by Gail Smuda
Change is in the air and new habits and criteria are being formed among so many artists who have either retired in the past few years or who are making the transition into retirement today, as is Deb Claffey.
Of course artists never really retire. Look at Matisse, bedridden and still working away at the many new/fresh ideas he was still generating. Retirement for an artist can mean having a world open up before you that finally allows you time to concentrate and do your work without the—in Claffey’s case—seasonal shift of a job.
Initially Claffey tried to keep her landscaping business separate from her art and finally realized that they were intertwined to such a degree that they supported each other in a variety of ways.
Artists often make connections with their work that may not be apparent, even to them, while they are in the process of creation. Sometimes a change in our lives means a reassessment of how things are seen, even by us.
Deb Claffey has worked with encaustics since 1998 and has constantly worked to expand on her earlier vocabulary with the new products and methods that are being developed in the process of painting with wax.
Claffey’s work habits are in transition as well. For many years while working at her career in landscaping she put away her paints and waxes over the summer but was then able to concentrate on her artwork during the winter months.
Working in a converted horse barn for her studio for the past 24 years has given her the space to create and a wonderful environment that functions perfectly for her evolving imagery and materials.
Layers and layers of wax and oil paint applied over paper let her bury organic materials in the wax or instead choose to use almost all oil paint with a small percentage of wax. The oils mean that the paint needs to dry, as does any oil paint, while the more wax laden material allows the wax to cool and harden the paint within it.
Her work is often produced in a series and is always mixed media with paper over board—sometimes paper with images and sometimes an initial image is put directly onto the blank paper that has been attached to the board. Scale is often determined by the size of the paper being used.
With a more translucent paper she can show the work with a light source behind it allowing the fragility of the materials to show while her palette grounds the images and make them appear rooted (no pun intended) and timeless. Those who know of Claffey’s business as a landscaper will recognize the references to the plants she loves so much. References, not illustrations. The imagery is organic but not in any way illustrative. Claffey, as have many artists before her, struggles with the idea of realism and abstraction. She somehow manages to find that sweet spot between the definitions and because of that the work becomes all the more arresting.
To see a body of her work and enjoy the combination of the beauty and strength that she manages to achieve check out the exhibit:
Debra Claffey, Painting and Drawing ~ November 1 – December 9, 2016 ~ Galletly Gallery, New Hampton School, New Hampton, NH. ~The opening is November 4, 2016.