Persimmon Life Studies

UNFINISHED – Clary Stolte

Brent: At some level an artwork needs to quench the desire – the need to know what something is. But also, it shouldn’t stop there. In your case what is ‘known’ is a shape. You generally use the square and it is often imbued with the hues around white. Robert Ryman used a square because it took away the need to make what he thought were arbitrary decisions. In your case I’m not exactly sure why you chose this shape, but it works. I consider the shape as a container, or a surface, a plate that you serve things on.  Left bare it goes back the other way: is a plate, a surface, and an empty container. But always there is something there.

In this ‘presence’ I am also aware of something that is very portable, an ornament almost. You can arrange this in any number of ways. It can be put away and brought back out, and ‘re-presented’. Then as shape, surface, container, and ornament all this starts to perform something like a gift. And how this gift is presented seems very much important. Now we move through into ritual.

Clary: When looking at my work I am often told that the observer is searching for some kind of support, looking for a ‘known’, looking for a way to ‘enter’. The eye tries to focus on something though may not know where to start.

“VOLUMESURFACE #2” 2004 (see image above) is a square; a semi-transparent work made out of folded paper.  There is not much there to lead you in; even the edges are hard to focus on.

To really understand why I use the square as a shape and white as a color, I have to take you back a bit in time to the moment I came to the decision to start working with these elements. The square and the color ‘white’ was used by artists from the early 60’s and 70’s, such as the American artist Robert Ryman, and the Dutch painter Jan Schoonhoven. My work is most placed in this tradition, and that of minimal art. But maybe when I explain a little further about my way of using these elements it will become clearer that my work also has other contexts in art history.

Brent: Okay… I’m with you.

Clary: My first experience with painting goes back to when I was a small child eating dessert. I would get a plate of white yoghurt and splash red lemonade, my favorite, over it. I’d take my spoon and start to stir. Each day the mixture looked different. After I had finished stirring I’d eat what I had concocted!

When I started art school I worked enthusiastically with all kinds of materials. I’d mixed paint, toilet paper, washing powder, coffee, and other things. Though when I arrived in the Painting Department I was taught to paint only in oil paint, to work with color and shapes. And with this education things started to change. I began creating large figurative paintings with thick layers of oil paint, which, nonetheless, were quite successful.

After graduating, and from the very moment I started working alone in the studio, I began to feel uncomfortable with this way of making art. These large figurative paintings that I had learned to make at art school didn’t feel as if they were coming from me, and I felt the need to start from scratch.  Well, I tried everything:  Left out figuration and put it back in, again leaving it out, back in, back and forth. I was constantly on the look for something that would be true for me, but in the end I was utterly confused. I had reached an end, my zero point. It was the year 2000.

It was only then that I realized that I could return to the earlier pure connections, something I had as a child, and more maturely as a freshman in art school. I decided to leave all I had learned at art school behind. There were no longer thick layers of oil paint; no figuration; no narration; no shapes; no color; no rectangular canvas where the horizontal or vertical would give direction necessitating that you understand why you are using such a format.
I decided on one size to bring uniformity, to place myself in a situation where I could open up to new steps, to understand what I was doing, and why I was doing. The new format became a square, 30 x 30 cm. White… with its hues. This was the fresh start I was looking for, and from where my work continues.

As a painter I am constantly confronted with questions: Who am I in my work? What kind of work ‘is still possible’ (regarding art history)? What is painting about? And, what is a painting? By repeatedly watching myself doing while doing I began to understand that these questions and processes belonged to the content of my work. It was all about the forming of the painting.

Brent: DEPTHSURFACE 1C (2000), as you explained, is 30 x 30 cm. It is acrylic polymer emulsion on cotton. I imagine this as a stretched canvas. But I also imagine it as not. I don’t sense the traditional but I do pick a clad surface. What I see are streaks that look to be formed by reflections.
The underneath material and color coalesce; there is this sense of something being clad, contained, but at the same time very mutable, bubbling infinitesimal. There is an inner building, while at the edges and with the surface an escaping of the material.

Clary: DEPTHSURFACE 1C is one of the first paintings after my zero point, and after deciding to work with the new format. For ‘1C’ I applied polymer emulsion on to a canvas with a palette knife, which caused the subtle stripes that you see depending on how the light falls on the surface.  That is what these first new ‘white’ paintings were all about: The materials, and how they reflect and play with the light that is already present in the room.

Painters use polymer emulsion mixed with acrylic paint to create thick or shiny layers: When I started to look for whites to use on my canvas, I saw all these new transparent mixing materials in the shop and decided to use them directly on the canvas as autonomous materials. I started to use materials in different ways; this new way of working opened up an entirely different world. I think you can understand how excited I was to find a piece of plastic that held the white and the transparency in exactly the way I was looking for.

For my exhibition PLASTIC MEMORY (2003), I made a work consisting of 500 liters of hair gel: You know this kind of cheap hair gel that smells so bad? I contacted a company that produces soaps and hair gels and stuff to ask if they sold bigger buckets as it was such a lot of work to buy these small pots in the supermarket. The director of the company was so enthusiastic about my idea that he asked me if a donation of 500 liters was enough. I had no idea how much 500 liters of hair gel was, but of course my answer was ‘Yes!’
I spread the hair gel out on the floor in the gallery. Hair gel consists of water and alcohol, which evaporates in the open air. The idea was when the exhibition was over the hair gel would disappear evaporating into the thin air of the space. The odor was immense and the whole building smelt of this hair gel.

SUBSTANCE 1 – 500 lt. hair gel:  (2 minutes – animation of installing the hair gel on the floor)

I use various kinds of materials such as, plastic, medicine, chemical stuff, nicotine… ect. Because I use contemporary materials I consider my work as honest, light-footed, real, and sometimes even radical. But mostly these materials are not durable. Much of what we buy nowadays (equipment, telephones and so on) is cheap and has a short life. It is important that this ‘temporality’ and ‘throw away’ thinking is in my work. The paintings I make that sometimes use these temporary materials are constantly changing because of degeneration. In fact they are never finished because of this process. This is why I call them ‘UNFINISHED’. In these works it is expected that the surface collects dust or the color of the substance changes under the light, or in the humidity of the space it is shown. It reminds me of the rotting process.

That said, it’s not my intention to only make ‘funny inventions’. I also don’t cherish the illusion that I am the first person to put chewing gum on a canvas, or, for instance, add perforation to paper. Whether my work is embroidery with silver thread, stretched plastic over bracing, or where the frame is cut out, it is continually about the research into ‘forming’, of what constitutes painting.

Through my search for product information concerning a.o. durability I’m in frequent contact with producers and supply industries. Product information, however, proves to be a source of secret information (I’m talking about the plastic industry here) and it sometimes feels that I’m back in the Middle Ages where information should only be known to a few.

Brent: Ah, the world of Plastic.
The bubble gum painting consists of flavored and scented latex: the gum sits on a support, presumably, for as long as the piece exists. I’m trying to think of the process here, was it made as a single unit or as a part of a series with a number of them going along together? It’s hard to imagine you just stood there with packets of gum and chewed away posting until the painting was complete: although I can imagine a piece developing slowly over time, or in episodes of chew and glue. The process becomes intriguing while viewing the work. And you don’t necessarily need to know the secrets of how the piece was made, but you do start thinking about time, event, and the chewing of the day away. Of course the making happens in much the same way regular painting comes about. Except here a painting is formed with the teeth and the tongue, with saliva. It is then taken out of the mouth and attached to the support with the fingers. You are involved with a certain type of ‘body painting’, though here the internal parts of the body are doing much of the work.  The process suggests duration, and comes about through a process of release – stirring, mixing, applying, and standing back.

Looking at the painting I wonder if there is a rhyme or reason for where the bits of gum sit: structure is there, but is that something the viewer creates?  Or is it that the organizing principle is governed by the square, the event, and the retinal pop of where the vertical and horizontal interconnect, here as a slowed-down event?

With the gel, of course, the event is over when the piece disappears and the scent is no longer there – is released, then exhausted.

Clary: This CHEWING GUM PAINTING (2004) is part of the series UNFINISHED. I chewed the pieces of gum while making other works. While working on one of my embroidery paintings DEPTHSURFACE 1E, which takes considerable time to make, I’d start a ‘chewing gum’ painting too.

I would chew a piece of gum while embroidering and when I thought the gum was chewed enough I’d take it out of my mouth and paste it onto a prepared canvas. I could work on 2 paintings at once this way, so both could be considered ‘slow’ paintings.

You also mentioned ‘the process of release’. Interestingly this makes me think about my first plastic tape works, and I should mention them here: they began at an antique shop where I bumped into a book on handicraft. There was a section on how to make a plastic teapot. The teapot was wrapped in plastic tape, later the tape was cut open and the teapot taken out. The plastic teapot remained. It was so funny, but I was inspired and ran to my studio excited to try this idea on a wooden frame.

The use of industrial and daily materials such as plastic, acrylic polymer emulsion, epoxy, resin, wax, soap, chewing gum, yarn and PVC form the substance of my small monochrome paintings.

I bought some office transparent plastic tape (about 5 cm wide) and took a frame, 25 x 25cm. I put 5 rows of tape on the frame. Then turned the frame around and added again 5 rows of tape. I repeated this so many times that a thick layer of plastic tape grew and grew. The surface became a grid with blocks because of the turning of the frame after adding the 5 rows of tape. When I had a huge layer of tape over the frame I decided it was time to cut open the thing on the backside to try and remove the frame (as in the instruction with the teapot). I was excited to see if it would succeed, and if the frame would release… Well, it did. It was really hard to take out the frame. But I got it out! And then here I was with a painting in my hand that was totally made out of plastic tape.

After these first tape paintings I pushed the idea even further… I used all sorts of plastics and experimented with the idea of the painting without its frame and how many, or how few, layers were possible.

I discovered I could even go another step further and leave the frame out as a starting point/form. I’d take a piece of paper and start to fold it in the form of a box. This was the beginning of my paper folded paintings made out of all kinds of paper. I call these works VOLUMESURFACE because the surface is kind of filled with air; the air giving volume to the surface.

The paper then is a membrane formed to give focus to a small portion of air. The surface becomes luminescent as we are able to travel from one side of the membrane to the next.
I am going to go back to where we started this conversation when you brought up Ryman – the austere gestural painter, who also worked a conceptual bent. I’m still there, though what has been added is hair gel, teapots, how-to instructions, and furthermore a very astute and concentrated understanding of what a painting can be…  this under the umbrella of ‘the fundamental of painting’, of what a painting is: a rule-based activity built upon a flexibility that opens as circuit, engaged in reconfiguring itself.

Clary: That is funny; I think you were the one to bring up Ryman, ha, ha…

Brent: True.

Clary: I’m used to the comparison with Ryman. And it’s true – I’m curious about similar issues, such as white, light, transparency, density and the appearance of these in a painting, a drawing on the wall, or in a space. And as with Ryman I search for representing the color white in all its purity.

However; I also feel inspired by Arte Povera and the artists of Fluxus who wanted to widen the bridge between art and life by using perishable materials. I bring shampoo or acrylic dispersion to the canvas with a brush; pour hair gel, spread hemorrhoids ointment, and pour sugar water. The action of making the painting is important: the act defines the work. I feel close to the artists Dieter Roth (known for the chocolate-sculptures), or Thomas Rentmeister, who were also experimenting with ‘poor’ and various materials.

Because some of the materials do not dry quickly I lay them down on the floor, or work on tables in my studio. The light plays with the surface and this gives a very different experience from seeing them attached to the wall. Therefore, on occasion, they sit on the floor, or somewhere on a cabinet, so that you can pick them up and feel the material and their ‘objectness’.

There is a search for light, and a transparency.

In the exhibitions PLASTIC MEMORY Nieuwe Vide, Haarlem, the Netherlands; MODEL 003, Gallery van den Berge, Goes, the Netherlands, and A BIT ‘O WHITE at CCNOA, Brussels, Belgium, the work is presented this way – lying down on tables, or on the floor.
The surfaces react vividly to various kinds of illumination as well as to the light that is present in the space where the work is shown. This way sometimes a work may appear to be shimmering.  In another case, say with a high gloss surface, light sources and the architectural forms of the room become clearly apparent as a result of surface reflection.

Because the eye effortlessly registers changes of light every time the viewer moves, and taking into account that the naked eye serves best as a recorder, the work is connected to classic art concepts of light and perspective: how one creates light, how it is rendered – the contrast of light and shade.

The dialogue fully opens in situ: How a painting relates to what is around it, the wall, then the room, the whole architectural confines, or a release from it. Altogether this lends itself to question ‘what is painting?’



Image: CS_001 VOLUMESURFACE #2 – 50 x 50 CM folded paper 2004 – collection Museum for Contemporary Dutch Painting Stadsgalerij Heerlen / Schunk, Heerlen,  the Netherlands
Image: CS_002 DEPTHSURFACE 1C – 30 x 30 CM polymer emulsion on cotton 2000 – private collection, the Netherlands
Image: CS_003 CHEWING GUM PAINTING – 30 x 30 CM chewing gum on cotton 2004 – private collection, Germany
Image: CS_004 DEPTHSURFACE #2 – 23 x 23 CM silver thread on cotton2004 – private collection, the Netherlands
Image: CS_005 TRANSPARENCYDENSITY 1A – 30 x 30 CM plastic tape 2001 – collection Museum for Contemporary Dutch Painting Stadsgalerij Heerlen / Schunk, Heerlen, the Netherlands
Image: CS_006 VOLUMESURFACE #1B – 24 x 24 CM plastic paper 2003 – private collection, Germany
Image: CS_007 CUPBOARD 1 – exhibition overview 2004 – Galerie van den Berge, Goes, the Netherlands
Image: CS_008 MODEL 003 overview – 2006 – Galerie van den Berge, Goes, the Netherlands


Courtesy – Galerie van den Berge,
Photography – DigiDaan, Edo Kuipers, CCNOA, Clary Stolte
Clary Stolte – /

3 thoughts on “UNFINISHED – Clary Stolte

  1. Nice conversation. I love Clary’s way of thinking and the ethereal objects which appear as a result.
    Thank you.

  2. This conversation has been running around in my head for a little while… there is something deeply moving about Clary’s sense of presence in her austere surfaces

    I am a little haunted by the paper squares, and feeling the need to be in front of them

    Thanks so much Brent, and Clary

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