By reinterpreting research into the history of 20th century building and planning, she compiles collections of concrete and resin objects of varying scales, creating colourful casts that reach into her understanding of urban environments.
In July 2017 Holdstock undertook an intensive fortnight of conversation and presentations, along with 11 other artists, on the Mark Devereux Projects StudioBook 2017 programme.
The artist has kept a blog on the a-n site about her experience, which has been a departure point for this Q&A.
How do your material choices drive the content of what you do?
My material choices definitely drive the content. I used to primarily paint, but found myself more interested in the textures and materiality of the buildings and landscapes I was painting, and struggled to portray these intense surfaces. For my degree show, I made two fairly two-dimensional sculptures to sit between paintings – they ended up becoming more exciting to me. I have since experimented with making sculptures to recreate the textures that fascinate me. Having these objects lying around in the studio led me to play with further compositions. I get really into arranging things so combinations I find satisfying or pleasing also drive the content.
What research do you apply to your work?
The variety of styles and ambitions of architects are endlessly interesting. This informs my research as I like to know why things are the way they are; why some buildings are angular and stark, some are ornate, or why some don’t seem to have been considered aesthetically. This interest led me to read William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890), Le Corbusier’s Toward an Architecture (1923), Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism (2009), and the amazing Social Housing – Housing the Social (2012) edited by Andrea Phillips and Fulya Erdemci, with its brilliant contributions exploring the social side of 20th century architecture. These lines of enquiry led me to watch the incredible ‘Robinson’ film series by Patrick Keiller. The work of Martin Boyce, Michael Dean, Jesse Darling, and Carol Bove has also been useful in observing visual language and aesthetic influences.
What made you return to Hull after studying in London?
The prospect of establishing a practice within the context of the City of Culture. If Hull hadn’t won the City of Culture bid for 2017, I don’t think I could have moved back. I studied my foundation year here and in my decision to move back I felt it would be an easier city and part of the country generally to navigate as an early-career artist. In 2014, Hull appeared to be a city on the up, with an exciting focus on art and councillors and public figures contemplating the potential of its culture.
Working in this affordable city – I pay £20 a month for the same size studio I was paying £120 for in London – allows me to work less and practice more. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to focus on it to this degree. I also work as a gallery assistant at Humber Street Gallery and this is great for my practice; I’m surrounded by world-class art, have the opportunity to meet and talk to artists, and can learn from the way their work is curated.
In your blog you talk about Hull being isolated. Do you feel it is possible to make your practice work there in terms of production, but to exhibit and develop professionally you have to look further afield?
That is what I’m currently trying to do and it’s working, to an extent. Hull has a great art scene but on a small scale. My artist group Hack & Host [one of the 2017 a-n Artist-led group bursary recipients] is beginning to make a mark. We’re curating YVAN’s Nourish’17, a weekend programme of events to highlight and bring together the region’s visual arts sector. We’re also working on the community engagement project, ‘Meet me at the Blue Box’, part of the engagement programme for this year’s Turner Prize.
I have exhibited further afield too; with Seize Projects in Leeds and with Milk in Newcastle. But it’s hard being an artist without a similar immediate exhibiting network to those of these groups. Ultimately, I’m heading towards doing an MA back in London but this doesn’t mean I’d stay there afterwards… Living and working in Hull for these past couple of years has opened my eyes to what smaller cities have to offer to artists.
How has the StudioBook 2017 experience with Mark Deveruex Projects made you re-approach your practice?
It has allowed me to take a step back and see my work from the perspective of others and how it might fit into a broader picture. I have returned from it with a clearer vision. Time away from the studio is useful in stepping away from your ideas. You can then return to your work and think about it with clarity. I am now excited to move forward, professionally and in the ambition and scale of my work.
I am producing a new body of work for the show ‘Theories of Ruin Value’ in Hull at Creative ENRG’s Queens House this November. I’m excited about the work as I’m experimenting with materials I haven’t used to this scale. I am also working on re-exhibiting my Periphery series at Ground gallery, an artist-led space in Hull. I plan to exhibit the work within the context of a new piece, which will fall and hang from the wall to lie beneath the existing series, creating a new landscape within the space. The StudioBook artists will also be exhibiting work at Old Granada Studios in Manchester. I can’t wait for this; we all got to know each other really well and most of us are creating new pieces.
Clare Holdstock is this week’s featured a-n blogger at
1. Clare Holdstock, Periphery series, sculptural installation at Lady Beck Studios & Project Space, Leeds, 2016. Courtesy: the artist.
2. Clare Holdstock, Periphery series (detail), 2016. Courtesy: the artist.
3. Clare Holdstock, Periphery series (detail), air pillows in Bauhaus colours, cement fondue and fibreglass, 80 cm x 120 cm x 5 cm, 2016. Courtesy: the artist.
4. Clare Holdstock, Periphery series (welded dancing figures), rebar, cement fondue, cellophane, coat hanger, air pockets, powder, painted cotton banner, approx. 170 cm x 300 cm x 200 cm, 2016. Courtesy: the artist.
5. Clare Holdstock, Periphery series (hexagon i & ii), cement fondue and fibre glass, 80 cm x 80 cm x 30 cm, 2016. Courtesy: the artist.