Artist Q&A with Claire McConaughy
Claire McConaughy is a painter who lives and works in New York. She earned her MFA in painting from Columbia University and her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University. Her works are a combination of elements that make poetic moments connected to the present and past, and are reactions to the process of painting and the history of landscape. These works continue in the lineage of landscape painting, and also come from her early experiences in rural mountain woods, and life in New York City.
Who is your favorite artist of all time?
It seems impossible to answer this question because my favorites are in different categories for different reasons, but to try to keep it simple, I’ll put forward several artists who have had impact on me over the years. Martin Johnson Heade is a continual inspiration for me in painting. Even though I only know a few of his paintings firsthand, they feel transcendent. When I look at them, I see all of the represented objects, but I also get a feeling for the invisible elements in the scene like the quiet, warmth, humidity or electricity in the air – somehow, he’s able to create an experience through his painting that goes beyond what is shown. Louise Bourgeois has had a strong effect on me for several decades. Bourgeois’ ability to confront difficult content with imagery that reveals her personal strength and vulnerabilities, is incredibly powerful. Her work never ceases to intrigue me. Finally, Peter Doig’s strange, dreamlike visions captivate me.
How did you become a professional artist?
I always knew that I was an artist. I was encouraged to draw, make music, and write. People responded to my drawing so there was a lot of validation to pursue art even if it wasn’t clear what that really looked like as a life label. I stayed an artist throughout my life even though there were other possibilities because it satisfies me most. Even when there are difficult times as an artist, it’s the thing that I feel most right doing.
What are the influences and inspirations in your work?
Brooklyn during the pandemic, and global warming. The pandemic and our otherwise tumultuous times have made me acutely aware of how fragile life and nature are, and that’s coming through in my work.
How is your work different from everything else out there?
I set out to transform the way a place feels into an image, and offer something that can be experienced by the viewer on as many levels. What the viewer gains is the combination of my artistic gestures with their filters that contextualize the experience. I’d say my contribution to art is that I’m willing to do it, which is no small thing. I’m willing to share my relationship to painting – for all of its successes, failures, experiments, and my skills, or lack thereof.
When is a piece finished for you?
When I know that if I did anything more, I’d wreck it, then I do that and wreck it, then I revive it, and it’s usually done – unless I wreck it again.
What’s different about your current body of work?
As my work evolves I consciously or unconsciously am in different places. Right now, my art is truly for myself – more free from outside influences than ever before. I feel good about my abilities and experiences that allow me to be very versatile in my thinking and non-thinking. Lately, a wider variety of imagery is coming into my landscapes including people and iconography that I didn’t expect in order to make the woods that I paint tell an even richer story.
Tell us about a few of your career highlights or moments that have greatly affected your career?
I have been fortunate to come upon truly supportive people who have helped to shape who I have become as an artist. I worked for the non-profit art journal New Observations for about ten years. Being exposed to various artists and thinkers through New Observations I began to form my picture of how to have a life in art through multiple outlets and creative endeavors. The editor and publisher, Diane Karp, was truly supportive of me and my work, and I will be forever grateful for her friendship. And there are so many others along the way who have said or done the right thing to help at the moment. As for exhibitions, my solo show at The Painting Center was truly a highlight. It was humbling to see how many people came out to support the work.
What’s coming up for you?
At the end of 2019 my solo show “Claire McConaughy: Not So Far Away” at The Painting Center took place in New York, which opened to great reactions. In 2020 I was included in Salon Zürcher’s Eleven Women of Spirit Exhibition. For what’s coming up, I have a two-person show show at 490 Atlantic Gallery in Brooklyn that I’m really looking forward to in November of 2021.
What advice would you give to an artist just starting out today?
Comparisons are odious so whatever your interests are, follow them and try not to be misled by what you think you should be doing or trends that influence you to do things that you truly aren’t invested in. Enjoy yourself. Work hard. Make art for yourself.
Who are some of your favorite under appreciated artists that you don’t think get enough attention?
There are so many artists that I’ve love to mention, but a few of my absolutely favorites include Sarah Bedford, Alyce Gottesman, Claudia Doring-Baez, Elisabeth Condon, and Claudine Anrather.
To learn more about Claire and her work, please visit www.ClaireMcconaughy.com.