Claiborne Colombo

Claiborne Colombo

How did art making first find its way into your life?

Ever since I could hold a pencil. I've been scribbling, scrawling, and making marks my entire life.  I used to lock myself in my parents' room and watch drawing shows on PBS – shout out to Mark Kistler's Imagination Station. 

I wasn't a strong student in the traditional sense. I was in the slow reading groups and was awful at standardized tests, but I got a lot of positive feedback from art teachers. My second-grade teacher pulled my parents aside and told them not to ignore my art. Ever since then they've always supported my gravitation towards the art room. 

Claiborne Colombo in front of her exhibition installation shot of  Inner Weather  at 1122 gallery. Photo by: Evan La Londe.

Claiborne Colombo in front of her exhibition installation shot of Inner Weather at 1122 gallery. Photo by: Evan La Londe.

Did you study art at an academic institution or are you a self-taught artist?

I majored in Fine Arts at a small liberal arts college called Sewanee. It's like Hogwarts and is in the middle of nowhere on top of a plateau in Tennessee. 

How did the experience of learning art within an academic setting influence your artwork and how you approached art?

For an incredibly small program (6 majors, 3 teachers) it was academic,  rigorous, and tight-knit. It taught me how to remove myself from my art and look at it as objectively as possible. I learned to see what was there from the viewer’s point of view rather than my own. This switch in thinking let me better absorb feedback and become more critical of my own work. We also had to do a lot of writing. This more formal process taught me to respect and treat art-making in a professional manner. 

What keeps you motivated and engaged in your creative practice? How do you maintain it? 

Recently I've been trying to be mindful of what builds up and takes away my creative energy. I am a social introvert, so it's hard to find that balance. I try to go outside and stay active as much as possible. Nature has always been one a source that keeps me grounded. 

I also love to-do-list. It feels really good to scratch something off once completed. It's a little silly, but it gives me a sense of accomplishment that's motivating and builds momentum.

Could you describe a moment, experience, or situation that profoundly changed or influenced your work? 

When I switched from using watercolor to acrylic that opened up how I worked. The colors were way more saturated and could hold up to more graphic and bold marks. It completely transformed my work. I think subconsciously I also allowed my design background to seep into my style. I had tried to keep those worlds separate, but now I let them flow between one another. That has been a massive shift for me personally as well.


As you mentioned, being an artist takes resiliency—could you describe a moment or general the experience you’ve had where your resiliency is tested? 

There are lots of little moments of rejection where you don't get accepted into a show, residency, you name it, and you have to not let it get to you and keep moving forward. 

A bigger moment of resiliency was this past year. I've had a couple of crazy years where I was moving a lot, changing jobs, uprooting then trying to settle. When I got back to Portland after an idyllic artist residency in Banff, all those changes caught up with me, and I crashed. It really threw me off because I didn't feel like making any work. That's terrifying as an artist. So, I just focused on other things that would still help my art (planning, reading, writing, applications, etc.). Eventually, I got the itch to get back into the studio and started making again. I felt like I had more clarity and drive than before. It took longer than I thought to get back to work but I guess sometimes you just have to ride the wave. I've learned that there are ebbs and flows with creativity and you need a healthy mixture of self-compassion, self-criticism, and motivation to get through the highs and more importantly the lows.

What advice would you offer to people interested in pursuing a career in the arts?

It's not for the light-hearted. I get really annoyed when people write off being an artist as something that is really dreamy and woo-woo or not a "real job." You have to be resilient and know how to hustle. It's both sides of the coin. In one sense it's terrifying because there is no clear path. In another, it's incredibly gratifying and exciting because you make your own way. I think it's been helpful for me to realize that artists with more experience are still trying to figure it all out – that's just part of it.

Could you elaborate on your hustle and what that means to you?

I bounce back and forth between freelance and my art practice. Both of these are full-time self-employed jobs that require planning for the future but also being present with the work for that day. With each, you are balancing managing and growing relationships, advancing your craft, seeking out opportunities, while also showing up for the people you love. Juggling all of those things and taking care of myself is my hustle. Some days I am better at it than others. 

What does an average day look like for you? 

It depends but when I am in 'art-mode' a perfect day looks like this... I wake up and spend time with my partner before he goes to work. Eat breakfast, meditate, and play with my dogs. Then I take my coffee out to my studio and do some studio rituals to get in the right headspace. I work in there for a couple of hours then do some sort of physical activity (yoga/run/hike) and then do non-studio art stuff like research/emails/proposals until dinner. In reality, it's a successful day if 3 of 5 things get done in whatever order suits.

What do you do to get ready to create work, what does that process look like?

I love my studio space it is really sacred to me so when I go in there I usually transition naturally into making mode. I also have some rituals that help me get in the flow-state. They include tidying up, lighting a candle or setting a scent diffuser, a short meditation, writing out a to-do list, etc.

If you could ask an artist you admire one question, what would that be?

How do you do it?

I'd love to hear personal stories of how artists have gotten where they are and what they think has contributed to that. I know I am early on my journey, so my priority is being a sponge and learning from others.

Do you have a favorite artist(s)?

Oh, I have a lot of artist crushes. Currently, I am really liking Kristin Texeira. I love how she balances narrative with simplified shapes. Her paintings are like poems. Some other go to’s are Wangechi Mutu, Clyfford Still, Kristan Kennedy, and Heather Day. I’ve also been looking to Helen Frankenthaler a lot as I study different staining techniques.

Inner Weather  by Claiborne Colombo at 1122 gallery. Photo by: Evan La Londe

Inner Weather by Claiborne Colombo at 1122 gallery. Photo by: Evan La Londe

Your recent show at 1122 gallery (on view from September 14th-October 5th, 2018) featured a mural in the space alongside some of your recent paintings and a collaboration with Claire Banfield--her concrete vessels with your painting—how did you decide what you wanted to showcase in this exhibit? And what inspired you to take your painting off the canvas and directly onto the walls?

I met a couple times with Jen and Lauren. We did a studio visit where they came and saw my work and got an idea of my process. They were great and talked about their vision for 1122 and how I could do anything to their space. That permission to think outside of the canvas really stuck with me. They didn't just want the art they wanted an experience. With that, I started thinking what a show would look like if it went beyond the canvas. 

For my practice, I take in place and translate it into art. I thought it would be interesting to apply that method to various surfaces so viewers could be immersed in my process. The gallery became my canvas. I included recent paintings as a starting point for viewing and then deconstructed and applied my methods to the gallery. I wanted to bring nature, my primary source of inspiration, in there as well to provide a more direct connection. I've worked with Claire in the past and I loved how the plants and vessels she makes become a sculptural element. I really feel like they activated the space and made it more dynamic.

Are you currently working on any projects you can share with us?

I have two solo shows in Portland that I am working towards for January (Bedizen) and February (Luke's Frame Shop on Albina) in 2019. I also might be working another large-scale mural/installation. That's a new area for me, and I'd love to continue to work at such a large scale. I find it freeing and exhilarating to work in an expanse. 

Installation shot of  Inner Weather  by Claiborne Colombo at 1122 gallery. Photo by: Evan La Londe

Installation shot of Inner Weather by Claiborne Colombo at 1122 gallery. Photo by: Evan La Londe

Installation shot of  Inner Weather  by   Claiborne Colombo at 1122 gallery. Photo by: Evan La Londe

Installation shot of Inner Weather by Claiborne Colombo at 1122 gallery. Photo by: Evan La Londe


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