Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary

How did you get started doing what you do?
I started working with paper in 2007 as a necessity. I was awarded an artist residency in NYC and the facilities didn’t have wood working equipment so I had to adapt. I happened to pass a paper store on my way home from my gallery internship at Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn and I haven’t looked back since. The drywall work has developed over the last year as a response to the passing of both my parents in February 2013 due to smoking related cancers. It was an introspective response to a difficult childhood and me coping with this significant loss.

Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz
Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz

How would you describe your creative style?
It’s very intuitive. I try not to have a fixed plan of how each will turn out. For me it’s the process, not the end product that fascinates me the most. As organic as my work is, so is the process that leads to its creation.

What’s your inspiration?
I love the idea of viral outbreaks as well as anything microbial. As a young child I had a fascination with microbiology and always thought that that would be my path in life, until I saw movies like The Andromeda Strain and Outbreak soon realizing that investigation into this world could also expose me to the very thing that would end my life. After that I got into music and started making correlations between music going viral and actual pandemics and epidemics. Then I started making connection to the wonder of Dr. Seuss and how playful viruses might look in that invented realm.

Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz

How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
This is the question that I get asked the most and it usually surprises those who are interested in my work. I work fast. A singular piece usually takes me 1-6 hours from start to finish unless you count the contraction of the panels them selves. Larger installations can take 2 weeks to 6 months at the most. The largest piece I ever did was an installation that memorialized my mother’s life and passing. It was an installation that was 8′ x 45′ x 10″. It was comprised of 204 towers each one representing the 7 months, 26 weeks, and 172 days that my mother survived her cancer diagnosis.

How do you keep motivated?
Not only am I a professional paper artist but I am also the Foundations Coordinator at Coastal Carolina University. As a professor I find it imperative to teach my students not only the necessary skills that will help them be successful in this profession, but I also want to be someone they can look up to and see that being an artist is a possibility. The harder I work, the more likely I am to be able to achieve my goals, but I am also able to inspire my students to believe in themselves and push themselves harder than they thought they could to achieve whatever goals they so desire.

Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz
Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I am in this for the long haul. I don’t necessarily want a meteoric rise, just a steady profession forward-building on each year’s successes. I want to constantly evolve my work, always challenging myself to push the work as far as it can go. It’s a steady process that I have to be patient with, allowing the work to tell me where it needs to go constantly staying relevant.

What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
Not to give up and to know that the struggle is worth fighting through. There have been many a times that I have considered throwing in the hat, giving up and settling, but it’s the struggle that makes life worth fighting for. No matter the hardship, no matter the pain, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you’re willing to work and fight for it.

Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I was ever given was from my mentor in Grad school, Craig Drennen. He said: “Always have enough work to be able to put on 2 solo exhibitions; that way if the art work comes a calling then you will be there to answer.”

Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Keep at it and do whatever it takes to get to where you want to go. I have had countless shit jobs that paid the bills and I had to constantly remind myself that this was a means to an end. It’s easy to give up and say I’m just gonna settle for whatever. It’s harder to fight and scratch and crawl for the things that you desire. In the end the fight is worth every minute.

Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz
Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz

What’s your dream project?
At the moment my dream project is to create a room-sized installation where the walls, floor, and ceiling become an all-encompassing installation that encompasses the viewer’s peripheral.

What art supplies do you use?
I’m all over the place when it comes to art supplies, but I try to buy the best materials that are archival- that way my work will stand the test of time. I use archival scrapbook paper from Bazzil Basics. They have over 250 different colors I can choose from, and add UV protectants into their pulp. I also use Mi Tientes paper from Canson, as I can get larger sizes for bigger openings. The glue I use is called 3 n 1 glue and is acid and linen free so it won’t leach acid into the paper over time and turn it brown, and the spacers I use are cut from bass wood. The newer work utilizes discontinued wallpaper and drywall. I keep saying that the best art stores are Lowe’s or Home Depot!

Interview with Paper Artist, Charles Clary on Jung Katz

What’s your process like?
It is very labor intensive but somewhat meditative. A good day for me is 12 hours of cutting in the studio. The process is very intuitive and unplanned. I cut the first layer and that layer influences the second layer, the second layer influences the third and so on until I reach fifteen layers. I’m a bit of a workaholic so if I don’t work then I can get a bit down.

Follow Charles Clary on Twitter and Instagram.

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