‘Clare Rojas: Inside Bleak’ Opens at LA’s PRISM

The restraint and simplicity of the paintings of Clare Rojas bely a profound emotional kick. Taking inspiration from American Folk Art, Amish quilts, and Native American textiles, the San Francisco-based artist’s designs and forms invite scrutiny, revealing over time a depth and energy that’s only hinted at upon first glance. Visitors to LA’s PRISM will be able to take in every layer of her work this month as the gallery hosts Clare Rojas: Inside Bleak, a collection of what she calls “domestic abstract interiors.”

The show features framed works on panels, linen portraits of female characters, and large-scale installation panels – including some that require slumping over to appreciate from the diminutive artist’s point of view – that transform visitors into artistic subjects. A collection of videos are presented in collaboration with Philadelphia-based artist Andrew Jeffrey Wright, including the award-winning Ich bin ein un manipulator and The manipulators. A bit of a renaissance woman herself, Rojas is also a musician, and she’ll be performing – under the name Peggy Honeywell – a collection of songs she wrote over the past two years, as well as screening a new video called Bower Bird.

Here, Rojas discusses her background, inspirations, and her unique perspective as a short person.

BlackBook: How did you get involved in art? Clare Rojas: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, studied printmaking at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], and got a masters in painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve always drawn and painted, since I can remember. I was terrible at sports and passed high school by painting wooden ducks for teachers, along with their portraits. My favorite artist growing up was Matisse, and I also enjoyed visiting science and natural history museums with my mom.

What were some of your inspirations? My biggest inspiration was literature that revolved around humanist and feminist themes. At RISD there were a handful of artists that were influential in instilling within me the idea that you can do anything if you have integrity and work hard. I was influenced by the [former] Fort Thunder warehouse, Brian Chippendale, Mat Brinkman, and Andrew Jeffrey Wright, who is a constant source of laughter and inspiration and makes art no matter what the conditions are. I got hockey skates and went to Brown University’s rink and skated in circles for hours, which was where I sorted through all my ideas. I like certain TV shows too, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And, of course, I’m influenced by my awesome, amazingly talented, and genious husband. What are you trying to accomplish through this show? A lot of different things. Inside Bleak is the culmination of everything I’ve thought and wished to do. I am trying to be aware and present with each piece and feel it, so there’s electricity and it becomes sacred art, or at least sacred to me. I’m trying to envelop the viewer like music does.

How long does it take you to create a painting? I plan out my paintings and then they seem to almost form themselves. It’s really about listening to your intuition. Some take forever and some take five hours. The same happens with writing songs – some write themselves and some take a year. The installations start with a concept, and the past couple have been about everything being connected and being aware of your environment, and how it becomes you and you become it. It’s almost performative watching everyone walk around the space slumped over trying to see the world I created from my perspective. If we could all remember to do this daily we would would feel so much more empathy for one another. Now everyone knows what it feels like to be short!

Are you moving away from the use of figures in your paintings? The loss of figures for me is awesome. They are still there, the space is them. Sometimes I even sketch them in for the sake of composition and color and then take them out. Less is more.

Inside Bleak will be on display at PRISM through April 2, 2011.

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