Claudia Damichi's paintings are characterised by vivid colours, elaborate patterns and distorted spatial proportions. Her paintings evoke a sense of 1920s pattern design clashing with the 1960s domestic interiors, all turned upside down with her unique sense of contemporary colour and unexpected relationships. I had a chance to talk with her.
Claudia graduated with a Master of Arts from the College of Fine Arts, UnSW In Sydney. She has been a recipient of the Paris Studio Residency at the Cite des Arts Internationale from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Arthur Boyd Bundanon Residency, and the Gunnery Studios Residency. She has received numerous grants such as the ian potter foundation grant, Australia Council new work grant, and many NAVA grants. Her work is held in major public and private collections in Australia including Artbank, Gold Coast City Gallery and the University of Sydney Union Collection. She has exhibited across Australia and overseas in many commercial and institutional galleries.
Brent Hallard: Your show up at Olsen gallery last year was abuzz with colour, with incongruent geometric forms nestled up to each other often made up of groups of simple design elements in, for example, fleshy pinks, purples and greens. They are arresting paintings, stunningly playing off of the gallery’s clean white walls, with each painting’s field almost reaching a level of optical overload. The somewhat unexpected pairing of different systems within each painting is certainly about pushing the expected norms–and you have always done this, though not necessarily locking yourself into one stylistic choice or trend.
Claudia Damichi: That show was somewhat new for me. But new in an old way, if that makes sense? It was a return to what is my enduring exploration; colour and pattern. It emerged over a couple of years where I was playing with these psychological interior spaces. I was painting these large strange birds in empty, sometimes windowless rooms. After a year or two, the birds morphed into objects precariously, or impossibly, balancing on each other. The interior spaces were always patterned or governed by the logic of colour play that emerges from patterns. That whole body of work was about tightly controlled, highly tuned interiors where it was all about resonance of colours.
But over the last two years, I emerged out of these windowless rooms and started pushing the patterns off the canvas and onto actual walls and doors, kitchen islands, whole buildings, garden fences. The patterns suddenly took on a new life as they left the flatness of the canvas and entered contoured, bumpy uneven, idiosyncratic spaces. The size and shapes of my patterns all of sudden had significantly different relationships. Colours I knew well performed like new friends. Patterns I hated I suddenly loved. The insertion of art in architecture was a new chapter form me and the Olsen show sort of evolved out of that new and invigorated push.
So, while it was a return to what I knew and loved, it was also like discovering an old friend for the first time again.
BH: I think that the ‘impossibility of balancing’, while not exactly your words, is what’s interesting in the earlier pattern/design meshed with figurative pieces, and remains in the newer bolder abstract work. But what I’m sensing is that you have a different take on what you’re doing at the moment.
CD: The ideas driving my work from five to eight years ago have changed a lot. I have always been an abstract artist. Even when I was playing with representation, the work was still driven by a logic more drawn from the field of abstraction. For me, all those compositions were still ultimately a play of colour and pattern.
But in the last three years, the work has two distinct new directions. One is that I am interested in how my art can be inserted into architecture. I am exploring various ways colours and patterns can shift or impact space. The other idea, which is closer to what I was exploring in the Olsen show, is that of awkward harmonies, or spaces where equally potent forces co-exist. I was interested in the abstract outcomes of these tete-a-tetes. Bold vs. bold, or beautiful vs. beautiful. I wanted to push the obvious ideas of resolution in abstraction, and place competing ideas in those confined spaces and see what happened. I wanted to challenge my conceptions of what is pretty or ugly. If I am to break this down into a simple description, that show was about me collaging my own work. But something of the size of the architectural work spilled over into this experiment with collages and it all got big! I’m liking that.
BH: Colours that clash and systems in opposition certainly challenge the sometimes staid and puritan side of abstraction–I think you are doing great guns, big guns, in fact. Where are the designs coming from? Are you looking at patterns out of art history, designing them specifically for a work, or are you sourcing them from elsewhere?
CD: I source patterns from anywhere. There is no hierarchical agenda to the choices. I’ve looked a lot at the quits by the Gees Bend group, 80’s street artist Keith Haring, female Russian constructivists in particular Varvara Stepanova, Memphis design aesthetic, commercial wrapping paper patterns, 70’s fashion and textiles, Sonia Delaunay always and sometimes Sol Le Witt, more for his enduring reconfigurations or never-ending exploration of those key spaces/patterns. I trawl the internet for patterns and shapes, but sometimes find a series of lines in a design mag or art book that I turn into a pattern.
BH: Off the canvas and onto the wall, fence and exteriors–what’s happening currently? I also heard that you are working with tiles, fabric and more?
CD: I am interested in it all. My work somehow walked off the canvas and placed itself on the wall. I have done a number of large-scale paintings on walls in peoples’ houses and gardens. It was a natural progression from painting interiors with walls and patterns in my canvas works to painting patterns on walls in the real world. The migration of the form was seamless but that simple transition opened up a new way of seeing my work. The meaning behind the patterns was reinvigorated as art intersected with architecture.
This moment of art in architecture is a concept that then found new expression with the ‘Attachables’. These are a series of geometric adhesive fine art prints that you can choose to place on your wall, floor, ceiling or where ever or however you want. The ‘Attachables’ are a collaboration with the purchaser, as people choose the place and format these artworks go. They can work as one or in multiples like tiles.
This concept led me to a new collaboration to produce a range of floor and wall tiles. The proposition is similar here. The tiles are triangles and squares and therefore any of my geometric patterns are possible. We have designed 5 or 6 templates people can choose from based on my paintings, or people can free form and design their own layouts in my colour schemes. So, at present I do large scale Artwalls for people in their homes, the Attachables, tiles, I have collaborated with an architectural firm designing a carpet for a hotel in Perth, I work on paper and canvas.
I really am most excited by working within a variety of forms and the unexpected potential of the outcomes. I still harbour a dream to paint the inside of a swimming pool (a la Hockney)! My next show at Olsen Gallery is a works on paper show, though I’d probably describe them more as paper sculptures.
BH: I saw one of the paper works for Olsen on Instagram. The tag says collage. Is this what you are referring to when you say ‘paper sculpture’? Can you explain that a little more as I see the edges where the color/design meets pretty much on the same plane and can’t pick the dimensionality, other than what is conjured by the illusion.
CD: My paper works constantly draw on the language of collage, and in many ways the illusion of three-dimensionality in my work is created through the patterns and colour combinations that I use, though the sculptural quality I’m talking about in these new works is that they are cut out abstracted shapes and irregular geometric forms rather than a square of rectangle format, which in turn gives them a quality of being more like an object. I’ve been particularly playing with ideas from Frank Stella’s Polish Village series.
BH: You also don’t discriminate high from low, which I see as less a statement, and more an opening up of the creative processes in the realm of painting. That said, are some of your decisions limited by client requests/décor, so on?
CD: Absolutely, more variety of visual form the better for me. While everything I do is informed by painting, I do really enjoy the intuitive creative thinking that comes about in response to a new site, or new medium.
Clients generally don’t dictate their décor onto my work. They are often happy to see what I come up with. Especially with the wall installation commissions, it always comes back to an intuitive sense of something just working in the space as artwork. I always make three proposals for each wall painting. Hopefully they find it hard to choose.
Written by Brent Hallard.
Featured images: Claudia Damichi; Claudia Damichi, Installation view Colour Matters, Olsen Gallery 2018. All images courtesy the artist and Olsen Gallery.