Artist/Artist: Claudio Orso
Orso and Cross met in The Studio, Gallery and Lyceum in downtown Oberlin, where Claudio’s prints and ceramic sculptures are currently on exhibit.
RC: In pieces from your time in Wyoming, the direction changes from politics to so much about joy, community and how you love place. We’re all as politically concerned as ever, but what do you think?
CO: I respond by paying more attention to the landscape outside than the landscape inside my head. So the two fellows[wolves], they are from Wyoming. The man on the bicycle there? I started carving right after coming back from Italy. That piece there I did at Oxbow. When I’m distracted by the beauty of the landscape, I tend to change lens. Whereas the things I do here have a trait of heaviness, and puzzlement…like when I participated in a portfolio…using graphic art to chain together poems, celebrating the persistence of culture, in 1993, when the street of booksellers in Baghdad was bombed and many people died.
By contrast, ceramics are liberating. There is much more open discourse to enjoy.
The gestures in the ceramics have this recognizable quality of your voice in your prints, but are abstract—a departure from narrative.
I like the “thingness” of clay—the fact that you are nursing an object from a pliable form to something hard, to withstand the test of time. It has something to do with our contradictions as people with limited lifespans, and infinite possibilities to see, create and comprehend. I don’t know why I do it but I know that I need it, and it makes me truly happy.
What were your early inspirations when you were a kid? I know you treat the art library like a candy store.
It is a candy store! In my home town (Cuorgnè, Italy) there was an artist, a flamboyant, colorful presence, who was always kind with me—who, in a blue collar, manufacturing, small town, did not stick to the rules. And so he was, romantically, an outcast. And then I have to thank the smell of ink. We had three or four [print shops] in town, one where the owner was a fantastic, jolly man. I remember seeing him at his shop with his ink-stained blue smock and ink on his hands and he would just say hi, with this great smile and the smell of ink, and the noise of the Heidelberg presses printing.
How long until you made your own print?
I did my first prints in middle school, where I learned to do relief. The next art class I took was 40-something years later at Mesa College in San Diego. That was my first art class, first printmaking class, the first time I had a critique.
And the third important person was the library director.
Because he was one of few people understanding early that I was different from the other kids, so he would pass me stuff like Jules Verne.
How do you think about your foreignness? If you do.
My foreignness is such a natural state that it doesn’t surprise me as often as it used to. There used to be times, like with language, where the little translator guy inside the head just pulls the plug or goes in the back to have a smoke.
And [you think], what are these people saying? In a sense, being a foreigner was the first time I had any recognition of my work. My parents had this fatalistic view of art as a hobby, and I never accepted that.
You work on a large scale: a big personality, making big work about big ideas—I love that about your work. What’s next?
While you’re working on a piece you think about the next 1, 2…10,000 pieces down the road. If you do it for long enough, the comfort of the usual is dangerously tempting. But as far as tomorrow’s song? I would like the work to help lead me out of the usual…to ask the medium to exit this area of predictability.
I would like a conversation with the people who are looking at the world through other coordinates. There are people who live and breathe art who have never been to an opening, sometimes not even to a museum. But they definitely have taste, and are awake in their way, with artistic instances and vision. So I would like to expand my discourse to that kind of audience. I like to work in public—an occasion for conversations with people who would not otherwise recognize themselves as interested in [art]. The middle of the street is the best place. When you are doing demonstrations, I’ve seen over and over that the practice attracts the practitioner. It’s not the artist; it’s the presence of artmaking, the presence of art work, the presence of a window that is possible. This happened for me many times: art hit me when I was not thinking about it. It’s loud, as a testimonial of life. There are people that can speak softer—I am envious of them. But I’d rather speak louder than not speak at all. I’d rather embrace the work and look goofy, than staying in my corner keeping everything in my head.
And sometimes your trip is something hard to understand, even for the people who love you. Sometimes only another maker can understand the making, can see the hand in the work. It’s funny to consider in art how nobody tells you that once you buy into that idea, you’re in the same family. If you don’t fit in [elsewhere], there is always a place to go. If your life is happy you can make art; if your life is sad, you can make art—it’s not conditional to specific states, but a necessity, a responsibility, that brings you automatically to a place that does not have time.
I love the pervasiveness of an artistic life—
And it’s necessary. You have things you cannot talk about, that are completely ineffable, can be only alluded to, like joy or horror, hope or despair. I know we leave a mark here.
Claudio. Thank you.
My goodness. Thank you. So much.
Claudio interviews Rebecca
CO: As much work as making your work, there is the work of lighting or showing the piece…
RC: A lot of that is highly contextual. When I was doing huge work, I had to be in the space to figure it out…and needed lots of time.
Is this a way in which you deconstruct the wall? Are you destroying the wall by just making more room for the air to go through? Many of your pieces are just “so about to leave.” [Yet], you’re pinning the work. Which allows you the display you want the piece to have—but in a sense, it’s pinning down. It’s somehow akin to people who are hunting for exotic insects and [sound effect] they stab them.
You have to…pierce through.
They also do the drawing of the shadow on the wall, if they are pinned out sufficiently. Completely suspended in space, they wouldn’t be doing the same shadow work, which I see as an integral part of what they are. I draw those shadows because I want to capture that ephemerality. When I pin these by two points, because of how the fabric drapes, they do have this winged feature. [But] I think about them abstractly: how they feel in terms of balance, weight, density, openness, tension—and lack of tension—all that music I need to listen to.
I see foam from the waves.
They [literally] move—they move because they’re hung out in space, but also compositionally, because of the textures and the “in- and out-ness” that you were talking about.
Do you try to control the way they come off the wall? Or create something with more radical extrusions through the space of the gallery? With the introduction of shibori, of form in silk, you allow yourself to go off the frame into a world of forces, elements: fire, water, air [sound effect]…wherever you look, form is made by a pushing, pulling or holding. The physicality of the folding, the tying of rocks, the coloring.
I love the question. If I pulled the whole thing out [into space], which would distort the rest of it and would be interesting on its own, gravity would take over. There are limits to holding compressions and contractions.
In the physical world. But could you throw virtual reality at that?
One of the things that’s essential to me doing this work is that it’s embodied. My fear of virtual projections is to suddenly be confronted with more screen time than I already have. I’m looking at Nancy Baker Cahill’s stuff that’s blowing my mind…amazing…
You could have a whiz kid assistant that would project your work to be seen from every point of view.
…but I also think I am involved, to a degree, in the exchange of culture through art. I take joy in living with art, and want to make work people can live with and love, too. I’m fascinated by the virtual, but it’s still one of those questions floating in my mind and hasn’t found a landing spot. But I have moments…I’ll take off my glasses and look around and think, they all are the same piece, you know, there’s a kind of sameness to them, even though they are different in color, form and size. So where do I go now? I don’t want to get to a place where I think “I can’t be doing this because I’m doing the same stuff over and over again.” I don’t want change to be inorganic. I want the challenge to be evolutionary for me—because if I didn’t have work to do every day in my studio…
It’s more about the way you share it…to appeal to a wider audience for, I would say, existential reasons. Because there is a feeling of the search for healing. These elements take you off the wall—maybe not completely but enough to gain light-heartedness, deliverance, claiming space that was not just given, but chosen and pursued and passionately embraced. So in a sense these works are spiritual…there’s more understanding of the modalities of letting go. That’s what I see—you as a researcher. You’re offering this kind of “spiritual vector” that needs light and air as much as it needs color. You bring strong elements that you have crafted into an immaterial space or place that’s not completely spoken about, not completely predictable.
…but I think even in this configuration, where they’re against the wall, they still have qualities of indeterminacy. It looks delicate or it has that quality of softness and uncertainty—I don’t know the right adjective to describe how it makes people feel in my imaginings, but it has something to do with the elusiveness of all of it…I have a huge installation piece at Psych & Psych in Elyria. So when people are waiting to see their psychologist they look up and there’s all this…
I think that healing is your bag. You’re alluding to our very nature of contraction, and then overcoming our “one-way streets” of the mind. You embrace the non-predictability of the final result while you’re folding and coloring, but then, when releasing, let in the elements, open the window, let the air in. So the pieces become new to you, too.
The feeling of wings.
Thank you, Claudio.
Artist / Artist is a series of interviews by Rebecca Cross, with artists of Northeast Ohio.