In Conversation With Clare Millen

Clare has been a practising studio-based artist for over three decades, alongside being a teacher and enthusiastic traveller. Clare studied textile design at Derby University as a weaver but quickly found the freedom of felt making and spent many years designing unique wall hangings and other sculptural pieces before like so many artists evolving her creativity and falling in love with paint and mixed media.

Laura: How did your journey start as an artist?
Clare : My journey as an artist has its roots in my childhood memories of watching my uncle, who came to live with us intermittently, carve out a living through his art. Each morning he would studiously complete detailed illustrations of small bicycle components for various cycling magazines. I was in awe of his technical skill and accuracy using just a black pen. However, it was his afternoon activity that I found most exciting when he would pack up his easel and paints, sling some canvas over his shoulder and march off into the rolling countryside surrounding our house. Hours would pass by and I would wait and wonder where he was. Eventually he would return home with dirty hands and canvases covered in sweeping colourful brushstrokes that were bursting with energy, movement and emotions that I found totally mesmerizing as a young girl.

As the daughter of very conventional parents, my uncle was a total revelation, presenting me with a way of experiencing the world far removed from my everyday life. At weekends we would often take a train into London visiting different museums and galleries before spending the rest of the day exploring the narrow back streets of the city. I was totally seduced by the colours, smells and sounds of city life. And it was here that I first discovered my love of colour and surface as we visited shops and markets filled with exotic, patterned fabrics and mysterious objects from faraway places. A world away from my small, country village.

These memories of feeling so thrilled to experience something new and unfamiliar have fuelled my journey both as an artist and a traveller throughout my life. As a child my visual world opened up, filling me with wonder, curiosity and opportunity – and these are feelings I still experience when I contemplate art and creativity today.

L: How would you describe/explain your work/pieces?
C: For me making art is an immersive experience that allows me to explore colour and surface in an intuitive way. All my works are experiments as I have no tried and tested formula that I rely upon. I apply paint in layers that I then work back into through sanding and scraping, in order to expose hidden sections and reveal elements of the painting’s history. My work is always semi-abstract as I am led by what happens to media as I apply it in a variety of different ways to different surfaces.

The process of laying colour down in this chance way is thrilling but also exasperating at times. Many hours and many layers of paint can either fly or die in front of my eyes. I’m often defeated and have to walk away. However when a painting does work it is a deeply satisfying feeling  – one that compels me to repeat the process again and again.

L: What’s important to you?
C: That I capture something of how good it feels to be a part of nature. And that people feel emotion and a sense of connection to my work. I invest a lot of energy in creating surfaces that resonate with time spent building up and breaking down colour and line to evoke a sense of age and history. I hope that people looking at my work value these marks in the same way that I do.

L: What are you working on at the moment?
C: My focus is landscape and a continually evolving visual response to the emotions it evokes within me. My work is becoming more or less abstract depending on the different surfaces I choose to work on. I’m currently experimenting with mark making and layering onto acrylic sheets and am enjoying the rich variety of textures I can generate.

L: What was the last piece of design, art, craft you bought and why and who for?
C: I’m a huge fan of Mid Century ceramics and my last purchase was a small Tilgmans vase designed by the Swedish artist Marian Zawadzki. Her experimentation with the technique of sgraffito onto clay really appeals to my love of rich surface textures.

L: What or who influences you?
C: My themes are nature-based, be it a vase of flowers, a wild garden or the memory of a walk taken through an inspiring landscape.

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