Interview: Claudia Greathead

Claudia Greathead / Little Cheen / 2018 / Oil on board / 24.0 x 18.0cm

Claudia Greathead's paintings and sculptures attempt to reconcile her feelings of detachment and alienation with a sense of belonging. She draws from familial relationships, painting scenes from her and family member's past through her abstracted gestural style, resulting in somewhat distorted representations of memories; experienced, surrogate, or perhaps imagined. Greathead has also begun producing ceramic sculptures that explore how her usually isolated practice can potentially harbour kinship and connection through making.

Interviewed by Sarah Thomson

Sarah Thomson: During your Instagram takeover you shared a varied cross-section of reference imagery including photographs of orchids, family photographs from your father’s childhood, and even found images of Virgin founder Richard Branson engaging in various weird watersports. What draws you to certain images and makes you want to paint them?

Claudia Greathead: I usually paint from photographs; when I select a photo I look for a balanced composition. The images I pick usually involve a memory, or have thoughts and feelings attached to them.

ST: You shared photographs of your father’s childhood in Papua New Guinea and a painting you were working on. How has your family history and the memories of those around you that you may not have experienced yourself enter you work?

CG: I hope that the barrier of not being present enters my work as some kind of eerie aura through gestural style, or even through the colours. The painting in a more literal sense mirrors evidence of my belonging and, at the same time, feelings of detachment through the distortion of subjects and imagery.

ST: Leading on from that, your gestural painting style gives the effect of images that can’t quite be grasped-- like fading memories, dreams, deja vu or perhaps a combination of these things. Is this a conscious decision in the style that you’ve developed?

CG:Yes. This way of painting allows me to look beyond or to find more meaning. When there is some sort of absence, I see something I didn’t before. This style allows the painting to be more fluent and suggestive. I hope that opposing concrete imagery while making use of an actuality (like a photograph) creates contradiction or confusion, similar to my thoughts and feelings surrounding my family. I think this contradiction also acts as a gateway to more abstract ideas or perceptions and disregards the bottom line.

ST: You say that your art practice is marked by isolation but has also offered potential for ‘kinship and connection’. How has the way you work changed over time? Has it become less of a solitary practice?

CG: I think that I was making work with total desperation to gain approval or to be accepted or to finally feel a sense of belonging, and perhaps that’s how this nostalgic or empty demeanor emerged. However, I think now my work shows a bit of a silly side. Maybe my tactic (of painting family to fill a void) failed. Maybe humour is a signifier of lost hope.

ST: Some might be familiar with your painting practice and your latest exhibition of paintings Round and Round at Jan Murphy. How did you become interested in making ceramic sculptures alongside your painting practice?

CG: It all came about when my friend made a million vases and sculptures as a way of getting through heartbreak. The vases held a special meaning, so the more he would make, the less meaning they embodied. I started making pots for my Dad while my friend was mourning and I found that it eased my anxious feelings. I learned that I could make something or paint and I would no longer have catastrophic thoughts. Eventually the pots turned into little clay creatures that later gained special meaning. The little clay creatures were like my sense of belonging, my friends or my family. They acted as totems, my protectors.


A post shared by In Residence ARI (@inresidence_ari) on

ST: Your paintings and sculptures seem to be borne from the same world: a world where things have taken on a darker, mysterious, perhaps even paranoid tone but also magical, surreal qualities (like orchids that take on anthropomorphic qualities). What draws you to creating this kind of atmosphere?

CG: That’s a really lovely depiction.

I think my own personal experience has influenced what I make and how I make it. I also think that my work shows a lot of naivety.

Perhaps through trying to find my safe haven, I have realised that it’s just not gonna happen. Through this realisation I have come to appreciate the little things along the way. I feel like I can’t really articulate what I mean at the moment but, I can tell you this story I feel embodies what I am trying to say.

I went down to the coast to visit my friends and one of them tells me that he snorkels every day and has found a shrimp under a rock. Every day now he visits the shrimp. He said to me ‘Claud, I have to take you to meet the shrimp I found, he is there under the same rock every day, every time I visit him, and he always has his pincers up’. I went snorkelling and I met the shrimp, he had his pincers up.

ST: You shared some of the sculptural works that will be included in your upcoming show at Metro Arts, Wanblut. Can you tell us a bit more about the premise of the exhibition?

CG: Wanblut is about my connection with my Dad. I think we share a sense of loss or alien assimilation. I started making pots for his orchid garden, I wanted him to feel like he belongs too.

The exhibition will bring together anxiety, loss, uncertainty and, on the contrary, comfort, shelter and peace.

Claudia Greathead took over the In Residence Instagram account @inresidenceari 8-13 May 2018. Claudia's solo exhibition Wanblut opens at Metro Arts 13 June and runs until the end of the month. See more of her work on her website here.