Clara Varas’ paintings are energetic deconstructions and challenges to the canvas support, aligned with sculpture and assemblage in vibrant compositions that in some cases cross over into installation. The forms and hues in her her work are influenced by the tropical environment, culture, and design aesthetic of both her Cuban heritage and current Miami. Check out much more at the links following the Q&A!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I was Born in Havana, Cuba, and arrived in the US when I was around 7 years old. I was young enough to overcome the language barrier pretty easily and was able to learn fast since the English teacher I had knew no Spanish, all for the better as I look back. Growing up in Miami was different from Cuba but also the same, kids were kids no matter which language you spoke. Later, when I decided to take this art thing seriously (or rather when I found out you could actually have this as a career) I left Miami for New York and attended the School of Visual Arts. New York was cold as hell for my tropical self, but also amazing.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
My first memory with art was in Cuba. I would use tin foil and other discarded bits and pieces of materials to make little cars, people and cities. Built myself whole towns- kind of like legos but with trash. That use of unconventional materials and an intuitive nature is something that serves me well in the studio till this day.
What do you like most about working where you do?
Miami is a very interesting city, it is a rather young city still and going through its share of growing pains, but there is a sense of excitement, of people doing things and finding different ways to collaborate, you can fail- dust yourself off, and keep on keeping on.
There is another side to Miami also, beyond the urban sprawl, the cement and fences, there is nature. Just when you forget about the swamp and the tropics, nature reminds you, you’ll see a group of iguanas sunning themselves or you’ll hear on the news someone encountered a gator in their back yard or got eaten by one. This is a weird, and raw place sometimes, we’ve encroached on nature’s turf and now we struggle to find the balance.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
There is no particular theme, but there has always been a question- What else can painting be? I look for unconventional materials and ways of painting that may or may not involve “paint” I explore identity, displacement, and the concept of home while blurring boundaries between painting, sculpture, and installation.
What is your process like?
The work is mostly intuitive, there is no planning except for the gathering of materials. I look for fabrics, textiles, furniture, anything to paint on, add to or build from. This usually involves driving around the neighborhood- specially on trash days. Visiting thrift stores as well. Some materials are donated, or I collaborate with my mother who loves to find me things at the local Goodwill. I particularly enjoy objects whose original function has been replaced by the simple act of holding something else up. I can be very chaotic in the way I work, and usually tack things together, or use gravity to hold them upright, the real challenge comes later when I have to figure out how to hold it all together permanently. Studio life is a constant cycle of destroying, painting, and figuring out how to solve all these problems I’ve created for myself. Stability versus instability, that’s the name of the game.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
It has all been strange.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I have been a scenic artist/ art director for much of my career as an artist. The trick is to find something that leaves you enough energy to put in a few hours at the studio. Easier said than done, and harder to do these days.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Best thing ever said to me when I was an art student: Take what you can use, throw out the rest.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
There is no rhyme or reason to any of it. When you feel the work is good ( and you’ll know, you’ll also know when the work is bad) keep it moving forward.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
Community, support, peers are all important- they are how you keep learning, always keep learning. The community holds you accountable, specially the ones who’ve known your work and have followed your practice.
What is your studio like?
A hot mess, but somehow I know where everything is (especially after I spend about 15 minutes looking for it)
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I turn the lights on, sit, stare and think. I imagine where I want to go next in a particular work, then I try to come close to the image in my head. I sit and look again- maybe I succeeded, maybe I didn’t. If I didn’t- then can it be something else?
How would you define “success” in art?
Success is to be able to do art for as long as you can, with the goal of doing it your whole life.