Inner View: Irish American Artist Painter Maureen Clark
By John O’Brien, Jr.
I saw one of your paintings called Mast on Facebook. I looked at your website and I just kept thinking, Wow, that’s something really different, striking paintings that you’ve done, and with other ones that you shared with us.
Tell me how you became an artist?
I consider myself a painter, an artist, all things creative. I’ve always been interested, always been a creative individual. It’s funny, my parents always tell me the story about when I was younger, it was like four or five, and my childhood home had white siding. My mom found me outside with crayons or markers painting the side of the house, so I think I’ve always had it in me.
I’ve played around with that, I’ve taken classes throughout the years, but it was never anything that I really took seriously until I moved to Philadelphia. I had a lot of experiences and kind of opened my mind, actually traveling around doing Irish festivals, selling T-shirts and rugby shirts and whatnot, kind of blooming this little gypsy or tinker life, I guess. But when I moved back home, that lifestyle gave me perspective on how to live, not to live to work, but work to live, and enjoy it.
So instead of doing that nine to five, I decided to go all in on my art. I had the opportunity and it just kind of exploded. If you have passion and put your all into something, there’s nothing that you can do but be a success in some way.
Instead of just working and getting through it and then going off and doing what you like, I have the wonderful opportunity to do what I love and just make it my own. It does definitely take up all of your time, but when it’s something that you love, it really doesn’t matter.
When you are creating something, until you see the product at the end, even if it’s not finished, it has his own memories I suppose?
It does! It’s rewarding when it’s finished, and I think a lot of times a lot of creatives can kind of connect with this. When you’re in the middle of creating something, you’re never really quite sure how it’s going to end up, or there is just a little bit of fear, I guess. You just have to push past that, and I think that’s what’s exciting. With every creation there’s a bit of fear, and then when you go past it and you create, it it’s just this wonderful feeling of accomplishment.
Does the fear paralyze you or energize you?
It could be either way, so something about being a working artist; I am a full-time working artist, this is what I do. It can kind of set you back, and kind of stop you. The thing is, to kind of find ways to push past that, because you have to create and pay bills and everything. But then other times the fear can get exciting, like I don’t know how I’m going to do this. But that’s exciting. I can’t wait to see how it comes together and how I push through it.
When you decide to create a new work, is there is an idea in your head first, or do you want to start a new work first and see how it goes?
A lot of timess I will be out and about, and I’ll take photo references, so when I see something that I like, I am constantly taking photographs of things, and then I’ll go back and look through them. If something will go, OK I’m feeling like I want to paint that, I do.
I also do commissions, so a lot of times people will send me photo references, but something that they want … my paintings aren’t going to be what you see in the photo, it’s a reference, representation of that, because I have some stories about it.
So, there is some story in your head that you want to put on paper?
It’s always from some kind of experience that I’ve had, or some kind of feeling, or some kind of emotion, and that’s where the paintings come from. I feel like I’m a strong believer that whatever you’re feeling in your world or whatever experiences you’re having you’ll put that onto, you’ll translate that into your heart.
Can you tell anything about the series yet?
OK. So, usually I do these flowers; I buy flowers all the time. I love it because my studio in my home is filled with flowers. So, it’s kind of like a win-win. I usually have a background that’s kind of soft, impressionist and soft, but kind of harsh as well. Then I’ll do the base.
The flowers this time around, I want to do the background very, very simply. I hate to say simple, but very locked out and soft, so it’s going to be more like a plain black background with a plain white table-top or such, so the background is not going to be as busy. It’s really going to be very plain if you will. But the base and the flowers are going to be in my style of thick brush strokes, a lot of color, to really just make the focus on the flowers and the interface.
Has COVID affected you in your work?
It is hard to not be affected by it at this point. When the shutdown first happened, it was actually like a big creative push. So, I was I was putting a lot of work out and I was doing videos of my process, and then things started happening politically.
I did a couple of murals; it has been challenging. There’s no gallery’s open. They are starting to open up, but the shows aren’t really happening as they used to. Commissions have dropped.
I also do paint and wine classes that supplement my income; the opportunities haven’t been as available, however. That fear of creating; sometimes when there’s a lot of stuff going on in your life; it kind of closes you down a little bit creatively. I’ve talked to several artists and creatives that have had the same feeling, the same stock in their process, just to take in what’s happening.
You are not just creating and making work without observing. A lot of the performers talk about how the energy, the creative drive is missing , because they’re sitting at home so much. We’ve had a few people on the podcast recently that have released a new album during COVID. That’s rare in this time to release anything.
It’s strange. I think a lot of us have all this time, so you would think this would be the best time to do it, to create and do all these things, but this past year was so wild, and there seemed to be something all the time that we had to adjust to, so I think that it was hard for a lot of people to try to create something.
Let’s talk about your Irish roots; where do they originate and how are they manifesting themselves in you now in the Columbus area?
My mom is Irish. Her great grandparents were from Ireland. She was adopted, so she is still trying to figure out those roots and where they where, where they lead back. My father is Irish as well, and German, English (but we don’t talk about the English). So I’ve always grown up with that knowledge of being Irish, the red hair, I can’t really hide it.
My dad has tons of records that he always plays, especially on Saint Patrick’s Day. My uncle Jimmy, who was in Vietnam and passed away due to it, he was actually a charter member of the AOH here in Columbus, the Patrick Pearse Division. My dad has been a member forever.
We grew up around the Hibernian Hall; we hung out there. It used to be at St Pats, they had a few different locations, but we’ve always been around it. We always marched in the parade with my father. Then we as we got older, my mom joined the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH) and then me and my sisters did too.
Tell us why it has such meaning for you?
Well, it is based off of the motto of Friendship, Unity and Christian charity. So, I guess what drew me to it was the charity aspect, the Irish community aspect, because I grew up around it; it just made sense to me. It was a second home.
When I joined, I just immersed myself in it. My sister’s and I, we asked what can we do? There is a large number
of younger ladies that came with us; it was a fun time; it still is an exciting time.
When I joined, it was the (100th) anniversary of the Easter Rising (2016). For that celebration I created a mural. I outlined all the different areas, and then the members and their family or friends came to paint it. It was a group effort, and it is hanging in the hall. It was a fun way for me to kind of share my gifts with the Irish community there.
Everyone is disconnected from everything right now. Being in the LAOH is part of the Irish culture here. My mom and my sisters, we were going to join the Daughters of Erin this year, until COVID.
Columbus is pretty vibrant, with a lot of organizations trying to do a lot of good things outside of COVID?
Yes, all of these groups are full of people that I know, so I’m a part of the community, even if I don’t join it right away. If you get over involved, you forget about the other aspects of your life, so it’s really just that balance right now.
With painting, I’ll take a break just to figure out where I’m going next. So if I’m working on a series of paintings and they’re all kind of about the same thing, I get tired of it after a while, and I’ll go OK time for me to switch.
That’s why I’ve been working on a lot of cityscapes recently.
It’s nice to do a series because it gives practice on what you’re doing and it kind of softens you up and kind of loosens you up, so you do more interesting things with it.
But after a while, you kind of get tired of it, so that’s why I like to switch it up. That is why I am now moving to the flowers and base series.
I’ll revisit the cityscapes, but that’s always fun because when I revisit, I could bring something else into it that I discovered.
Woodie Guthrie said that you write what you see, when he’s talking about songwriting. Do you paint what you see, in a deeper sense; do your emotions come out?
Yes, definitely. I painted the Scioto River here in Columbus; there were rowers, the crew. Usually, my colors are very pastel like, more of a nod to Monet, but for this painting, I did more yellows; much more vibrant. I think I was just feeling that; I just needed that. I was feeling a lot of emotion. It was a rainy day I was feeling a lot of emotions and I just thought I need color.
A few years ago, I started a series of news figures; those are stunning in black and white, there is no color. Typically, my paintings are very colorful. I think that I was having a hard time; I was battling anxiety and I just needed something that kind of reflected where I was. So, the images of the figures always kind of grabbing, kind of holding each other, holding themselves, and it was this self-love type of thing. Then I went back to my colors.
When I moved back to Columbus, I wanted to focus on that, to bring out the beauty of things rather than the greys in the darkness. I wanted it to be pretty because it’s really just your state of mind. You can take notice of it, but you don’t want to live there.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan said to be Irish is to know that in the end, the world will break your heart. Do you see that in your paintings?
I think in the nude series I see that. With my typical painting, no. This past year, definitely.
When you do a painting, it has meaning for you and you ‘re trying to convey a message. Have you talked to people who were looking at your work and liked it and said what message they get from it? Have you ever noticed a difference in your vs. viewers interpretation of it?
Definitely! It was a new experience for me when I got my first studio. I just painted on my own, I never really painted around people or showed my work to people. So when we had Franklin Fridays every second Friday of the month, we opened up our studios and we can we can sell our work and talk to people. It’s so wonderful.
First it scared me, but after a while you start to learn how to talk about your art. It is interesting though, what people say when they come in. I’ve had several times where people take to a painting. I feel a certain emotion about it and that’s how I’m putting it out there, but if someone sees my painting and it brings up some kind of memory or some kind of feeling in them, that just that’s wonderful; I love that and I want to hear about it, because that just brings more to the story in conversation.
Where can people see/purchase your work?
I am very happy that you contacted me to do this interview John. My Irish roots are very strong and a very, very big part of my life. My uncle is s a bagpiper and part of a band called Mad Maudlin. I have been around the LAOH, the whole community, that I love and cherish.
People can visit me in my studio, currently at 400 W. Ridge in Franklinton. I think that’s going to be changing soon, so I have my website MaureenEClarkart.com and all of my information is on there. I have prints and original paintings that you can purchase. I have an archive of all my past paintings there as well. I welcome commissions and I have a contact form on there for that. Social Media: Facebook (MaureenEClarkArt) and Instagram (Maureen E Clark)
A picture paints a thousand words, they say. Maureen’s work, soft and hopeful, inspirational and introspective; just beautiful. For more of this interview, both text, picture and video, check out our website: http://www.ohioianews.com, as well as Maureen’s website: MaureenEClark.com