Claire Leach recently completed her MA in Fine Art at Winchester School of Art. We talk forests, pens, chalkboards and memories…
I’ve always been drawn to forests and trees. When I was little my parents would take me and my little brother to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire for camping holidays. They’d pack the car on a Friday after work and we’d spend weekends up there, exploring the woods. There’s something peaceful but also quite sinister about being deep in the forest. I find being alone in the forest quite scary, it takes me right back to being a small child, feeling overwhelmed by the huge and seemingly infinite number of trees.
My work was based on childhood memories for a number of years. It started when I did a research and documentation module on my BA. I decided to revisit places I’d been when I was a child but had forgotten about over the years. I found old photographs, postcards and souvenirs and went back to the places they were from. The driving force was to help reawaken these lost memories. My parents separated when I was seven and when I realised that I didn’t have many memories of my family as a whole I thought I’d use my art as a kind of therapy, to deal with my parents separation and to recover happy memories. I moved away from these themes while on my MA but it’s something I’m sure to re-visit.
I like storytelling and aesthetically I think writing within artwork can be very beautiful. My writing is very small and controlled, some of the things I write are quite personal and you have to strain your eyes to see it. It’s like looking into my private journals. Tracey Emin is an artist that I immediately think of when I’m writing, her writing is quick and scratchy, the opposite to mine but I think our handwriting is a reflection of our personality.
I started with a fine liner that I found in the university shop when I decided to move from pencil to pen, I loved making the drawing so much that I continued in pen but I didn’t really think about the materials I was using. I noticed that an artist whose work I follow was using a unipin 0.05 to create super detailed work so I started using the same and I haven’t looked back. I love moleskine books, I carried two moleskine journals with me on my eight month travels and all my little notes go into a moleskine notebook, I’ve also got a concertina moleskine drawing in progress.
The repetitive process is like a meditation for me, I started working like this during my childhood memory project as while making the work I was daydreaming about the place I was drawing trying hard to remember things about it. I’ve continued to use the method as it’s the only way I know how to draw and I really enjoy building an image from tiny marks and details.
When I made my first Pathway drawing I left the path clear of marks as aesthetically I thought it made the image more interesting, then I did the same with the next three drawings. A friend reminded me of paintings I made on my BA where I had left spaces clear of colour and marks. I seem to have an obsession with negative space but I’m not sure where it stems from.
In the final semester of my MA I decided to make work in response to the exhibition space that I chose which overlooked the River Itchen and trees. The view was so beautiful that I commented that I could never make anything as beautiful as the view out of the window, I joked with my tutor that I should just leave the room empty.
After a lot of research I came across the British artist Tacita Dean. I knew her film pieces but I hadn’t discovered her chalkboard drawings before. I became mesmerised by them. I thought that drawings of the view from the window would work well in chalk and I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone so I thought I’d go big and with a completely unfamiliar material. I struggled with making the work and I wasn’t sure if they were successful but I’m so glad I made them. If we’re not pushing the boundaries of what we’re comfortable with then I’m not sure we’re really achieving our full potential.
Tacita Dean as mentioned was a great influence on my chalkboard drawings. Artists that draw that I admire are Simon English, Nedko Solakov and Olivia Kemp. I also love Susan Hiller and pretty much everything that Tracey Emin has done.
I finished my BA at the University of Gloucestershire in 2010, I then worked in a temporary office role to save up enough money to go travelling for eight months, when I came back I went straight into another temp job. Being an artist in the ‘real world’ is hard so I was so pleased that I decided to quit working and study an MA full time in 2013. Being surrounded by likeminded people from all over the world was brilliant and I learned so much during my MA.
Somebody from my course that I really admire is Dawn Evans. She is the most dedicated person I know and the final body of work that she produced for the MA exhibition was phenomenal. The ideas behind her work are really clear and she uses a range of media to explore her themes, from drawing to weavings and sculpture.
You can see more of Claire’s work on her website claireleach.com.