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An Interview with Clare Rojas

Since the 1990s, Clare Rojas (born 1976 in Ohio and now living in San Francisco) has been creating art and displaying it throughout the world. She is most commonly associated with the ‘San Francisco Mission School’, a movement from the Bay Area which was popular during the late twentieth century.

Notable members of this group include Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Alicia McCarthy and Chris Johanson.

These artists and their works were featured in exhibitions at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Luggage Store in San Francisco, Alleged Gallery in New York, the documentary ‘Beautiful Losers’, and Deitch Projects.

Rojas covers a broad spectrum of art mediums, such as painting, installation, and video. Her artwork draws from various sources, like West Coast modernism, Quaker art, Byzantine mosaics, Native American textiles, sign painting, and outsider art.

Additionally, she is a musician who plays guitar and banjo under the stage name Peggy Honeywell with two of her own albums out, Faint Humms (2005) and Green Mountain (2006).

At the Museum of Craft and Folk Art on Yerba Buena Lane in San Francisco, a crowded audience had gathered months ago to witness Clare Rojas’s first solo museum show in San Francisco, We They, We They.

The event provided a platform for Rojas to articulate her ideas regarding the concept of domestic space and the myth of the Mission School.

— Written by Natasha Boas

A picture of Clare Rojas is presented, which was taken during an interview. The image is of a resolution of 1920 x 1362.

  1. NARRATION

Stories can be a powerful tool for conveying a message, and storytelling has become a popular way to communicate ideas. Using narration as a method of communication offers an engaging way to impart information.

We can start off by talking about your three renowned works–the hooded individual, the brunette woman, and the red abode.

Two years ago, I was asked to be the artist-in-residence to create prints, which jogged my memory of my beginnings as a printmaker and art student at Rhode Island School of Design. This experience has been integral in the formation of my painting method.

QUESTION: People tend to look for meaning in your artwork, seeking a narrative in the images. This is part of your engagement in storytelling and folk-art culture. Your children’s books are an example of that–they are stories you have created.

Now, I am wondering if there is an intentional story to be found in the combination of these three elements.

ANSWER: It’s interesting how I started writing my novel around the same time I produced the three prints. The writing process is so solitary; one needs to be completely alone and remain silent and focused in order to write effectively.

Before I could even put pen to paper I had to figure out the entire story, and I began in the most basic way possible. Since I had no experience with writing, I took some classes and my husband was quite supportive of this journey. [laughs] Every time I’d announce “I’m writing!”, he’d cheer me on.

QUESTION declared: “No more prints for me! I’m devoted to writing now!”

CR exclaimed, “I’m not getting paid for this! I’m just writing!” The intricate details I thought were not necessary to explain, however, for someone who’s well-versed in this visual art, they are. This made me consider the importance of simplifying and reducing things to the essential…

QUESTION: The smaller details.

Striving for a combination of grace, accuracy, and thoroughness.

QUESTION: You are able to transition from producing highly detailed, smaller works to larger, more impactful pieces. Could you explain the process of installing the comprehensive, wall-to-wall paintings on wood panels, as well as the intricate and fragile pieces?

CR asserted that the success of their installations was due in large part to the museum’s support and the collaboration of the crew.

The artist noted that throughout the process of creating the smaller pieces, they had become ingrained in them. This, they believed, was a result of the hard work and extensive effort put into the work.

Section 2: Internal Disassociation

QUESTION: Are there any changes you’re making to your work with this installation, as you move away from representation and towards abstraction? Could you explain the concept of “domestic abstraction” and why it’s a significant transition that happened very quickly?

Is the transition related to being in this specific gallery and the museum’s focus on craft and folk art?…

CR divulged that their journey to the current show was not a fast one. They had been creating these abstract pieces for two years, and the show includes works from 2003 to the present.

CR enjoys a space that is intimate, so much so that it envelops them like a pair of old jeans from high school. This experience can be a mix of nostalgia, sadness, difficulty, and even shame.

When CR was invited to take a look at the space for the show, they were thrilled to find it perfect, with some unusual walls.

QUESTION: It is possible to arrange the walls in any way desired by shifting them along the tracks.

CR asserted that it all came together for her in regards to her focus on interior space. She firmly believes that everyone, especially women, has their own power in the home and in politics–in a gentle manner. She stated that she looked inward to that understanding.

QUESTION: We are sitting by the fireplace and it is obvious that there is a new element in your work – a combination of figurative and abstract art. Additionally, there is a painting of an interior scene without any people in it, which has not been seen before.

This is different from your usual paintings of naked men and laughing ladies. I find it fascinating that the figures have ended up as figurines in this domestic space. [ Laughter ]

ANSWER: It’s in the interior that my art comes to life. It has become, in a sense, a form of portraiture. I believe there are certain times in life that really stand out. I had such an experience a while back, and it has stayed with me.

My mother was ill and going through a difficult divorce at the time, and it was winter in Ohio. We lived in a ranch home, and there was a continuous effort to stop the roof from leaking onto our puke-green rug.

[ Laughs ] Don’t feel sorry for me, though. [ Laughs ] I remember one day the roof caved in and the snow was gathering in the middle of our living room. To me, it connected with how my mom must have been feeling.

I never forgot that moment and my belief that the place we inhabit affects us and that we are part of it.

A photo of Clare Rojas is featured, and it displays a 1920×1362 resolution.

III. NOT A STREET

BLVR remarks that it’s curious that the curatorial statements continually link their work to street art and graffiti art when it is evidently distinct from those movements. Rather, it exhibits a meticulousness that is more akin to the female domestic traditions of quiltmaking, stitching, embroidery, tapestry, and knitting.

ANSWER: Street art has a reputation for being unlawful, and who wants to put themselves in a dangerous situation? [ Laughs.] Even though I have a lot of respect for street art, I can’t join in the debate on this one. If I could get away with it, I don’t know where I would end up.

That being said, the indoors is probably the safest place. I’m not suggesting this in a way that is oppressive, on the contrary, being alone can be really effective. Silence can be powerful.

QUESTION: We’re in the midst of your installation. At this place, all the planes of the architecture, as well as the painted lines, will come together. You referred to it as a “self-chronicle marker”.

ANSWER: It seems I’m now exploring self-portraiture. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized I can only view the world through my eyes. Consequently, it’s tough to tell other individuals what to do, think, or feel.

That’s why I thought about my viewpoint – what I observe – from my five foot three height. Whenever my husband and I attend music concerts, he often looks down at me and asks, “Are all you can see the backs of people’s heads?!”

BLVR expressed amusement with a laugh.

ANSWER: My height has something to do with this installation and it’s my own self-portrait. I want people to gain insight into my perspective. My ambition has been to learn a martial art, however with my hectic schedule, it has been tough.

I recently took a class in aikido and it had a profound effect on me. It is a non-aggressive form of self-expression, where you can understand the other person and they can understand you.

Although you can hurt the other person, you don’t intend to because you are simply engaging in a dialogue. I find this idea to be truly inspirational!

  1. GLOBAL IMPORTANCE OF FEMINISM

QUESTION: When people associate feminism with your work, what would you say? It can be difficult to discuss feminism in a contemporary art world context. Is there any response to your work that is considered feminist or displaying female strength? What is the significance of this to you?

ANSWER: It is of utmost importance. Uttering the word is not wrong in any way. It is a matter of civil rights, and we are still striving to achieve it. However, the data shows that there has not been much improvement.

QUESTION: [ Indicating Rojas ‘s artwork] We’re still going with the homey vibe….

CR remarked that there is a fear of discussing the concept of domestic feminism, which he associated with a Protestant and hidden attitude.

He then said that wherever a woman goes, she should take her power, strength, wealth, and respect with her. Furthermore, he argued that it is important for her to own that space, no matter where she is.

QUESTION: A reviewer referred to the artist as “Grandma Moses meets Kara Walker,” suggesting that the individual is an “outsider woman folk artist” with an “insider art-world contemporary” style.

Much has been experienced by women, yet few are aware of our history. This must be changed. A visit to any museum will not usually uncover many works of art crafted by female artists.

QUESTION: What was the inspiration behind naming your album We They, We They?

While I was tidying up, I stumbled upon an old game scorecard. I’m constantly cleaning, so I decided to keep it, and I thought it would make an ideal title.

QUESTION: What inspired you to refer to your wall art as “wall-quilts” in particular? What is the significance of quilting to you?

Growing up in Ohio, surrounded by Amish quilters, I was exposed to the craft from a young age – my mother was a quilter.

As I delved into the art myself and conducted research, I discovered that quilting was a major source of political discussion for women, who were not permitted to talk about politics in any other way.

This is the origin of our heritage. The quilts these women created often required a lot of intricate, mathematical and engineering-like details, which I find incredible. I have the utmost respect for their skill.

I’ll always remember driving my mom to the place where they were constructing baskets for the soldiers in Iraq–there were a lot of women there whose sons were in the war, my mother being one of them.

I used her car to take her there and noticed that every single car in the parking lot had a feminist bumper sticker on it, the kind that says “if you don’t agree with abortions, don’t have one”.

It made me think of all the women who have stood up for our rights and I’m not sure if the newer generation is doing the same. No offense to anyone…

In the art world, men are largely dominant and this is quite frustrating to acknowledge. It seems there is a bias in media, galleries, and museums that men are more likely to be interested in what other men create, and women to do the same.

This can be seen as objectifying or idolizing, yet these artists and works remain celebrated and accepted. However, MOCFA has created a more open environment, and it is a bold step for their gender to allow the freedom of expression that is now available.

This space is like a blank canvas, where each artist can make the base they dream of.

Was there ever an educational institution focused on a mission?

QUESTION: This generation embraces a do-it-yourself attitude and it isn’t a result of being displeased with the post-digital world; it is actually a product of it.

We use our phones to communicate through tweets and such, while also using the same hand-eye coordination to do crafts such as knitting and crocheting. Both activities are part of our cultural immersion.

ANSWER: Paying heed to both perspectives is important. As we discussed, it is about showing respect for both points of view.

QUESTION: Could you tell me a bit about the time you initially encountered the San Francisco scene? I understand it was when you were in Philadelphia for the East Meets West show in 2001.

An image of Clare Rojas is depicted, which was taken during an interview. The snapshot showcases her in the moment of the conversation.

Alex Baker, curator of East Meets West, assembled the show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. After graduating from RISD, I had moved to Philadelphia and was working as a secretary while also painting in my spare time.

Alex and I had become friends and he offered to include me in the show. It was intended to be a balance of three artists from the East Coast and three from the West Coast. The other two West Coast artists were Margaret Kilgallen and Chris Johanson, and he couldn’t remember the third.

A few chuckles erupted in response to the topic of the mysterious individual.

ANSWER: Yeah, Barry. I was so thrilled and motivated by their actions. It seemed like a similar movement was occurring on both sides of the country. We established Space 1026 because there was no existing gallery exhibiting the art we were making.

Everyone was a musician, artist, and printmaker. It was really a community, despite the occasional disagreements.

QUESTION: The Mission School, a group of artists in San Francisco from the ’90s, is often historicized by the art world. It is strongly associated with its regional identity, but you have helped us understand that this was a transient moment, not limited to San Francisco.

The same interests in painting occurred on both coasts during the same span.

  1. ENGAGEMENT OF THE AUDIENCE

A female member of the audience asked what the speaker thought of modern female and male artists.

CR expressed that the inspirations for her as a woman are derived from literature and music and, in particular, she has discussed Patti Smith on numerous occasions.

We have a deep appreciation for Patti Smith’s music.

I’m currently engrossed in reading The Bell Jar. I’m trying to make up for my lack of knowledge in female literature. Annie Dillard is one of my top authors. The scenes created by these authors are incredibly poetic and vivid.

A person in the crowd asked what a day in the life of the speaker would be like, noting that they seemed to create a great deal of material.

ANSWER: Wow, really? [Chuckling]

She inquired to know how much time he spent in the recording space, or what exactly the studio was.

ANSWER: Being a parent typically means having limited time, so I work quickly and effectively. In the studio, I focus on the details and then move on to larger projects at a fast pace. My typical day starts with me jumping right into work.

A FEMALE SPEAKER IN THE AUDIENCE: Could you tell us about your experience with creating public art, specifically the Blue Deer and Red Fox piece you did for the San Francisco Airport last year?

ANSWER: It took quite a while for the painting to be completed – two years in total. I created it in a single day and kept wishing that I could just keep painting, however there were a lot of regulations that had to be followed.

Nevertheless, it’s a great achievement to have a piece at the SFO – it’s really something special. If I ever get to China, I’m sure I’ll spot it in the international terminal, boarding area G.

I collaborated with Magnolia Editions to get the artwork printed at a large scale, and that was an enjoyable experience!

A female audience member expressed her gratitude towards the gallery, referring to it as a living room and a place of dialogue that has created a strong sense of community with its intimate atmosphere.

ANSWER: We should all embrace the concept of inclusivity. I was once angry, but I have now shifted away from that and what has come from it is an inner strength, my inner feminist and humanist.

We are all connected and the community is incredibly important to me. I want to be able to convey my message to every person, regardless of their age. That is why I believe it is so vital. I am grateful for this.

FOURTH WOMAN: Could you describe the atmosphere of your personal inner world?

ANSWER: A wall and a desk were all that was present. At the moment, everything was in order as I had been tidying all day.

QUESTION: Have you tidied up the house?

CR exclaimed that they had tidied up the house.

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