Claudia Greathead

Claudia Greathead sees the world around her as distant and unfamiliar. She paints her inner world as a character, nestled inside a container, a flower or a tooth. Her paintings are figuratively loose and gestural, a jarring mix of pastel and murky colours packed onto the canvas with little breathing space.

Greathead spoke to Kevin Wilson in Issue 54 of Artist Profile.

What is the importance of painting for you?
By painting, I’m trying to understand or identify something, and in doing so it can be a release. Painting helps me understand, see and feel, and help resolve trauma – I don’t necessarily want to go anywhere with it. Art is a language for me to explore something that can’t be explored in any other way. Perhaps what I’d like to do more of is give each painting space and time to exist or sit with the work for longer (or just slow down a bit).
I suppose painting helps me to be okay with not knowing; or just helps me try
to find out more.

Who is the character Klaus Cheen, found in your paintings and videos?
I made Klaus Cheen up. The character gave me an opportunity to hide and to not be me, or to exaggerate or limit parts of me. Klaus Cheen is also a container – creating a character or becoming a character does a lot of things. Initially, painting Klaus Cheen acted as a mirror into my own feelings that I couldn’t access. When I painted Klaus Cheen I could see how I felt and then, in turn, I could feel. Now it serves many purposes and has evolved as I have.

In other works you take on the character of a giraffe or a tooth.
Yes, the Little Cheen (2018) painting is based on a family photograph of me in a school play in grade four or five dressed up as a giraffe. Even at this stage in my life l was very shy and anxious. People couldn’t see me in that costume. I was feeling the same way when l painted it. Self-portrait as a tooth (2019) comes from my experiences as a dental assistant. Teeth out of the mouth appear alien when out of their world. My painting looks at the idea of taking yourself out of your ‘reality’ and seeing yourself from another perspective, a bit like the Klaus Cheen character.

A fish tank and other enclosures appear in your paintings. What significance do they have for you?
The fish tank resembles inner and outer realities or a felt sense of myself in the world and in my body. I do think there is some sort of resistance or aversion to my body that the fish tank (as well as Klaus Cheen) resemble. Sometimes the tank is an obstruction, a wall. Sometimes I am the tank, or my body is. Sometimes it is more fluid. Sometimes it contains or morphs, sometimes it is warm and it holds, and sometimes it shows the separation of my world and the one outside.

Your images hold on to the figurative at a point where they could slide into abstraction. Does this say something about your grasp on things – wanting to hold onto a vision, a thought, a moment, but at the same time seeing that it could slip away? Do you operate in a zone between dream and the real?
Yes I think so, however it is unconscious.I feel a sense of wanting to hold or feel or be present, but not being able to. I do think there is some push and pull within a zone that is real and one that isn’t there.

Yet at the same time many of your paintings formally hone in on an anchoring centre point.
That is so interesting! I didn’t notice. Maybe I subconsciously gravitate to a centre and that is something important the process of painting is trying to tell me. Perhaps the centre point is a reference or a grounding point. I’m not sure. I think it is trying to focus on what is really there; what is the underlying thing. How can l make sense of everything that is there, or how can l put everything down that feels organised or okay? How can a painting contain my inner reality, or how can one feeling co-exist with another feeling or another reality? l probably sound confusing. Maybe it is trying to find some order. Maybe creating a focus is creating order and acts as a container.

Who are some of your favourite painters?
Guglielmo Castelli, Haruka Sawa, Inka Essenhigh, Katherine Bradford, Leonora Carrington, Lois Dodd, Luc Tuymans, Michael Armitage, Tilo Baumgärtel and Zach Bruder. I love the uncertainty or ominous feel of their works – the colours, fluidity, vagueness, emotion, humour, and the banality they use to confront the deeper meaning of life.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 54

Landscapes of the Heart
24th March – 15th April 2023
Chalk Horse Gallery, Sydney 

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