Martha Cliffel’s “Palette of Junk” at BAYarts
Martha Cliffel is a thoughtful Cleveland artist who creates pieces sourced from the detritus of others’ lives. Her studio in The Screw Factory is packed with timeworn and discarded objects found at flea markets, thrift shops, and the trash. With round-the-clock impulses and endless inventory, it’s no surprise that her daughter (Cleveland artist Kristen Cliffel) says she makes a masterpiece a day.
“Pretty much every day I make something. It’s not planned; it’s all kind of serendipitous,” she says. This instinctive creation of the pieces is done with what Cliffel describes as a “palette of junk.” “I’ll use a Barbie doll head that I pick off, a broken dish or a cup handle—I love to smash plates. It just all happens.” In fact, there’s a lot of plate smashing.
“I really like to break dishes,” Cliffel says with enthusiasm. “I have seven children, and I’m the oldest of nine children, so I’ve done a lot of dishes in my life.” And it is this history that fuels her art now. “When I got married, you picked out your china pattern and all that because that was the role you had in those days as a woman. It was BS. So I get a special joy out of smashing dishes. It’s really therapeutic.”
Martha’s daughter, Kristen, says her Mother has always been creative. “Being around a lot of kids for long periods of time can either make you nuts or prompt you to be incredibly creative and fun. She was always designing games, projects, and problems for us to play, create and solve. She comes to her studio practice in much the same way. She sees the objects she is attracted to and collects as interesting projects to solve…We were infused with a sense of adventure and I think she sees the work that way too. She works with abandon, much as a kid does before they feel they are being measured.”
Cliffel is perhaps a born rescuer of the abandoned. She has a horse farm in upstate New York, which houses several rescue horses, chickens, and dogs. Kristen estimates that the number was once up to 25 horses, and also included a llama and a goat.
“This is an endeavor that feeds into her studio practice figuratively and literally,” points out Kristen. “Many of the skulls she uses as integral parts in the work are from her own animals who have died. It’s a lovely cycle to witness.”
Martha says she goes on walks every day, finding new materials. “We walk in different neighborhoods. You always discover things when you take a walk…You find all kinds of interesting things if you’re looking.” These objects have made Cliffel renowned as an artist of distinctive creations.
“My work is definitely weird,” Cliffel declares. “As an artist, I like to find humor in things and rebel. A lot of my work is a rebellion against the Catholic schools that I went to. I went to Cleveland public schools for my first years of schooling. It was fabulous…there was art, music. We collected bugs. But then because of my parents’ Catholic upbringing, when we moved we had to go to a Catholic school. It was a shock to be in a class with fifty kids and do no art and have no music. It was basically just workbooks and religion. So I’ve always rebelled against that, and the role that women had to play. Even in Catholic school, you had to wear a hat when you went to church because women weren’t worthy to go before the blessed sacrament. So, as a result of all of that, I’ve become a rebel.”
This bustling, rebellious instinct of creation will culminate in her BAYarts exhibition titled Re-source-Full. But don’t look for anything ordinary. “A curator for a recent exhibition turned to me and said, “Your stuff is really weird.” I said, “Thank you, that’s a compliment.”
MOONDANCE 2018 | 6:30-10:30PM SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8
MARTHA CLIFFEL: RE-SOURCE-FULL | OPENING 7–9PM FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12
ALLISON POLGAR: NEIGHBORHOOD LANDSCAPES | OPENING 7-9PM FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12
SEASON OF GRATITUDE WITH THE GATHERING PLACE | OPENING 7–9PM THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13
28795 Lake Road
Bay Village, Ohio 44140