Artist of the Week: Martha Clippinger

Martha Clippinger is an artist living in Brooklyn, New York.  In 2008 she received her MFA from the Mason Gross School of Art at Rutgers University and currently teaches at Drew University in New Jersey.  Martha is the founder of The Dirty Dirty, an alternative art space in Brooklyn.

How did your interest in art begin?  I grew up in Columbus, Georgia.  Nearby is Buena Vista where an artist named Eddie Owens Martin (St. EOM) created a visionary art environment called Pasaquan.  As a child, the colors and patterns of St. EOM’s creations inspired me to paint brightly colored shapes onto various materials, which continues to this day.  In recent years, I have become even more fascinated by the environment that he created and the concept of self-made worlds.  St. EOM was not the only eccentric artist in the Southeast whose resourceful and prolific practice intrigued me.  Artists such as Butch Anthony and Robert “Frito” Seven combined wit and ingenuity to create works that matched their generous spirits. Their attitudes influenced both my process and my desire to promote shared experiences through art.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like?  The year 2010 was filled with wood, but evidently my softer side wants to come through because the past few months I’ve been sewing and using fabrics to create paintings. To put it simply, I view painting as “color in space.”  That color can exist two-dimensionally within the confines of a rectangle or can exist in a physical or architectural space.  I like to respond to the visual potential of found objects and then consider the placement of a work and its relationship to the surrounding environment.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now?  Textiles and architecture are major influences now. My fascination with these subjects stems from my interest in folk art and Modernism and my constant search for places where the two meet.  Architects such as Luis Barragan incorporated vernacular architecture and color from Guadalajara into his designs, and the quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama addressed their need for warmth through quilts whose linear structures resembled those of modernist abstraction.  I’m always comparing my experiences growing up down South to my life in New York, so perhaps that’s where some of these ideas begin?

How has living in New York affected your art practice?  Bedbugs have really cramped my style.  I prefer to work with found materials, but I can’t just walk down the street and pick up anything that catches my eye.  New York is frustrating in that way because there is such an abundance of amazing trash, but you can’t bring it home!  Sometimes I’ll break down and pick up a fruit crate or a peach basket at the grocer—that’s clean trash, right?

What artists are you interested in right now?  A couple of days ago, I discovered a book called “Constructed Abstract Art in England: A Neglected Avant-Garde.”  It’s full of surprises!  I was not aware of this work from the 1950s, but the writings are helping me articulate the questions I have about abstraction, painting, and architecture with relation to my own practice. Encountering new artists this way creates an excitement for me that is like making new friends.  Other friends who I have encountered through the years that are of great interest now are Sheila Hicks, Luis Barragan, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Louis Kahn, Anni Albers, St. EOM (Eddie Owens Martin), and Sarah Granett.  And I can’t wait to visit Sonia Delaunay-Terk at the Cooper Hewitt show later this month.

How has your work developed within the past year?  My studio space changed drastically this year.  I moved from a tiny room in a basement (The Dirty Dirty) to a large space with 14’ ceilings and pristine walls (The Space Program), so I have been able to collect more materials, play with installations, and push the verticality of my work. I began constructing reliefs that led to more sculptural paintings.  These 3-D wall works have had me thinking more about the activity of the viewer and how much movement and memory is involved in the reception of a work – an idea that Willys de Castro presented with his “Objetos Ativos.”  I hope to create more active objects.

What do you do when you’re not working on art?  I plan events at The Dirty Dirty that usually involve boiling peanuts.  And I teach.

If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go and why? Brazil!!! I want to experience some Oscar Niemeyers! Also, a number of Brazilian artists have inspired me (Oiticia, Clark, de Castro to name a few), so I’d like to experience the environment that influenced them- even if I am 50 years late.

If you hadn’t become an artist, what do you think you’d be doing? I originally set out to be an art historian, but sometimes I daydream of being a housewife and hosting fabulous cocktail parties.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on?  The Space Program’s open studio event is coming up in mid-April, but before that I’ll be going to Seale, Alabama for The Doo-Nanny.  It’s an outdoor festival, so I’m working on a sculpture that will exist on the edge of a small lake.  I’m only creating the upper half of the work so that the lake’s reflection will create the other half.

Another project in the works is a collaboration with the poet Urayoan Noel.  We’ve created postcards with e-constrained texts (influenced by Georges Perec’s “Les Revenentes”) as a way to share our peculiar fascination with the surreal beach neighborhood of Edgemere, New York.

Also, The Dirty Dirty has an ever-evolving exhibition in the works.  Its premise is a visual game of “telephone” but since it takes longer to make something than it does to speak it, the project is taking quite some time.  I hope we can exhibit the lineage this spring.  (While we eat boiled peanuts, of course!)