Jes Fernie So in a journal that Owens kept in her early 20s, she wrote a fourteen point list entitled... And this is in her early 20s, I thought it was a diary from when she was 10 or something. This is brilliant. "How to be the Best Artist in the World." Have you read it?
Claire Dorsett No! But it sounds brilliant!
Jes Fernie She's like, in her early 20s, it's so brilliant. And then, among the dictates are: think big. Contradict yourself constantly. No guilts. Do not be afraid of anything. Say very little. Know that if you didn't choose to be an artist, you would have certainly entertained world domination or mass murder or sainthood. [Laughs].
Claire Dorsett [Laughter] Oh no... That's a little bit terrifying!
Jes Fernie I thought that was so great. Isn't that just brilliant. It's just so. It's so playful. And, you know, kind of recognising that there is this kind of, it's it's just this absolute tunnel vision that you have to have as a painter to kind of believe in yourself and to commit yourself to something that you just think is gonna, not be understood or not relate to the world or not work in any way.
Claire Dorsett Yeah.
Jes Fernie And then also, I think it... The fact that she's really interested in kind of, sort of smashing the machismo of painting, especially, you know, within the sort of CalArts environment that she existed in, I think relates to, I mean, I don't, you know, it's I don't impute too much in your work. But there's another quote that she said, "I don't like somebody fetishizing their skill level. Painting is one of the few mediums where the skill level can just take over and really seduce people."
Claire Dorsett Yeah.
Jes Fernie And it's a question to you about how you feel about, not necessary as a female artist, but maybe as a female artist, as an artist working in the 21st century and your relationship to this kind of bombastic canvas of you know, of painting?
Claire Dorsett I'm kind of, I'm not consciously going "I want to make this massive painting because it speaks to the canon of..." Well, the thing I loved about painting that got me into it was abstract expressionism.
Yeah, to some extent, and Pop Art and I like, a lot of American artists actually, and whether that was because that was what I was exposed to on courses or through the course of my own sort of research.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett I think it probably has something to do, for a long time I was quite interested in the American Dream, of this like again, this "big thing" of like, but is it really real? You know, and a lot of those kind of canons of literature and I can't remember who it is, there's like a quote, it's like "American life is something that takes place in the weeds next to the billboard." And it's like, yeah, that makes sense and like, Las Vegas. And like Robert Venturi's book about "Learning from Las Vegas", you know, and signs and colour and form and things like that. So I think that's something that I kind of look to, or have looked at, looked to very often.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett It is something that is asked a lot about, because of the nature of my work, but I kind of tend to, like I'm not naive enough to not think that, you know, that it's referenced, but I don't consciously go into it thinking I'm going to do this because that, that and that, it's just, the work that I want to make. Erm yeah, but Laura Owens. The other thing I love about that list is that there's a sense of her shouting at herself as well...
Jes Fernie Yeah!
Claire Dorsett Which I definitely have. It's like bullying yourself.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett 'Cos there's part of you that doesn't necessarily have that ego all the time and isn't arrogant but has to push yourself to keep doing it, even though it's difficult. It's like doing things like this, like I can put my Artist Hat on and I can do it. But I'm actually, you know, massively introverted. And so, you know, it's it's part of doing the work, and I think that sort of plays out in the work itself as well.
Jes Fernie Absolutely. The sort of performative.
Claire Dorsett Well this like hero, look almost like a hero thing of like, trying. And perhaps that's where the American, you know, American artists fit in because it so, I live in the U.K. and and I've never been to America. So it feels like this whole other land.
Jes Fernie You haven't? That's perfect! You must never go to America. It's just supposed to be this ideal or this dream or this...
Claire Dorsett Part of me thinks it would just ruin it like, I mean, I'm not, to anyone watching, I'm not saying America is a dream! Just being aware of current events. I'm not saying that, but this kind of mythical America, you know.
Jes Fernie Yeah, the pretend. The, the something that doesn't exist, at all.
Claire Dorsett Yeah, yeah. Like I read a book about Matisse and apparently Matisse was massively like interested in, erm, I was thinking how Matisse looks at colour. Like someone, someone compared that the way... What he was trying to achieve in colour in his paintings is what the the neon signs do on the Las Vegas strip. You know, essentially they form, they create shape, through colour. You know, it's not an outline. It just is the, the form itself and I remember thinking that was fascinating, formally.
Jes Fernie Yeah. OK, so let's talk about. Can we have, Miles? Can you put "Cool Dude (whatever)" on. And I think this is another example. And I, you know, I just think this this is really lovely the way that you used the title in the work. There's that weird looping system again.
Claire Dorsett Which work was that? Sorry, I got distracted by the chat.
Jes Fernie "Cool dude (whatever)"
Claire Dorsett 'Cool dude (whatever)'. Yeah. Yeah.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Jes Fernie So the heart. Yeah that one.
Claire Dorsett Yeah, that's quite a good one from neon. That does make me think of, er, made me think of like an '80s neon album cover.
Jes Fernie Does it? Well it's like the Heart outside of Milton Keynes gallery that's just been re-instituted and that's from the 1970s. It's exactly that.
Claire Dorsett Oh right, okay.
Jes Fernie Yeah, it's gorgeous. Can you tell us a bit about this painting?
Claire Dorsett So again, it's like, urm... Multiple sources kind of coming together at once, so, erm... And this very much did happen in the sketchbook form. So I had a sketchbook, recorded some ideas and then I made a painted book for a show in Manchester in sort of 2017. And, I don't work through a book methodically; I don't work from the first page... I tend to work backwards in it, and I mix things up so that ideas and forms and imagery gets mixed together so it's not so formulaic and they can come together in ways that I perhaps haven't thought about before. So this one was a mixture of going to a gig. I went to a gig and...
Jes Fernie Oh god I'd love to go to a gig.
Claire Dorsett I know right. Remember those? It was, not that it matters that, if you can see this or not. But the kind of reference points for the imagery was... I went to see Christine and the Queens who's like an amazing performer. And there is something about that atmosphere of seeing a sort of figure in this... Like I love stages and theatres and the sort of darkness and the anonymity of being in a crowd of people but experiencing something together. And so that was kind of something and the way that the stage lights are so dramatic and the forms that they cast with the silhouette. So it's kind of that, and then I was painting it and I was also thinking about, like, disappointment of like thinking or like, belief in a thing or a person and then having the kind of, like wool lifted from your eyes and being like "Oh, thats not like that at all." And but then I was also thinking about this kind of like... I guess probably from my own insecurity, of sometimes feeling like people are like, "I'm just... I'm not going to deal with you, I'm above this." This, like, too cool. And I'm like, look, whatever. Okay, If you want to, if you want to carry on with that pretend pretence, then that's fine. But... And I guess there's almost like... I guess the brackets, I always think it's like an afterthought. It's like, "Yeah! Yeah, I think that!" But also, "Maybe not: maybe it's just me." So yeah. Whether any of that comes out in the painting I dont know.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett Once the painting is started, it's a formal thing as well.
Jes Fernie Yeah. I'm thinking this lockdown situation that we're all in. I think it has kind of really punctured a lot of you know, kind of egos and sort of presented us with a kind of new fragile state that is just much more kind of tender and much more understanding or at least performatively understanding, or at least on the surface. I don't know what you think about that. I mean, obviously, you're really interested in the idea of something, of people presenting an idea of themselves that might not necessarily, you know, you scratch beneath the surface and it's a crap old sofa kind of thing.
Claire Dorsett Sometimes you're not even aware of it, I think. Sometimes, I mean I do: you're not even aware that you're misrepresenting yourself, you know?
Jes Fernie Yeah. Yeah. But do you think with it, with this, with the pandemic, have you noticed any sort of difference? Or do you hope for any difference; a long term change to the way that the art world or postures you know, Bruce is interested in posturing and, you know, being, posing in a certain way. I'm just, I've just been interested in the language that certain arts institutions have been using in reference to their programmes. I think it's sort of a newfound understanding of the, sort of, fragility of the system.
Claire Dorsett Yeah,.
Jes Fernie The institution relies on the precarious nature of the artists voice right at the bottom of the heap who has no salary or, you know, safe income space. I just, I'm just wondering if you've had any thoughts about any of that?
Claire Dorsett I guess, I guess I mean, like most things, I think the art world is like a microcosm of the world at large. Like it's like but it tends, you know, perhaps it's the world that we're involved in more. But like most, it kind of just highlights things that are going on, on a wide scope.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett Which is why, I think we kind of missed, which is why I really want to chat with you, because I feel like your practice is based within fine art, but looks outwards to how that is applied to other disciplines and basically how we work in the world. I think... I'm kind of hoping, there's been some really... I mean, what's happening is terrible, but in terms of... There's been some positive things for me, like I can attend a meeting, a lecture, in America on Friday night. You know, that's fantastic. I would like that to continue, for that kind of information to, to be accessible by everybody, regardless of geographical location, as a resource. I kind of think the fact that we can't physically go to a gallery, like we can't just drop in and go to a gallery. And a lot of the way that it seems things have been going is that more art is seen online than it is in real life. And I think the two things are very different, like most things, and I'm wondering if perhaps when things get back to some kind of normal or even if it's not a normal, if we're able to go to gallery spaces again, if that will encourage people to do that more. And...
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett ...To make it more.
Jes Fernie It was already on the decline, wasn't it?
Claire Dorsett Yeah.
Jes Fernie People attending galleries: social media was kind of taking over from the kind of real life experience.
Claire Dorsett And Art fairs as well, which, you know, obviously galleries... Most galleries from what I can glean, commercially that's where they make their money. You know, to survive. And that's all digital now as well. So I guess I wonder if there's things to be learned of like do we need a physical Art fair? I'm sure they probably do, because the human interaction of being able to talk to someone about a work, or to meet the artist is very different. But yeah, things like that. I think also it's kind of highlighted... I mean, for freelancers, you know, a lot of UK arts institutions have honoured their freelance contracts. Some haven't, but a lot of them have, and I think that's great because I think most people think that people who are freelance are fine and that they're making loads of money and they're not. You know, they're living mostly hand-to-mouth.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett And they're doing it... and the same for galleries. You know, and they're doing it because they love it, the same as artists are, so...
Jes Fernie Yeah, I've been really heartened by the galleries that I've been working with. Everything has been shunted on: all of my projects have been... It's like 2020 doesn't exist. It's like a big hole, apart from Zoom talks. And, you know, it's been so heartening to work... It's always publicly funded galleries, that, you know, the really heartening conversations that they recognise the value of freelancers. But I'm just really hoping that the art world will understand that it can't go on relying on this kind of, the fragile work force of the artist in the way that it has and paying so badly. I mean, I know that's another whole discussion. I'm now looking at the time it's twenty to nine. Also, we have to make sure that we get to some of the questions. But before we do that, Claire, I feel like we've hardly scraped the surface of your work. But, you know, maybe we can do another one in 2021; in real life!
Claire Dorsett [Laughing] It seems so far away, and yet, not!
Jes Fernie What I wanted to do was read the text that you commissioned, or Bruce McLean wrote, for your exhibition. Was it for the Workplace Foundation exhibition?
Claire Dorsett It was. It was for a publication, that is yet to come out.
Jes Fernie It's just it's literally one sentence with no full stop or no paragraph breaks, but I thought I'd just read it because I think it does such a good job of relaying the essence of Claire's work.
Jes Fernie "Stunning, difficult, thrilling, funny, stupid, dumb, interesting, fabulous barmy obvious, clever, intelligent, perceptive, illuminating, clumsy, elegant, classy, boring, odd, inspiring, uplifting, thoughtful, questioning, articulate, painterly, lush, skooshy, daft, bright, imaginative, original, witty, sharp, tight, tasteful mathematical, free, loose, designed, composed, ord..."
Claire Dorsett Oh. You've frozen.
Jes Fernie What, hey?
Claire Dorsett You froze a little bit for me, I don't know if that's for anyone else.
Jes Fernie Oh did I? Okay. It says my Internet is unstable. I'll just keep going.
Claire Dorsett You're fine now.
Jes Fernie Okay. "...Sexy, calm, considered, complete, finished, slack, untidy, superb, distinguished, brilliant, genius, quiet, flash, hot, cool, stunning, smooth, rough, messy, splatted, particular, specific, unique, philisophical, decorative, radical, normal, obtuse, easy, sublime, crazy, problematic, pure personal perfect painting." Well done Bruce, you got it.
Claire Dorsett Well done Bruce. If he's listening he would be like you talked about me too much.
Jes Fernie Yeah. We've got to move on from the Bruce love'in. I find it very hard.
Claire Dorsett Yeah, me too.
Jes Fernie But I thought we could just finish with what we were reading at the moment because actually my current reading material relates weirdly and it was completely and kind of unintended to that reading and this is going to look ridiculous when I put the book up. Look at the size of this book.
Claire Dorsett Terrifying.
Jes Fernie I know and it's called "Lucy Ellmann: Ducks. Newburyport."
Claire Dorsett Oh, okay, would you recommend?
Jes Fernie It's one of the most amazing books I've read.
Claire Dorsett Okay.
Jes Fernie It's a thousand pages. It's made up of one sentence with no full stops...
Claire Dorsett Wow...
Jes Fernie And no paragraph breaks and no speech breaks. When I first started it I was like, "There's no way I'm going to read this. I'm just going to read the first 50 pages, just to see what it's about, all the fuss is about, and then that's it." And I literally couldn't put it down.
Claire Dorsett Wow!
Jes Fernie I think there are just so many kind of crossovers with your work and Bruce's work; there's a kind of immediacy about it, which says, sort of flounce convention and says, I'm going to find a different way of communicating. There's just, I'll just, going to read a tiny bit here. I'm going to take my glasses off to do this. It's literally just, that instead of having a full stop there's just a few words that says "The fact that." So there's no full stop, it's just "The fact that." It's like a stream of consciousness, basically. "...the fact that where did I read that sometimes Doctor don't know if you're really dead or not when you're in a coma but they want your organs so it's simpler just to declare you dead death panels NHS the fact that sometimes people get better later and find out they've already been declared a corpse the fact that it's kind of like being buried alive in an abstract sort of way and it's a bureaucratic nightmare getting yourself reinstated as a living person the fact that Katherine Hepburn was into eugenics the fact that a major light bulb has gone, has gone in the downstairs hallway and fixing it involves getting on to a tall ladder..."
Jes Fernie It's the light bulb again!
Claire Dorsett [Laughs]
Jes Fernie But do you see what I mean? It's like all this, it's like she's saying, listen, I don't need paragraphs, I don't need full stops. I don't needs capital letters and any grammar. I'm just, it's like, you know, kind of modernist way of communicating, just saying I need to get out what's in my head. And I think...
Claire Dorsett Yeah, totally.
Jes Fernie Parallels with your work. Not that I'm saying you should read this thing, but honestly...
Claire Dorsett No, no, it sounds brilliant.
Jes Fernie It's absolutely brilliant.
Claire Dorsett No, what I like, it. It's like that. Like you say, like a stream of consciousness. Like, for me, like sketchbooks are like a way of taking all of the thoughts out of my head and dumping them. It's basically like a brain dump.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett And also, and like, you know, they... Things go on tangents, but that's how my brain works and I think that's probably how most people's brains work. It's like, not working in a linear way so why shouldn't your work reflect that?
Jes Fernie Exactly! Exactly. Yeah, it's perfect. So, should we open up for questions Miles?
Miles Thurlow Hello! Hello. Yeah, sorry to interrupt. I'm going to just read out some of these questions, I think, would that be the best way, do you feel?
Jes Fernie Yeah. Go for it.
Miles Thurlow So there's a question here. From Chris, who says "Hi Claire, all of the works here are very big. How would you feel if you painted smaller works? Chris."
Claire Dorsett I do paint smaller works they're just not in the show here. Yeah, I do paint smaller works. They tend to either be very, very big or really quite small and not really in the middle. And I think that's something to do with either wanting to blow things up and exaggerate them and then also feel quite intimately about making smaller work as well. So what tends to happen is I'll be, I work on a series of small ones at the same time. I haven't quite figured out if that's because logistically and physically I can do that more than I can do on, like I don't, I don't have the space or the means to make like ten massive canvases and work on all of those at the same time. I suspect it probably would be different though because the big paintings take a lot more energy, erm, for me to to physically work on them, whereas smaller ones I can kind of get them all going at the same time. So yeah, I do. I do work small as well. And I think it's, a small painting can have just as much presence as a large painting. I don't think something has to be physically big to command presence. It's just about how you do something.
Miles Thurlow Bruce Haynes asks, "Do you feel like making work at the moment?" Which I think is a reference to at the moment, e.g. lockdown rather than right now.
Claire Dorsett I feel more pressure to be making work right now, because currently, I do have a day job and I'm furloughed right now. So I have, I guess, more time at home, but I can't actually get to the studio right now. So I'm kind of set up in the spare bedroom here at home making smaller works. Yeah, I felt, I felt very aware that I didn't want to make like work that reacted to what was happening right now. And so I needed... I needed a few weeks to have some headspace for myself to try and work out what was going on, which I still haven't worked out, but, you know, just to get used to it. And also, yeah, I was aware of not wanting to jump straight in. So now I'm kind of at the point where I'm brewing up again. It takes a long time for me to feel like I want to start making work, which I think most people are surprised by. I'm not a 9 to 5er: I don't, I don't think painting is like a job in that way, if that makes sense, but that's just what works for me.
Miles Thurlow Abby says, "Really love your paintings, and was wondering how did your MFA change or define your practice? And where does your colour palette come from for each painting?
Claire Dorsett Good question. So MFA, I think just stepped it up a gear. Like undergrad, both universities... Brighton was great because they just leave you to your own, sort of, devices and kind of carefully sort of nurture and support what you're doing. And I felt that my undergrad was about figuring out how I want to paint and that my MFA was what I wanted to say to some extent or cultivating a bit more of a voice. And some of that is just time and some of it is the environment. You know, all of the tutors there are brilliant. It changed, it kind of supported my outlook that art isn't just in a vacuum of art itself. And that's kind of why I wanted, really wanted you to to be able to do this 'In Conversation' tonight as well Jes. Erm that, you know, when I first started the first year was taught by Bruce McLean, the second year was taught by Lisa Milroy, both fantastic artists in completely different ways. And the whole emphasis was like you are in the Slade School of Fine Art which is part of a bigger, older university, UCL. And so while you're here, why would you just stay to yourself, like go and talk to people in other departments, like move around. Most art schools I know are really sad that we don't have like a communal canteen anymore, because that's where some of the really great conversations happen when like an engineer bumps into an artist and they're just having a chat, like it's, that's how you innovate and, and sort of move things forward, I think. So, yeah, I think it helped me work out what I wanted to say. And that was just time and space and having good people around you, really. And the colour palette... Tends to be... I work a lot with sort of marker pens. And so I kind of am aware that I want to keep the colour palette of the paintings similar. So I don't tend to mix a lot of colours, I tend to use things straight out of the tub to kind of keep, to sort of mirror that. But I like really saturated colour. And I love black for its graphic quality. So, yeah, I don't know if that answers that question.
Miles Thurlow Cecil says, "Can you please say a little about the apparent directness and immediacy of your work, and whether you were interested in making a particular sense of time in your painting".
Claire Dorsett Ooh. Directness and immediacy, I think has something to do with, as Jes was talking about titles earlier like this painting is called SOFA and it is of a sofa. Erm it's like, I don't really like faffing about. I kind of, sort of I want things to be done fairly quickly to install a sense of, I guess, confidence in the work that even if there is a vulnerability to it, or a fragility to it, that you still have confidence in it. So that's kind of why immediacy and directness are important. Erm, then time within the paintings. Within the paintings themselves, I don't... I think that's something I would need to really think about. Hopefully I would like to make work that is fairly universal, but I am aware of paintings like "No Pressure" are probably particularly kind of pinned down to now, which is maybe a little bit newer. I mean, I can't help being a 34 year old woman living in the world today and that's going to come out in some way. Whether I want it to or not, really. Yeah, that's a difficult question.
Jes Fernie I do get the sense that it's really important to you that a lot of these works are universal, they're as you said when you were talking to me, it's not a kind of self, autobiography.
Claire Dorsett Hopefully not.
Jes Fernie It's not like this is my place in the world, you're looking at, you know, the kind of experience of, you know, just living in the world as a human and looking at...
Claire Dorsett It's a difficult balance, because you have to kind of reference yourself in some way because that's all you've got to go on. But you also don't want to pin it down and make it too specific to yourself because then it's just, sort of self-interested, I guess.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Claire Dorsett Yeah.
Miles Thurlow Yeah, there's a question here from Ella. In fact, she asked two questions, but I'm just gonna ask the first one, because I think you've covered the second one, but "You seem to get a lot of your inspiration from your surroundings and the observation of people. How has lockdown affected your, affected your creativity or inspiration?" I think I'd quite like at the end of this talk to open that up to both of you.
Claire Dorsett Yeah. I mean, I have a lot of books to go on. So as it is, I don't tend to work on... I don't work with material that's in the book I'm working on right now; I tend to go back to older books, with the intention of hopefully having a bit more distance from those moments and so being able to pick out something that might be a bit more universal. I kind of, I do... I miss the sort of... I guess what... It might not be how you would use it, but the serendipity Jes? Like I love that that's in your biography, but like, of just, of bumping into a person and having a conversation, either about work or like... I can, I can have conversations via Zoom, I can have phone calls but there's something about the... Well, supposed randomness of being, walking down the street and going "Oh hey, it's that person!" or meeting someone you've never met before, you know, and just, I kind of miss that. But I'm still able to make work about what is around me. And I think a lot of my work is with very basic objects and so I can kind of invent things from what's going on in my house really, and in my own imagination. But I think going back to the other question with the work. I want the works to not just be for like an art audience, like I would really love that somebody comes to it without necessarily going to art school, and be like "You know what? I like that." Or they don't like that and this is why.
Jes Fernie That's one of the things that connects our practice. I mean, I don't I don't I don't think I've ever worked with a painter in my practice. But I think it's the fact that, you know, we're interested in a kind of more expansive, broader conversation with people beyond the gallery space in a way and kind of more, you know, a slightly different kind of viewpoint.
Claire Dorsett I just, I kind of think that art is, and I think this is probably something that was really absorbed from being at the Slade as well, is that art is a way of questioning, reflecting and looking at the world. And that we will have our own different languages. And, you know, science is a very creative field, as is maths. It's just, it's languages, that people kind of have like a... They're sort of geared more towards one or the other. And I think the only way that we can kind of progress is through all having conversations and like, learning from each other and learning from works and people's inventions and sort of edging forward, I guess. Yeah.
Miles Thurlow Okay. I think... Here we are, it's 9'o'clock, that's gone so quickly.
Jes Fernie Hasn't it? And all these lovely questions. Thanks so much, everyone.
Claire Dorsett Yeah, thank you. Thank you for attending. I just saw Sean Penlington pop up with "I love the soup of ideas..." and I love that as a sentence. That's a brilliant sentence! Use that in a painting Sean!
Miles Thurlow Soup of ideas, brilliant. OK. Well just to thank you both for such a fascinating conversation. It's been really lovely just sitting here and flicking through images and probably making a bit of a strange mess of my cursor zooming around the screen.
Jes Fernie You did perfectly Miles.
Claire Dorsett You did.
Miles Thurlow You know, this will get slicker and more polished as we go on.
Jes Fernie No slickness here!
Claire Dorsett Which is why I've gone first!
Miles Thurlow But just to thank you. But also to to thank all of our attendees who have joined us and...
Claire Dorsett And I hope you're all alright.
Jes Fernie Yeah.
Miles Thurlow I'm seeing a number on our screen, which has sort of stay pretty constant throughout. It's been really well attended. I'm really excited about that. And thank you very much. So I'm going to now do that embarrassing thing at the end where you go "Right... Bye!" and...
Claire Dorsett And then we're all like, ummm.
Jes Fernie Thanks so much everyone. Thanks for joining us.
Claire Dorsett Thanks so much.
Miles Thurlow Please do join us again next Tuesday, 8:00 p.m., when we will be talking to Magnus Quaife and Andy Hunt as well. So thank you very much.
Claire Dorsett If I didn't answer anyone's questions, feel free to contact me. Via Email or Instagram, I'm happy to try and answer.
Miles Thurlow How do I do this? Right. Goodbye, everyone.
Jes Fernie Bye!!