When I stopped by to visit Rob and Christian Clayton in their studio, most of their work had just shipped out to The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, where the first major museum exhibition dedicated to their work from the last ten years is being mounted. There was still plenty to talk about and it's easy to see why famed collector Charles Saatchi feels that they are part of a handful of artists with the talent to transform the world's art scene.
The obvious point of departure is how they work together to create their richly narrative large scale paintings and installations. They began by explaining that their conversations are so abstract, anyone listening in as they work in the studio wouldn't understand what they're talking about since their conversation jumps around and includes bits and pieces of stories from their past--some real, some made up. Influenced by a wide range of subjects from their roots in punk rock and skateboarding to their students at Art Center College of Design, who they told me keep them on their toes, the brothers also draw from their shared past.
For example, their structure Tim House (pictured above) was inspired by a childhood neighbor who was mentally disabled and would run away from the halfway house he lived in only to return with wild tales of what had happened to him while he was out in the world. These stories led to all sorts of open-ended narrative paintings layered within the structure and images on the structure itself.
But not everything is drawn from the past. Their La Crescenta neighborhood also contributes to their inspiration. Based in a former ballet studio, the brothers keep their front door open while they work and it's not unusual for a passerby to stick a head in looking for dance lessons, or as happened when I was there--a guy came by trying to sell 300 thread count sheets. When the Claytons first moved into the space, there was a motorcycle accident that happened in front of their studio. They ran out to help and Christian told me that the event traumatized them in a sense, and led to the development of their Patient series that deals with illness, waiting rooms and the medical industry. Rob explained that they "kind of like to keep the work rooted in the universal," taking concepts like the waiting room or still life and then putting their own narrative spin on it.
When they created their piece for Laguna Art Museum's Art Shack show, they started with some found photos of a large wooden bird coop. Christian pulled out several vintage photo albums they had found dumpster diving in Hollywood and showed me the images that inspired their original concept.
Then they built a small model of the bird coop (pictured above). This of course raises the question of what the birds represent to them. If you look at their work, animals play a large role in many of their pieces. Rob told me that pigeons are partially about curiosity--they're dodgy and that trust/run-away impulse with animals is part of it. They also feel that birds are perhaps there to be our caretakers; they're looking out for us, maybe even messengers.
The finished bird cage obviously morphed dramatically. They ended up wanting to make it bigger and shinier. A color plexi piece was installed over a flourescent at the top of the bird shack to give it an otherworldly glow. Both Christian and Rob learned to weld in order to create this large powder-coated installation.
The idea of the expanding universe also came into play with the painted outer space background. As I mentioned before in my brief interview with the Claytons during their Art Shack installation, the outer space background image was influenced by their interest in the ideas of Stephen Hawkings--the concepts of creation, the universe, and imagination. It also raises the questions of Who created this? Did the birds create this? Who are we? Who are they?
Thanks Rob and Christian for sharing your studio with Trust Your Style! Wishing you all the best with your upcoming show at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
If you'd like to see the Clayton Brother's piece Clever To A Fault in person, I'm giving away two tickets to the Art Shack Show at the Laguna Art Museum. All you need to do is leave a comment. Winners will be announced on Friday.