Debra Claffey Waxes Poetic
by Marcia Santore
“I’m after the sensation of being with the plants I paint and experiencing their shapes and edges, transformed in line and mark, to two dimensions,” said encaustic painter Debra Claffey, whose work is part of the “Beneath the Surface” exhibition on view through May 28 at the Saco Museum in Saco, Maine; it’ll also be shown in “The Mark of the Brush” exhibition that’ll take place May 23 through June 10 at the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in Truro, Mass. in conjunction with the Tenth International Encaustic Conference.
“The natural world is such a big part of what I choose to paint. My studies in horticulture for my gardening business were an eye-opener to the magnificence of natural systems, such that it became an imperative for me. Plants are so intelligent and adaptable. I loved learning about their communication processes, the cooperation between and among species for self-defense and mutual benefit.”
To look at a Claffey painting is to be drawn closely into the natural world she works with and reinterprets. Her use of encaustic increases this sense of being a part of natural processes, with layers partly hidden and lines drawn or incised, mixing foliage and leaf patterns with vestiges of objects from her studio. Some are encaustic over oil monotypes on panels, some are wax and pigment stick on paper on panel. All feature a limited color palette, their graphic qualities emphasized, with a focus on rhythm and nuance in line and pattern.
“It became important to me to share that the natural world is not filled with objects for our use or abuse, but living systems that we are but one part of. It’s a change of mindset, losing the sense of separateness of ‘I’m me and all that is out there’ to ‘It’s all us: stars and soil, and atoms, and air, all we’,” Claffey observed. “So, if you accept, as I do, that the artist’s role is to dig deep into experience and report back, then taking nature as my focal point is a logical step. That’s what I want to be thinking about and feeling about when I’m in the studio painting.”