Seth Clark moved to Pittsburgh after graduating from RISD, and the rust-belt city has been a constant source of inspiration. Houses and buildings, mostly dilapidated ones in various states of disrepair, are the subject of Clark’s mixed-media work which include vintage and discarded materials like sheet music and envelopes.
As a lover of house-art, I particularly enjoy Seth’s work for it’s complexity and overarching theme of impermanence.
City Study I, $200.
Where are you from and where do you currently live?
I grew up in Seekonk, Massachusetts. Seekonk is a little town close to the Rhode Island border–about a fifteen minute drive to Providence where I went to college. After graduating in 2008 I moved to Pittsburgh and have lived here ever since. I think Pittsburgh is a great city for young creatives. The cheap cost of living here has really afforded me the time to focus on my work.
Tell us a bit about the work in this show.
Process wise, my work starts with a collaged “under-painting.” I like to use insides of envelopes, old drawings, found scraps, sheet music, receipts, letters, photos… almost any type of flat, vintage ephemera I can find. I try to be as gestural and haphazard with this initial process as possible. As I continue the collage, a dimensional foundation is revealed. I’ll sand down the many different surfaces and use a medley of charcoal, pastel, ink, acrylic and graphite to bring definition to the subject. On most pieces I go back-and-forth between drawing and collage, covering and uncovering previous layers.
All of the studies in this show incorporate this process and are informed by deteriorating architecture. The aesthetics of collapsing barns, worn down walls, and abandoned homes have always been very attractive to me.
Detail of City Study I
In another life i would be a _______ and live in _______.
carpenter, a house I’ve built
house, observance of those walking through me
I am fascinated by your book 96 Houses. How did that work come about?
I drew 96 Houses when I first moved to Pittsburgh. I was living on a friend’s floor without many art supplies and no studio space. Searching through craigslist apartment listings and exploring different neighborhoods led me to thinking about the concept of “home” and what type of environment I wanted to build for myself. This little book was a playful way to indulge these thoughts. I have been working on “196 Houses” and “296 Houses” where 2-3 houses appear on a page, interacting in some way. Maybe a clothes-line hangs between them, or there is a button in one house that activates a machine in another house. In these future editions, I’d like to challenge myself to create a stronger narrative within each page.
You’re a designer as well as an artist, do those roles run parallel for you?
This is a difficult question Kate! The difference between artist and designer is constantly on my mind…
In practice, design has specific functionality. On a day-to-day basis I am working with clients to answer questions like, “Who is your audience? How can we capture their attention and effectively relay your message?” The project is not solved until the design communicates effectively. Keeping this in mind, the design work I am most passionate about will incorporate some type of artistic sensibility. Art (for me anyway) is more expressive and honest than it is functional, so there is a challenging imbalance here.
I guess as an artist who designs I try to stand on a line between expressive aesthetics and effective communication. I don’t think my design sensibility takes as prevalent a role when I am art-making (or at least I am not as aware of it doing so). Things like creative problem solving and experimentation inform both practices.
The shorter answer: Yes, for better or for worse.
What attracts you to the buildings and places we see in your work?
I have been drawing deteriorating architecture for over four years now. I see something innately human in these structures. They were once enormous, man-made assemblages–huge forces of permanence, but they are collapsing in on themselves and wallowing within their frame. Somehow, it always feels as if the subject is content with its circumstance. I think I have been trying to capture this sense of dignity.
I started this series a while back, doing portraiture of abandoned buildings and referencing a lot of photography coming out of Detroit. Recently I’ve been focusing on specific points of collapse within a building. It allows me to experiment with the composition and tension of the page a bit more.
What are a few things that are inspiring to you right now?
I really enjoy reading books about different artists. Two that I always turn to for inspiration are Off the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg by Calvin Tomkins and Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston. Rauschenberg valued play and experimentation through every fold of his life and the way Guston describes his personal artwork and the world around him is extremely intriguing.