Introducing Clinton

An interview with the artist about his work

What stimulated your interest in the arts and how early in your life did that begin? Did others in your family influence you or did it come from somewhere else?

My grandmother had a screen printing studio set up in her house. When I visited she would give some art projects. From the age of 8, I was doing simple paper pickup prints.

Then when I was about 10 she gave me a screen printing kit for Christmas. This allowed me to make prints at home. Drawing was also heavily encouraged by family members when I was growing up.

By the time I was 15, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the arts, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that a spark finally ignited that creative fire … the trigger was the sad and untimely death of my sister.

Why painting? Was there anything in particular that attracted you to that medium? How confident were you at that early stage?

I started to paint so I could express my emotions, and as a way of dealing with the ongoing issues that occupied my mind at that time. I thought that over time one could develop a deeper understanding of the “big things”, like life and death. And I was fascinated with the possibility of being able to share that insight, even beyond the span of my own own life.

I was very confident and expressive when I first began painting, and a number of people commented that my work looked more advanced than that of someone who was just starting out. 

Regarding your technique, have you studied with someone or are you largely self-taught? Are there particular artists whose work you admire or styles that have influenced your own work?

I am almost completely self-taught. Abstract expressionism and primitive art are the two styles that have most influenced my own output, especially where the figure has been utilised as the main means to create the composition.

Of the artists whose work I greatly admire, Ian Fairweather, David Larwill and Keith Haring come immediately to mind. David Larwill’s work has been particularly influential in the progress and development of my own practice.

Among works, Epiphany by Ian Fairweather is a clear favourite. Standing in front of that large painting in the Queensland Art Gallery changed my life … it made me want to become an artist.

You have a great sense of colour, and that brings your paintings to life. How do you decide on colours? And what about the rest of your technique? Every artist has particular strengths. What are yours?

From lifelong involvement in the arts and through my work as a commercial screen printer I have been immersed in colour for a long time, and that ongoing exposure has certainly informed my own approach. 

I would say my strengths include spontaneity and freedom – the capacity both to embrace and disregard what is already on the canvas as I continue to create. Each work “grows” and “evolves” as it is created.

A work generally starts out as an abstract composition and then the figures are born from there. As I paint, one colour informs the next until there is harmony. I choose colours that will create a certain ‘vibration’ … ultimately I want each painting to pulsate, to feel alive.

What inspires you to paint, things around you, what others do and say, personal experience, feelings and emotions, or something harder to define? Is there some sort of narrative in your pictures? Are they telling a story?

Feelings and emotions are certainly a major driving force behind my decision to pick up a brush. Life experiences are definitely in there too. They are imbedded in my psyche, so are inseparable from the creative process.

Identifiable situations arise within my works, and some are recurring, but they never exist in isolation. Nothing exists on its own. There are always numerous other things happening around them. I see that as more of a holistic approach, in creativity, and in one’s approach to life in general.

Regarding the figures in my work, they are always telling a story, but exactly what they are saying is often hard to define. I do however believe that my work delivers a message to the viewer, and that’s where it takes on its value as a way of communicating.

I know you have a full-time job on top of your painting activities. How do you make the time to paint? Is it tiring, or gratifying enough to make spending time on it worthwhile? What rewards do you get out of it?

Yes, I am employed by Red Octopus, one of Brisbane’s leading commercial screen printers. I enjoy that work and the company is very supportive of my “other” interest.

When I’m working towards an exhibition or am motivated to produce something new, I  make time in the evenings or on weekends, and if necessary I will take time out from work.

I do find certain aspects of painting to be tiring at times. It probably depends on the level of concentration required. But even then the act of painting is energising.

Painting is very rewarding, and as for any artist, the ongoing development and advancement of style and technique are other great rewards. I experience that constantly along the way, and I greatly admire the fact that this can happen as part of the process.

You have mentioned your employment as a commercial screen printer and your involvement as an edition printer for other artists, but you also use screen printing as a medium in your own work. What does screen printing offer?

I have been a commercial screen printer for the past 20 years and as an edition printer for other artists for the last 10. The early experience of working with my grandmother’s equipment laid the foundation for both.

Many people think of screen printing as a way of reproducing another work. There’s much more to it than that. Screen printing, etching and lithography are art forms in themselves and big skills are required to use them.

Also, printing is not the same as painting because the two media work in different ways and offer very different outcomes. When I create my own print designs, I try to use that medium’s full potential to achieve things like perspective, texture and colour. A well-made print can express as much to the viewer as oil on canvas.

When I’m printing a work for another artist, the artists always particular aims or goals in mind. And there has to be lots of testing and checking to make sure the results are right.

And wasn’t your time as an artist in residence focused on print making?

Early on I developed a particular interest in helping indigenous artists, so I approached Basil Hall, director of the Braidwood-based art printer studio Basil Hall Editions. That was in 2007. Basil had worked with indigenous artists for a number of years, and I’ve been engaged in a number of their projects since then.

Four or five time each year I’ve made trips to the Top End and have completed editions for artists from Darwin, Ernabella, Warmun, Peppimenarti, Yuendumu, Nyapari, Tiwi Islands, Fitzroy Crossing and Arnhem Land. In 2009, I printed the Tjungu Palya silkscreen editions for their successful folio of prints by 10 important Nyapari artists.

Thanks to funding from Arts Queensland through its Regional Arts Development Fund, I was able to spend time at BHE as an artist-in-residence in 2015. This helped me to refine my understanding of etching and expand my overall competence in the use of the printing technique.

My association with Basil Hall also led to my involvement in a special project set up in 2016 by the St Vincent’s Hospital Group. This began when they engaged over 50 members of staff and three Indigenous artists to design an art work through which the hospitals wanted to express their commitment to Reconciliation between Australia’s First Peoples and the wider community.

I carried out the screen printing of the work’s panels at Basil Hall’s studio. The three-panelled work was entitled Reconciliation: Towards excellent health, happiness and equality and now the three St Vincent’s Hospitals in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have it on public display.

What about long-term plans? Do you want eventually to make painting your full-time profession? And if so, what needs to happen to make that possible?

I hope the day will come when painting is my full time profession … but it is probably going to take time to reach that point. At the moment, I’m happy to keep working on strengthening the public perception of my work through regional art gallery exhibitions.

I’d like to be able to win a few more art prizes, especially some of those major prizes that deliver a certain accolade to an artist’s name. Even better still would be some solo exhibitions, especially in the capital cities, along with professional representation within reputable commercial art galleries. We’re working on that!

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