An Interview with Clara Varas

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Your art blurs the lines between painting, sculpture and installation. What is the starting point for your works?

I think for me, there is no particular reason to choose either painting or sculpture. I think for me, one dictates the other. It usually has to do with whatever material I find or sometimes the work tells you wherever it wants to go.

Can you speak a bit about the color palette we see in your new works?

There is no particular reason I choose colors other than, within the composition itself, what I feel works. I do tend to keep some backgrounds a little more neutral and then like to use spurts of colors here and there. There is no specific reason why.

It is just emotional? You do not plan any of it?

No, I do not plan anything in advance. I do not make sketches. The process is my sketch. By cutting things up and destroying them it goes into an abstract element. When I am doing it, I am all into the composition.
It is very spontaneous. The material dictates everything.

Let us talk about the material. When and why did you start to incorporate commonplace items associated with the concept of home?

It’s a funny story. My mother likes to visit Goodwill a lot. She is a big collector. What I find the most intriguing about the things that she collects, is that they are not things that have any particular big value or anything like that. They are usually things that are marked or used, which is kind of funny, because that is exactly what drives me to a particular object. It is not really valuable per se, yet, they have some semblance of value to a person, whether it is nostalgia or familiarity or it is something they grew up with. That’s what interests me and draws me to a particular object. Some of them are a collaboration between my mother and myself.

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What does the concept of home mean to you? How do you interpret it in your art?

To me, the idea of home is something that is very transient. I think being born in Cuba and migrating to the United States when I was 7 years old – I migrated here with my family – I do not remember a whole lot of specifics from Cuba, but it is kind of this thing that you long for. You do not particularly know. So for me, it is a way to draw back to this sort of nostalgic, romanticized version of my parents’ home, my roots. It is a line between those two particular things.

Do you often use items that you associate with Cuba?

Yes. I used a cafetera, a tablecloth, some fabrics. They do not particularly have to be from Cuba. Sometimes they are from childhood or just something that either my grandmother or my parents kept in their home.

How relevant is the original function of the items you incorporate? How do you change the function once they become part of the artwork?

That’s a good question because I sometimes use a lot of things that are actually broken and have lost their function, which to me is interesting. Something that is broken, where you have to kind of find another function for it or totally disregard its original function and just make it a little more personal to what function it can serve to you.

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What function do you search for?

When it becomes part of my art the function it serves to me is as a way to compositionally repeat a particular pattern or provide some sort of kinetic movement to the work. At that point, it has to do more with the function of the work itself.

What are some of the items you enjoy working with besides the ones you already mentioned such as fabrics and items that remind you of Cuba?

A lot of broken down furniture, found furniture, sometimes even just the dry dust that has fallen to the studio floor while working. I always had a particular affinity for what other people may consider trash or garbage. Sometimes people leave things at my house. For example I think my little sister left headphones I used. Sometimes people also say something that sticks in my head and when I cannot get rid of it, I make it into something just to get it out.

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Viewers interact with your work also based on their connection with those items. How relevant is this invasion of the viewer’s space and mind when creating the work? Is this a consideration?

Yes it is. I love that the viewers can conjure up their own conclusions to the work. They may find something particularly familiar like for example the cafetera that draws them back to their childhood or just a familiar object. A lot of my work is open-ended in that sense. I want people to draw their own conclusions from it.

Your work generally explores your personal ties to earth and land. Can you elaborate on your explorations?

I first started with a lot of figurative work and moved on from there early on in my career. Then I started exploring things as to a particular land or a common ground that I found a lot between Miami and Cuba. A hobby that I like to do a lot is fishing. Sometimes being out on the water, there is a lot of familiarity, so landscape and the nature of Miami is something that plays into my work and also reminds me of my original place of birth.

Your work is more abstract now. How would you define it now?

Very early on I was interested in the figure. Right now I just try to push painting beyond what is traditionally considered painting, so I like to work within the vernacular of abstraction. I am pushing abstraction and the boundaries between sculpture and painting and installation. To me, there are no boundaries. They basically transcend themselves. I use a lot of mixed media. I use a lot of oil, latex, acrylics, markers, spray paint. They all do a different thing. They all create something a little bit different or leave a different residue or mark.

Do you enjoy trying new things?

Unfortunately I test it right on the canvas so if it doesn’t work, it’s too late! I think every artist has those paintings that never worked . When I do something that really does not work and I hate it, I destroy it. I basically cut it up and it becomes something else. I am constantly recycling and redoing.

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