Getting Complicated with Clare Fox and Tara Polansky

By Elissa Marcus

This month’s Member Curated Exhibition features artists Clare Fox and Tara Polansky in a tandem show titled, “It’s Complicated”, curated by Clare Fox.

I met up with Tara Polansky and Clare Fox under slight duress.  “I’m sorry you had to meet us this way,” Clare began, wiping her hair off her forehead, “It’s just the gallery walls weren’t white enough.”  She brandished a roller brush at the end of a long pole with the air of someone on a rather determined lark.  Tara moved along the bottoms of the walls and in the corners with a small brush, taking up the slack.

“We’re thrilled to be showing in the gallery; it’s a wonderful space-” Tara began, “but we really feel that perfect, uninterrupted white is exactly the kind of background our pieces need,” Clare finished.  “We’re perfectionists, what can we say?”  Perfectionists, and multi-taskers at that— painting and parleying with me on this particular Tuesday.

Elissa: Looking around at the pieces you have here, I get the feeling that these are family artifacts; very intimate glimpses of your family lives.

Clare: Tara and I both draw on very similar themes such as family, relationships and memories.  Our work is very autobiographical, but we also try to place things into a larger cultural context.  We are both getting MFA’s at Ohio State. In our classes I would see her work and she would see mine, and we realized that our art has a lot in common.

Tara: We both deal with memories, loss and erasure; things that are left over, souvenirs and relics, things people have left behind.  We both rely on photography as source material in our work, but our individual translation of the photography is the departure… she works with printmaking, and I work mostly in ceramics.

Elissa: What sets this show apart from others?

Clare: First, I think what sets our art apart is our process and our materials. We use a lot of materials that are marginalized, such as printmaking and ceramics—things that people don’t necessarily equate with “art” per se but with something more utilitarian.  As for process, each of our individual pieces takes a long time to make.  We use combinations of processes that are quite new, as well as processes and techniques that are very time-consuming and antiquated.  We take a lot of pride in the process.

Elissa: It sounds like you two work and show together often.

Tara: Actually, this is our very first time showing together.  I knew I always wanted to after we had seen the similarities in theme between our work, and the proposal for this show came through about six months ago so we were really excited about the opportunity to show together.

Elissa: Are you showing new works or old?  And did you two conceive of your theme first or did you trust each other enough to come together intuitively?

Clare: We were just talking about that with one another.  No, we definitely wanted to show new work, so all of these pieces are new.

Tara: I fired most of my pieces here just last week.

Clare: As far as theme goes, we didn’t want to limit the direction of our work by trying to adhere to a theme.  So we decided we would just work on our own art and we knew it would come together intuitively.  This is actually the first time that we’ve seen our work together in a room.  We were both marveling to ourselves about just how cohesive our pieces are with each other.  From the colors—this coral pink here, to polka dots, to depictions of women’s accessories—shoes for me, bows for Tara.

It is at this point that I notice that the two artists even look similar, both possessing medium brown, curly hair and bright blue eyes.  Even their names are somewhat alike, their first syllables containing the sound “air”.  I wonder about their astrological signs.

Elissa: I know this is kind of a strange thing to say, but you two could really be sisters.

Thankfully, they receive this observation with laughter.

Clare: It’s funny, when we first started our program, people came up to us individually and said- wow! It’s really rare for two sisters to be in a graduate level art program together, and we were like, ‘Sister? What sister?’

Tara: Yeah, I was like, ‘I have to meet this girl!’  We’ve heard it over and over again!

Elissa: Do you see yourselves working with the other again in the future?

Tara: I would love to.  Our pieces show together so well.  They work so much better together than alone.  They become more nuanced and layered in the context of the other’s.

Elissa: So give me a little story about yourselves  and your relationship to your art-making.

Clare: Well, I grew up in Detroit and have lived in many different states and countries.  I’ve always been making art in some fashion all throughout my life.  I graduated early from high school, and started college, but at the time I wasn’t grown up yet enough for it so I dropped out.  I traveled and worked and made money doing art commercially, but I

always wanted to go back to academia.

Elissa: Why did you gravitate towards printmaking?

Clare: I’ve always been interested in graphic art, repetition and process so printmaking instantly clicked for me.  Also, I’ve always been a collector of books and ephemera; cards, comics, vinyl album covers; lots of paper goods. Printmaking seemed like a very natural way to “participate” in my collections.  I love print for all of its capabilities.

I love working with paper. It has many possibilities that other art forms don’t.

Tara: I was always interested in art from a young age.  I got into doing community organizing, and I did that for about 10 years.  In the meantime, I got my BA from Hunter College in Sociology and Art.  Then, in 2001, I took a continuing education course in ceramics.  And I just fell in love with the materiality of clay and the process.  I also love that clay is a universal material.  It’s used all over the world and since the beginning of time, pretty much.  I also really like it for my subject matter, which is vernacular snapshot images that are super momentary.  I take that moment and put it into clay, and, once you fire it, it’s around forever.  I also like that you are able to drawn into and onto clay.  It’s both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional.  I like to walk the line between sculpture and painting.

Elissa: What or who are your inspirations?

Clare: Honestly, I’m really inspired by my friends.  I feel like I’m friends with some of the smartest, most creative people around.  I’m inspired by all kinds of crazy alternative work with paper, my collections, and I love Kiki Smith. And actually, I’m really inspired by my students… I created a project for them where they had to pretend to collaborate with a famous artist, and of course I matched each student with one of my favorite artists, and I just love what they came up with.

Tara: I find a lot of my inspiration in photography, and most of my work is based directly off it.  A lot of my images come from old family albums, and I love looking at photographs.  I don’t even have to know who they are of, I just love looking for the stories and thinking about what’s there, what isn’t; what you can know, what you can never know; what parts of the story you’ll never be able to retrieve.  I really like playing with the idea of “second-hand memories”.  When I look through albums, someone will say something like, “Gosh, you would have really loved Grandma.  You’re so like

her,” and it’s eerie.  How am I like Grandma?  Would I really have loved her?  Photo albums only hold our happy times in them… what are the other stories that aren’t there?  I also really love the work of Christian Boltanski and working with patterns.

Elissa: What are you looking forward to in the future?  What are your goals?

Tara: Well, here’s a lofty goal, especially in this world.  I would just like to continue to make work and be a showing artist.  Ideally, I would be able to pay some of my bills doing so!

Clare: It’s been of continual importance to me to just be happy and pursue what I want to pursue.

Tara: Amen.

Clare: That’s been the running theme so far.  As far as a career goes, I would love to just continue to make relevant work.  Shockingly for me, my teaching has been a great source of joy for me.  I didn’t expect it at all.  I feel like teaching is definitely going to play a part in what I want next for myself.  I’m actually crazy into it—Mondays, Wednesdays,

and Fridays at 4:30 are the highlights of my week.  It’s just so amazing to me that a group of people is listening to what I have to say; it feels great to be treated like an expert.  As an artist, you constantly have to defend yourself, explain your work, and just really be striving.  But in teaching, you really get a sense that what you’ve been working on to get to this place, as an artist, is valuable.  And people are sitting in class, willingly accepting the things you have to teach them.

I glance at my phone and notice that time spent with these serendipitous sisters-in-art has flown by.  I promise to return to their opening, that Thursday.  As I might have predicted, the duo is gussied up that evening in a similar fashion; glamorously, with a 1950’s flair.  Inspirations gleaned from families and friends now grace the walls, and the turnout is quite good indeed.  Not only are there friends of the artists, but others wander in, drawn by the accessible nature of these artists’ work.  You see Tara’s porcelain bows and think of your aunt’s dress.  You see Clare’s print of a rumpled pillowcase with a to-do list on it, and you know that you also have things undone.  Their show begs to ask— What things do I leave behind?  What part of my story will be told?  Will it be told?  If you are related to Tara or Clare, the answer is very probably—yes.

“It’s Complicated” will be on view at the Ohio Art League Gallery from August 5th – August 25th.