Studio Visit: Claude Collins-Stracensky’s Explorations in Space and Light

As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Claude Collins-Stracensky. See the full studio visit and interview with Claude and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.

Claude’s studio is in a commercial building in Downtown, Los Angeles right where two fairly busy streets intersect. It’s a few floors up, and as soon as Klea and I stepped out from the elevator doors Claude’s Vizsla dogs greeted us with wild tail-wagging enthusiasm and then lead the way into the studio. It’s a huge corner space with tons of natural light streaming in through the wide windows that lends an almost limitless feel to the room. I took a few minutes to wander around and take it all in— the dogs tumbling about together in play, the dust particles fluttering in and out of the hazy afternoon light, and the many projects underway, all of them in various states of completeness. At any given time Claude is often at work on multiple endeavors, taking time with each to experiment, re-think, tinker and tweak. His studio is a like a research lab where he plays around with concepts and materials, creating mock-ups and models, and then tries to bring these ideas to life with his hands. There is a bit of a “mad scientist” in Claude— he approaches his work with unfettered imagination and whimsy, totally unafraid to scheme and dream big, and he seems almost possessed by a rampant curiosity about the natural world and how it works. At the core of Claude’s practice is a preoccupation with physical systems and processes and the innate dynamics of different materials, and the ways in which these forces and elements can interact to bring about a new consciousness of one’s surroundings. Embracing a range of mediums, his practice often plays with perception and aims to expand his viewers’ visual experience and spatial awareness to create impressions that go beyond an everyday understanding of the world. I got the impression that the wheels in Claude’s brain must always be spinning at top speed, never at rest, always at work on questions, always in a state of assessing and hypothesizing. Which is kind of funny, because he comes across as super mellow… but I didn’t let that easy-going vibe fool me!

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer? 

I usually say I‘m an artist and sometimes a designer.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work? 

I work with spatial relationships and the dynamics of light and energy as they are reflected within elements and materials. They are implemented in ways to enable a deeper understanding of the inherent dynamics of material in relationship with its setting, or context. The core of the work is about illuminating the ways in which these relationships, dynamics and elements are seen and experienced by the viewer, both inside and outside the work.

The vitrines I’ve been building are a good physical example of this. They simultaneously display and contain, reflect and refract –in the process make new form and understanding of their individual parts. They also reframe our understandings of the contextual elements of the site in which they are seen. One vitrine I’m working on now is for a site project at the Mount Wilson Observatory. I’m going to position a glass form that contains a pine needle bird’s nest in the pines near the 100” telescope on Mount Wilson. The glass has holes in it making the nest accessible for the bird that made it, and has a birdbath like reservoir for water in the top portion— It’s a bit of observational architecture like the telescopes up there. The working title is: The Birds Like The Stars.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?

Space and context are central to my work, (and I suppose to who I am)— Space in relationship with context are the medium of the work in a way, as the work grows from these relationships. The better the context (or more dynamic the context) the better the work and its potential is to illuminate a larger context for the viewer. I’m lucky I have a studio I can work at everyday— it’s like base camp, a lab, or testing grounds. It’s a physical space where the mental (or theoretical) can manifest into the physical.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?

I’m not sure that I can pinpoint just one catalyst, though there have been many.

My work has been an evolution and process of learning and articulation. The work as a whole is much like an exploded drawing— a group of seemingly separate elements that come together to uniquely function towards a (special) purpose. It’s all about conceptually putting those parts together, seeing it as a whole, and appreciating its parts and design— much like the Infeld & Einstein quote:

Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears it’s ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison.

How will you know when you have arrived?

My work is a process, the process is the goal. Sometimes the process is fluid and easy— this is completely fulfilling— sometimes it seems like I’m swimming against a strong current. The more fluid things are the more I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.

To read the full interview and see more of Claude Collins-Stracensky’s work go to www.inthemake.com.