Artists’ Corner: In conversation with Claire Ciccarone
Managing Mosaic Editor
Claire Ciccarone is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying fine art at the university. She works in the mediums of photography and printmaking. Ciccarone is interested in visualizing eating disorders, using nature as a stand-in for healing and giving material form to consciousness.
Her artwork involves various research techniques for taking photographs and making prints — often of the outdoors of everyday life — which only later are organized into recognizable patterns, or analyzed for meanings.
The following interview is the first in the series “Artists’ Corner.”
Let’s start off by talking about your background. How did you come to make art?
In high school, I went to just a regular public school. I didn’t know there was an art high school around the corner, which was called Carver [Center for Arts and Technology]. I loved art in high school, but I didn’t know it was something I could really do. And when senior year came around — having all this pressure to go to college — I wasn’t sure what else I loved doing more than taking photographs. It was the only thing I could think about doing every day. And not just taking photographs of people or myself, I mean constantly seeing, looking into my surroundings and photographing what is around me.
I thought I would try studying art. Delaware was really intriguing to me because the [fine arts] program here was not just one kind of art. I didn’t want to go to an art school because I wanted to learn about many subjects. I chose the fine arts program because my strengths don’t include making art for someone else; instead, I am very good at making art for the vision I am seeing. VC [Visual Communications] is very customer-based. I love taking all these other classes here too because they often influence my art. History classes, English classes. I took an environmental humanities class that changed my life.
I feel as though at art schools, such as RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], or very artsy schools, such as Bard College, sometimes the proliferation of creatives doesn’t always positively define one’s path as an artist. Because you’re here and, unfortunately, you’re not surrounded by a whole bunch of creatives, perhaps your development as an artist is more organic; you don’t feel the pressure to conform to what that art school is known for.
I just knew that if I was going to do creative work, I wanted it to be very influenced by research, science and anthropology. Art schools can be oversaturated.
Was there a pivotal moment when you thought to yourself ‘okay, this [making art] is what feels right’?
It’s always changing. During my freshman year and sophomore year, I was taking core classes and focusing on other things. I was passionate about food and cooking and thinking that maybe I should have studied nutrition. It wasn’t until the spring of my sophomore year that I rediscovered my love for photography. Taking all of those core classes, just a bunch of random things, it was a weird place to be in. I realized I was really passionate about nature, the Earth and taking photographs of animals. I ended up taking some time off from art classes. I took the environmental humanities class, also a film class.
Taking some time off opened up my mind. I could get inspired without having the pressure to create. Art is a part of me; I’m doing it all the time. It’s really a collection of pivotal moments of just reassuring myself. As an artist, it’s really difficult to feel secure about your future; you’re not an engineer. Inevitably, there is a lot of self-doubt. It’s the little things that remind me of why I’m doing this and allow me to keep growing.
Can you talk about the process of making your art?
For printmaking, I know how to spark my creativity by finding an idea. I love to do research and then express my research in print form. For me, it is very experimental and about learning. I am currently really interested in things like thermodynamics and invisible energy fields. I have learned that I can’t narrow myself down to one image; it’s really hard for me and makes me feel like s—. Instead, I begin with the idea. Then, I gather imagery that inspires me and go to work in the print shop. It’s improvisational, I don’t like trying to fit it into a box.
Photography is a lot of things. It’s using my iPhone on the daily — always looking, observing and seeing what’s around me all the time, on my way to class or in the grocery store. But then it’s also going on a walk with my camera and purposefully looking — or just looking closer. Seeing something from far away and getting real close to it and thinking ‘what is going on here? Can I photograph this? Is this interesting?’
I use multiples of photographs to make different images. For me, that process is very intuitive. It’s what feels right. There’s a photograph of Ben [Shopp] and Drew [Rackie] in a car. I wanted to make this other photograph that I took of a plant look like the energy coming out of the lights of the street and the car, but it didn’t really work right. But when I used another photograph, it told this totally different story, and I thought ‘this is what I’m going to do with this.’ My art is a lot about collecting, and, then, getting something out of that. I don’t plan things very well. And I don’t like to plan things because they sometimes just don’t work out.
What are art courses like at the university?
Photography classes are a time commitment. The time constraint is really hard because it’s a lot of pressure to produce something that often doesn’t come within the first couple tries. That’s how I make a lot of art that isn’t always something that I am happy with. That art more often than not ends up being something that’s a form of practice or leads me to something else.
What does your daily routine look like?
I don’t plan my photography, but I’ll plan days to make work. I will go through all my recent photos on my iPhone and camera, thinking about how those connect, what has been keeping me up at night, things that have been going on in my space and how those photographs can convey something I’m experiencing or something I want to talk about.
For printmaking, I just have days. After this, I’m probably going to go to the studio and just try out a bunch of things, mix a bunch of colors. I have to listen to music when I’m doing work though, it tunes out any extra noise. It sets me in a good space. My work is very experimental and intuitive. It’s very ‘let’s try this today and see what happens.’
What music do you listen to?
I listen to everything. Some days, I need to listen to music with no words, such as classical. Other days, I’m listening to really upbeat and heavy music because I need energy. It’s very dependent on my mood.
What’s a real-life situation that has went on to inspire your work?
This one [“Puzzle of April”] is something that kept me up for a while. It was all of the thoughts that came with having an eating disorder, how much of my energy that took from me and how much it affected my daily life. When I went into recovery, it was really hard for me to realize that this was what I was doing to myself. I was trying to let go of all of what had consumed me for so long.
The best part of “Puzzle of April” was being able to look back at it in a different light. As I was making work about my eating disorder, it kept me up less and less. I could tell the thoughts were going away. Well, they never really go away. But they had started taking up less space in my head.
For you, visualizing it became a process of letting go. Once it took on this material form — once you gave it this material form — it took up less space as a nonentity. It underwent metamorphosis. You separated it from yourself.
It was very confrontational. I was confronting something I had held within me for so long. Right now, I’m working on making prints about energy. That’s what is now keeping me up all the time. I like to strip down the world into ideas so I can just confront those parts. I often have made work about what is in my head.
I love the composition [of “Puzzle of April”]. Was it always composed like this? Was it always on a wall?
I actually cut it all up the night before it was due. I thought that it couldn’t all go on one piece of paper. It had to be a collage of things, moments and memories in a sense. Especially when I decided to add the receipts, the lists and all the obsessive things — literally physical things of me. I was playing around with it the night before on that wall up there and rearranging it. I found an arrangement that compositionally made sense to me.
What about the imagery?
The imagery of the different bodies, that’s me talking about how no one body is a disordered body. The flower and nature imagery is healing, that idea of me letting it go. The cellphone speaks to the obsession of taking pictures of your body that often comes with disordered eating — the thoughts about it, constantly looking in the mirror and looking at photos of yourself. Those eight drawings were actually made for a zine in the winter about eating disorders. That one [the drawing of a crouched figure] is the emotional burden. You’re depressed in bed. You don’t want to look at the world and you don’t want to face the things that keep you up at night.
Do you often recycle work?
I use work over and over again until I feel like it is used in the way I intended to use it. I piece it all together. And using receipts, I feel as though if it is trash that’s going to be thrown away, then I’m going to try to use it in my art.
How do you come up with titles for your work?
I do it after the fact. I name my works the same way I would write a poem; how it makes me feel in the least amount of words possible.
What was it like to separate your personal Instagram from your art Instagram?
It was important for my art to be in one place. I didn’t want photographs of me and my friend to take away from what I’m doing with my work. Also, I can see more clearly what’s going on with my process. You can see your feed as a collective collage; it’s helping me focus on my work collectively.
Has there been risk associated with using your public art to discuss personal matters?
When I am creating and feeling scared, it’s also when I feel most inspired. When something is uncomfortable — and those are often things I want to share — it can be hard. Now people know this about me but a huge part of my art is being transparent in a way that relates to others. That’s powerful.
I’m really not sure how people are interpreting things. I mean, I’m just putting it out there. I like sharing what’s going on in my head and, at this point, it just feels natural to me to share this with people.
What are your influences?
I heard a talk from an artist who was really into cells and biology. She painted huge close-ups of cells. That’s when I thought, ‘I can translate what I’m learning into art.’
What’s another work of yours that you like?
That’s [Torn Pt.2] a photograph I had taken when I had first gone into recovery. It’s a girl in my class and we were just playing around with light. I was wondering if I could separate her head and it worked. Once I saw it, I thought ‘oh s—, this represents something I’m going through right now.’
I always associate the grid form with staticity but, with the photographs themselves, I can discern it was one person whose mind was was being morphed into two. To me, it is about inner conflict because neither of the two bodies are completely formed. This photograph isn’t speaking about a separation of the body as a physical form, but more about a divorced mind.
This is an internal thing that everyone can relate to. I don’t make art because it looks nice. It’s about pouring my insides out into something.