Mirjam Clement is from Norway, but now calls Los Angeles, California home. Her work www.mirjamclement.com is bold, brilliant and fun. I think we met on social media. I knew I had to interview her and I’m glad I did. We had a great chat. Check it out …
“We absolutely need art. Yes ... Art asks questions, comforts, entertains, decorates, engages, provokes and starts debates. Art is not necessarily a product to be sold, but rather an experience in many cases … Art is an excellent barometer to describe the society that surrounds it.”
MICHAEL: Mirjam, Your abstract works seem to be all over the map in terms of what you want to express at any given time. What do you mostly want to convey through those works?
MIRJAM: Very true! "All over the map" would be the most accurate way to describe those paintings. I certainly don't discriminate when it comes to colors. They are all invited to my party!
The answer might change if you ask again a few years from now, but I feel my use of color is in many ways an emotional reaction. I come from a place with a lot of darkness, snow, rain and cold. We are all constantly talking about the weather tomorrow and longing for the sun. These paintings have in common that they are always made during the spring/summer, in West Norway.
After months with hardly any sun or nice weather, a certain energy hits you when all the nature around you is suddenly reborn, almost overnight. The colors are more saturated than anywhere else. As I'm getting more aware of my color use, I always strive to give them new qualities. I enjoy working with saturated detail-colors mixed with pastels in extreme combinations. I work with clean, opaque layers that meet in sharp lines and shapes. These lines and the spaces between the background and foreground cut out an effect that is origami-inspired.
I feel that I'm on a journey to create my own lines and expression. The paintings may look like a collage, as they have that effect, but they are basically one material, acrylic painting. I embrace computers and the digital process as another tool.
MICHAEL: How do you manage to get through those dark, wet, long months? I've always wondered how people who live in extreme northern climes do it. Isn't it depressing?
MIRJAM: Yes, depression and insomnia due to the darkness are very common. You go to work in the morning, and when you leave in the afternoon, it’s already dark. You surround yourself with people in the same situation and you vent about it on a daily basis, I guess. That’s the best therapy.
Talking about the weather … Trust me, there are many upsides about it too! Dramatic, beautiful season-changing. In my hometown, you can go skiing on a glacier and swimming in the sea the same day during the summer. It’s great! Another thing I feel we are good at in Norway is arranging things to look forward to. Like travels! We love traveling to warmer places as often as possible.
Another great thing about Europe is that everything is close. You can visit almost any country in a two to four hour flight, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot.
I do believe the weather shapes us far more than we might think. I’ve been living in Los Angeles for three years now, having even sunny weather all year every day is a strange thing too, though I love being able to work outside in natural daylight more than I’ve ever done before. It’s luxury!
MICHAEL: As an artist, why did you go to Los Angeles? You could've gone to New York, No? What's it like being an artist in LA?
MIRJAM: Yes, LA would not have been my first choice to move to as an artist. It´s huge and spread out like no other city. I happened to marry this great guy who was born and raised in LA and runs his makeup effects shop from here. We are tied to LA at the moment, but I’m very lucky and get to travel a lot. I’ve spent many months in New York already and I’m on my way to Boston in a couple of weeks. I have made my work quite mobile and when my husband goes on location for a movie, I go too.
If I don’t find a studio place to work, I just downsize. There is never an excuse not to make a little drawing. I’m just starting to build a network in LA. I know many people from the movie industry, but hardly anyone from the art world. For work, I’ve mainly been doing character designs for movies, putting actors into the look they will appear as on screen. Usually digital work.
I’ve been a photoshopper for 15 years, and enjoy that kind of work as well. I’m more than happy to sit on the computer for a couple of days between paintings. Those paintings suck all of the energy out of me. If I get a chance to have paid jobs in-between, nothing is better! I’ve even been a walker on “The Walking Dead,” to add a job.
I have made a list of galleries in LA that I want to send applications to. As you know, nothing happens unless you push it yourself. I have never been good at putting myself out there, but I’m learning, and there is no reason not to. No one will kill you. Not even in this industry!
MICHAEL: Your work is very graphic and vibrant. It has a busyness and intensity that is intriguing. It looks like your brain is always on. Is this true?
MIRJAM: That might seem like a great thing, but it’s tough, as it keeps me awake far more than I should be. I’m always thinking about something to create or test out or design. Always. Night and day. Not only paintings, but anything. I love finding solutions to practical problems. I’m a very practical person and like to create as much as possible myself. I’ve even designed my own stretcher-bar brackets that I had made and use on my own paintings. My academic background started with visual communication, mostly typography, graphic design and illustration. This was new to me at the time, and I fell in love with everything between Gutenberg and Macintosh. I find the art of typography amazing and painfully precise. Graphic elements are a great inspiration source to me. I feel the same way about origami. I think it’s the clear cut lines, the shapes and compositions that I’m so drawn to. They’re very simple, yet so carefully thought through. I just find it aesthetically beautiful and very clever at the same time.
MICHAEL: Do you see any differences in how Europeans and Americans view art? Also, what are the basic differences in general between Europeans and Americans? I have a private theory about this. I just want to get your thoughts on this.
MIRJAM: Again, I’m tempted to say that we can blame or thank weather and war for a lot of changes and directions that arose in the art scene both in Europe and America. Many artists immigrated to America and seem to have sought a certain change in their art, after moving to America around World War Two. It’s almost like they had a need to separate themselves from the European art traditions. Soon after, we saw the birth of Pop Art … a great inspiration to so many today both in America and Europe. What’s common for us all today is that we are working in the “Post-Internet Era,” if we can call it that, though it’s far from being "post." We are living it! Like it or not. We are all reflecting new relationships to objects and images, inspired by and sometimes for, the web. The present time is very exciting, frustrating and interesting on many levels for the art world. Some of us never used or grew up with computers. Some picked it up later, like myself. And some are born into it. All of these groups and types of artists are alive and working today. It’s a very interesting variety of artists at this very moment. I personally find it hard to tell where a contemporary artist is from geographically. I have to see the name or read a little about him/her. Roughly, I feel Europe embraces the variety of contemporary art with a more open mind than Americans do, including art-movies.
MIRJAM: But I feel different about realistic paintings. And I think that has to do with the past history that I mentioned before. Americans are more open to the ways a figure or object is captured and observed by the artist. Maybe because they were never that bound to the strong traditions and rules they had in the classical realistic art community that ruled in Europe. With a question like that, we could go on and on for hours and pages with politics and movements. It’s very interesting and there are many good angles of views and suggestions to the geographical differences in art. MICHAEL: So many artists are into abstract expressionism now ... perhaps more than ever. What do you think that's all about?
MIRJAM: So funny you should ask that now, as I was just sitting here thinking about Barnett Newman, for some reason … one of my personal favorites. I’m not sure why, but he speaks to me somehow. Hmm, abstract expressionism …
Usually when something happens, almost as "hype," it’s a reaction to something else that was before, right? I’m thinking that history repeats itself, just like artists reacted similarly when photography seriously came on to the art scene in late 1800 and artists had to move away from the expression that a camera could capture. And the creativity exploded on the art scene, like they were forced into inventing new expressions. Maybe we are seeing something similar today with abstract expressionism. An emotional and desperate reaction to everything we are exposed to all the time. Not to mention the access to all the extra digital tools we have, that have only been around for some years. Yes, I think it’s all about reactions. Perhaps in years from now, we will see a clearer pattern of what we were up to these days.
MICHAEL: I think it's also because a lot of people think abstracts are simply about smearing paint around on canvas and that anyone can do that. Thoughts?
MIRJAM: Also true. We can’t avoid the suspicion that abstract expressionism has become a "resting pillow" to many artists or more accurate, people who want to be artists. I do like to approach anyone’s art with a positive, open mind and see what it gives me, but yes, sometimes I’m left with a nonsense-feeling as well. I’m someone who loves abstract expressionism and most directions since late 1800. Social media has made a very blurred line between people. We can all have good looking profiles and unfold our art and lives online. You don’t have to be someone certain to do that anymore and you don’t have to spend a lot of money and know coding to create a great website. All this makes it extra tough for those who are serious artists and it’s almost an undeserved opportunity for those who are not. And the best or worst part; It’s an abstract judgment to do. At the end of the day, we are attracted to different types of art.
MICHAEL: You mentioned earlier that travel requires you to seek studio spaces. What makes for the ideal studio space for you? Your works appear fairly large. How large should a space be?
MIRJAM: My larger paintings are usually done in Norway in an old barn I’ve been using for years as a studio or outside in my backyard in Los Angeles. I tend to downsize when traveling, depending on what kind of space I find. A garage is always great. I’ve also been lucky enough to find empty, spacious office spaces. I just ask around when I get in touch with new people. I try not to be picky or difficult. If it’s dark and I need more light, I take care of that. The first thing I always do when getting a space, is covering the floors with plastic and card board. There are enough limitations already, making a mess is not going to be one of them! Sometimes I don’t find anything, so I just do smaller drawings and sketches for later paintings. I’m doing my best to not make excuses and limitations for myself to create something. I feel there is always something I can do no matter where I am. I’m hardly ever bored and I prefer to work alone.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world today and how it functions? Dead, famous artists get all of the attention.
MIRJAM: Ha! Well, we have to agree there are some quite fantastic dead artists who hopefully never will be forgotten. They might not be able to create any longer, but they can continue to inspire forever into the future. Art institutions have become more and more independent over the last 200 years. We see today that the art world itself defines what "good art" is. At the same time, many younger artists today try to make more available art. I love the crazy variety in today’s art, but I think it’s hard to point out obvious common trends. Maybe the most obvious trend is that no one seems obligated to any tradition. There’s an open pluralism going on where nothing is excluded from the art world. I’ve been working on both sides of the art world, when it comes to how it functions. I’ve seen how it is for artists to get connected and exhibited and also from the gallery side of things. There are struggles, negotiations and deadlines on all ends. Just like most jobs. It can be extremely draining and scary to be a part of. Yet also rewarding. I will actually have my first show in USA with a gallery in New York next December. Very excited about that!
MICHAEL: Congratulations. What does getting your first USA show mean to you?
MIRJAM: More than anything, it's very motivating being invited to participate in a New York show. New York is probably my favorite city of all and getting to show there is just fantastic. Even if I might drown in all of the art there, I'm still very happy about it! It's a great opportunity for me to start networking more here in USA and the timing is perfect. Like many artists, I work alone a lot. Painting and creating is also an addiction. I do it regardless of attention or not. It always feels great being recognized, of course. I'm very thankful for every opportunity coming my way.
MICHAEL: Finally Mirjam, most people in this world of seven billion people won't ever really visit an art museum or gallery let alone buy art. So, what's the point of all of this? Art is not curing cancer or ending famine. Shouldn't we be focusing on those things instead?
MIRJAM: I’m not a fan of the word “instead.”
MICHAEL: Oh, I love that. I could write an entire essay on just that concept. Maybe I will and I’ll give you credit!
MIRJAM: We absolutely need art. Yes. Art sets focus on sides of society that someone else or something else, cannot. Art asks questions, comforts, entertains, decorates, engages, provokes and starts debates. Art is not necessarily a product to be sold, but rather an experience in many cases. It’s very important that media continues to write about art, as it concerns us all, on one level or another. Art is an excellent barometer to describe the society that surrounds it. We need people like you, who talk directly to artists. Many journalists never speak to the artist at all.
MIRJAM: A lot of art today, contemporary art, seems unavailable. But that is only because we need it to be explained better. We are in a time where art has become more interactive - at least in the last 20 years. We need to learn how to participate to understand a lot of today’s art. I don’t think it’s the artist’s job to make his/her art more available for the audience to understand it. It’s the media’s job to write good, telling texts about it, I think.
MICHAEL: Indeed. Thanks Mirjam. I absolutely loved our chat.
MIRJAM: Thank you very much for contributing as much as you do with your artists interviews!
Check out Mirjam Clement at www.mirjamclement.com.