Struggle and Surrender : Process and Material in Painting. 

(This article is inspired by a talk given at the Philosophy of Improvisation: Aesthetics of Imperfection Workshops)

Visual artist Claire Zakiewicz does not make art. She prefers to label her creative work as a practice in listening, learning and observing.

Claire’s work resides in the world of ‘spatialised time’ – a place where the shapes of sound, dance and drawing are related back to the material world we live in. This spatialised world exists at the crossroad between two main species of time; intellectual and real. Intellectual time is a purposeful sequencing of parts or events and is, therefore, affiliated with ideas composition and product. Real time, which is familial to ideas of improvisation and process, is the experience of these sequenced parts.

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So in the land of spatialised time, Claire’s artistic house is located in a town called ‘perspectives in motion’ where the artistic system adopts a temporal focus attributable to Claire’s interest in the philosophy of the two species of time mentioned above.

One day, Claire discovered that her paintbrushes had become far too bristly and produced sparse, wispy lines. The resulting artwork was a far cry from what she had initially envisaged. This got her thinking about failure and its many shades. There’s technical failure, like the paintbrushes deteriorating. Then there is the feeling of failure – a sense of dissatisfaction. Nonetheless, like all relationships, the one to failure is creative. One create’s a space wherein to exist with the failure which, according to Murphy’s law, will inevitably happen.

What is worth mentioning is that failure has an important role in the element of duration. Claire resolved to refer to the feathery brushstrokes – the technical failure – as a symbol of her emotions to the corporate shells of skyscrapers that characterised her first few weeks as a resident in New York.

Overthinking is dangerous. Claire’s approach to colour is spontaneous and usually involves picking quickly, or even asking friends to pick. Improvisation is a means of surrender, and energy is reserved for the act of becoming a character – becoming a paintbrush, for example.

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Performing brush strokes is a humanistic act – it is rooted in the body.

“Follow a set of patterns, rather than have expectations”, says Claire. She finds pleasure in the surprise outcome and this is reinforced by experiments such as painting in the dark with a cellist playing in the room, or painting blindfolded among dancers and improvising poets, or painting her bear feet and dancing on paper.

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Perhaps the wall between life and art crumbles when you don’t think too much. This involves a level of trust in the idea that the body knows more than the brain.

Maybe this is the big question of process : where is the end?

Then follows, when is it? What is it? Is there an end? Or must we accept the perpetual motion in life and art? Surely, we must all take note from Leonardo Di Vinci’s view that a work of art is never finished, it is abandoned.

Claire values the creative process rather than product; however, product – which connotes “finished” – is an essential part of the process. I think it is about realising the symbiosis between process and product – that the product is not the be all and end all, the process is not a smooth ride altogether.

Failure must become a friend if the artist wishes to make beauty alive and tangible in the moment.


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