Shortlisted earlier this year for the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019, Claire Cansick’s painting ‘Backwater Dream’ transports you to the balmy, tranquil environs of Kerala, ambling slowly down a river through the jungle. The dreamy atmosphere of the work is heightened by the surreal, warm and sultry palette of oranges and pinks. With memory a key source material for Claire, this interview presents more of her work – a collection of dreams and memories rendered in expressive marks and harmonic palettes.
Lisa: Could you give us a potted account of your journey as a painter up to now?
Claire: My degree specialised in printmaking as I love to draw and it translates well into print, but it was during my degree that I discovered my love of colour. After a few years break to have a family I embarked on teaching myself to paint as print was less accessible and am now full time and love every minute.
Lisa: There is a lovely stillness in your painting ‘Backwater Dream’. What sort of memories are evoked when you look at the painting? I guess that your memories of Kerala now infuse with your memories of having painted this picture.
Claire: The peace of the backwaters was a beautiful experience with the slow boat and narrow channels passing through the jungle and it took me a while to digest and approach the memory in my work, around 6 months. The painting also took time to complete as I got halfway and spent a few weeks painting other things while I considered it. Then one day I got up early and almost finished the painting within a few hours. Both the real experience and making the painting touched on a deeply emotional place.
Lisa: How do you choose the colours you will work with for a painting?
Claire: This is key to my work. I use a limited palette of 4 or 5 colours and mix everything, I hardly ever paint straight from the tube. Paintings always have a dominant colour, Backwater Dream is centred around cadmium orange for example. I look for what I call recessive colours – colours within colours- to bring forward and carefully consider the palette for each painting.
Lisa: You say on your website that you start with a memory or an image, and then eventually let the painting take over. Are there ever times when the painting doesn’t give you any clues and you don’t know what to do next? If so do you have a course of action to take in these situations?
Claire: Oh yes! I take it as a cue to step back, turn it to the wall and get on with something else. After a while I can look again and it is often obvious what to do. I like things to come together quite quickly and if they don’t they get dumped!
Lisa: You work in a variety of media including pastel, oil and pencil. Do you have a favourite and why, and how do you know which to work with?
Claire: Oh that’s a tough one – oil has to be the favourite but I feel most relaxed drawing, painting is harder for me but it is so exciting when it works. If I am struggling with a painting I always turn to drawing, and with pastels lately. But you can’t beat a really soft pencil. I can’t decide!
Lisa: What’s your surface of choice when oil painting?
Claire: I love to paint on wood – there is a shop in Gt Yarmouth which sells the most beautiful birch wood panels. It has a wonderful grip yet is soft and velvety. If I go large it’s canvas; wood gets too heavy.
Lisa: Define a good day in the studio for Claire Cansick.
Claire: I am a real early bird so I love to start early around 7.30am. If I get to the 6 o’clock news in the evening it has been a good productive day. It’s the best to get lost in the work like that.
Lisa: Is there any particular art material or gadget that holds a special place in your heart?
Claire: I have a very very worn down round hog hair brush, it is basically a stump but is great for drawing and scratching lines in the paint. That’s my favourite brush. I also like any drying medium which helps to speed up the process of oil painting.
Lisa: Do you have any art hacks that you would like to share with us?
Claire: Draw from life, shop the sales for paint and brushes and add one weird colour you’ve never used before.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Claire: I am going back to a night painting of the woods which I started earlier in the year. It is quite large and based around ultramarine deep. I’m excited by it.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Claire: I’m at Young Gallery in Salisbury in the Arborealists’ exhibition next with Backwater Dream and Bermondsey Project Space later in the year. Online I am a featured artist on Rise Art and also have a shop on my website where you can see all my new pieces as they arise.
Header Image: ‘Backwater Dream’ by Claire Cansick, oil on canvas, 122 x 76cm, 2018