Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work
I was born in Madrid, Spain. My father was a writer who worked in radio, television and newspapers. My mom was a homemaker. I have a younger sister who lives in Madrid.
Growing up I spent lots of time indoors by myself making things…but also destroying things. Creativity and curiosity were my driving forces from the start. I imagined a world of unusual objects. I found making them delightful and highly entertaining. I scavenged around the house for supplies and made doll houses and tv sets from cardboard boxes. I made pinball machines fashioned out of cheap matboard and rubber bands, spooky houses inside shoe boxes, marionettes, kites, dolls with parachutes, puppet theaters and outrageous costumes made of toilet paper rolls and ribbons and my mom’s old pantyhose. Very little was off limits.
Every day was a chance to make something new. My mind was always on the lookout. Even at school I’d be sketching new ideas and getting in trouble for not paying attention. Beyond mere entertainment, my goal was knowing what was below the surface. I was looking to understand things around me. I figured the best way to do that was by searching through the innards of watches, radios and toys. From an early age, I knew the real answers were inside things. Inside me. Inside all of us. Today I work in a similar manner. I scavenge and collect images, text and paper. I refurbish these materials into collages and sometimes assemblage pieces.
How is your personality reflected in your work?
I think all artists show their personalities in their work, as long as they are coming from a place of honesty and self-awareness. In my case, I tend to work in relative isolation. I do not welcome extraneous influences (such as social media or news) and prefer to express views on topics that are important and known to me, even if they are not popular.
I won’t make artwork that touches on current events just for the sake of relevance or shock value. My themes are very intimate, and I strive for a nuanced approach rather than a more heavy-handed type of statement. I do not need to jolt viewers on purpose. I prefer making a connection with something deeper within them. We all experience certain milestones in life, and we can all relate to each other through those common experiences. I have learned over the years to be more compassionate, less reactive, kinder and more forgiving. I hope these qualities can be found in my work.
Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work
I have complex PTSD. My brain runs on fear and anxiety. I try to play with those concepts in my artwork. Fear of the unknown, of failure, of abandonment. I find solace in reworking these themes in a way that I can find beauty in them. I think they are universal experiences that people can relate to without effort, and I try to transform them into something useful rather than something paralyzing. It’s a way of reclaiming some control over events and emotions that left an imprint on my brain. I attempt to comment on issues of solitude, family, displacement and belonging. They are concepts ever present in my mind and they color my view of the world.
What art do you most identify with?
When I was a child, I was fortunate to have access to a fabulous collection of art books. I devoured those books. I loved copying from them, and no book was off limits. My favorite ones were biographies about Paul Klee, Joseph Cornell, Modigliani, Matisse, Braque…I had an eclectic taste and every artist left its little mark on my style. I was also influenced by my frequent visits to museums, particularly El Museo del Prado in Madrid. In my excitement, I would break from the school group and dash through the corridors to stand in front of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch, or the Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Of course, the mesmerizing Velazquez paintings were highlights of every visit as well as Goya’s black paintings. David Hockney was a strong influence on my painting style while I was in school. I loved his ability to capture the light on surfaces, particularly water, and his deceptively simple compositions.
What do you think the role of the artist is in society? How can artists raise awareness for mental health?
I think artists are regarded as outsiders to begin with. For a lot of people, there’s something strange about an adult who indulges in artistic pursuits. People think of artmaking as a hobby, or as a childhood activity. They detract from the importance of creative expression by relegating art to a non-essential role. In fact, artists in general are very important in many ways. They are brave for opening themselves to judgment. They are brave for exposing their weaknesses and their views through their work.
Art can make a stand. Art can educate and help change opinions. Artists are a vector for social change whether their reach is local or international. Artists foster community and connections among people whose views can be very opposing, and there’s great value in that ability considering the current social climate.
More artwork that touches on mental health is essential to bring the topic into the light. Honesty, like sunlight, has a cleansing effect, and the more open we are about our own struggles, the more we light the way for others who feel too vulnerable to come forward.
How do you cope with days that are overwhelming, frustrating, and otherwise tough? What helps you bounce back?
In my case, I suffer from chronic pain and there are days when I cannot function. The physical pain is like a wet, heavy blanket and I cannot crawl out from under it. On days like that, I hunker down and wait. Not much can be done and those are, by far, the darkest days. All other demons hitch a ride on the pain and I often spiral down to a state of paralysis.
If the pain subsides to a manageable level, then I will be in the studio. I read, search for images, make entries in my sketchbook. I need to organize my time very precisely but with flexibility, since I never know when a flare up might occur. I make lots of lists with very specific notations of what I am planning to work on next.
What advice would you give to young aspiring artists – especially if they are living with mental health conditions?
Do not buy into the myth of the long suffering, down on his/her luck, starving artist. You do not necessarily have to experience trauma, pain and anguish to become a good artist. Life will provide you with enough curveballs. You do not need to seek them out. Stay centered in your mind and be honest. When you hurt, tell the world you are hurting. When you feel joy, share it with the world too. Your art will be more authentic and valuable if it springs from a place of integrity. Reach out for help. Friends can help but resorting to professional help is not a failure. Accepting help is a sign of great strength and resilience. You can regain a sense of control and find direction through the appropriate therapy.
Don’t give up on yourself. This is a tough world, but for every cruel person there is a bunch of kind and beautiful people who will validate you and accept you. Never stop searching for your supporters. As Mr. Rogers himself so succinctly said, “look for the helpers”. And create, create, create. Always. https://www.murze.org/issue-eleven-artist/Cristina-Clarimon