Whether she is collaging with bits of her prom dress, painting on cashmere with the spontaneity of a jazz musician, or road tripping into the sunset with her gang (the Fortmakers, an arts collective) Naomi Clark is one happy painter--and on principle. Clark's cultivation of curiosity and giddiness in herself is at the heart of her painting practice. We love her playful paintings, and down to earth attitude: she loves "seeing different colors and shapes next to each other," a love that traces back as much to her childhood in the mountains of Colorado as it does to her two degrees in painting.
We spoke with Naomi in her studio about the pleasure of painting, installation mischief, and the Fortmakers, whose diverse collaborative work she describes as "mashed potatoes".
How long have you been in New York for?
I’ve been in New York for six years. It seems like I’ve been saying six years for two years. Maybe almost seven.
Did Fortmakers start in New York?
Yeah, it started here. I came out here for graduate school at Pratt for painting, and then Nana and I started working together at the end of my second year. She helped me curate and set up my thesis show, because I had been doing all these sculptures and didn’t quite know—
I wanted to make an atmosphere out of them and wanted people to help. Then we started working together and that’s when Fortmakers started. We liked working together.
How did you guys meet in the first place?
We met at a bar, where all good things start.
So you’ve been at it for a while as Fortmakers?
Four or five years now, since 2008.
So....what is Fortmakers?
Fortmakers is a collaborative group that makes things. And we help each other in all the different aspects of what it takes to do something. And we like to hang out together all day—so that’s what we do. We take trips together. We just went to West Texas. And we like to do temporary land art installations. That’s what we’ve done with the blankets.
We kind of think of a scenery that we want to see, or a place that we want to explore. Last time we took out nineteen blankets and did a big photo shoot. Just to see them out of New York, and out of the studio. So that's part of what we do constantly, to have that as part of the aesthetic.
Do you all do any rituals before creating your installations?
When Fort Makers find itself someplace new we usually scope out the atmosphere together or sometimes we will go separate ways and then re-convene. Usually if we have taken a trip we have brought some fabric art to install in different places. Then we will pick spots that intrigue us and set up a temporary installation with one person designated as photographer. We do not really have any rituals per-se. I think the ritual is in the travel and the making of the art. If I feel like I do not know where to take a piece I know that it is time to clean the studio or go to a museum or gallery.
Do you sell work on those trips?
I mean, we would if someone wanted to buy it. We went to Marfa on this last trip and checked out galleries, and any scene that we want to see that we’ve heard about, we’ll go and investigate it and see if there could be an opportunity there in the future, or at the moment or whatever.
Are they more fun or creative or business?
All of them combined. Mashed potatoes.
Fortmakers is interested in using installation to create new atmospheres. What is the atmosphere of your apartment?
The atmosphere in my apartment is very flexible. All the furniture gets moved around all the time. We have gouache paints and paper out most of the time. The kitchen is the central spot in our apartment at the moment so that inspires creative meals. I like cooking as much as painting sometimes, especially in the summer when fresh food is so plentiful and colorful.
Cool. So in terms of your painting practice, you studied painting at Pratt?
Yes. I have two degrees in painting.
Does that tie in with the stuff you do with Fortmakers?
Yeah definitely. I think that it is all related. All the silk stuff we do is painted, and the ties. At some point we might do things that aren’t painted, and that’s fine too, but I really like to paint, so I’ll just paint on something.
Have you always worked abstractly?
I did sort of more figurative work when I started painting that was based directly on the abstracted figure, and then in graduate school I took the figure out of it. It just kind of seemed to be repeating itself too much, so I wanted to see what it would look like if it was completely abstract, with no figurative reference points at all. Though, I actually started adding the figure back into some work yesterday.
How do you approach a primed canvas?
Firs,t I don’t prime it all the way, with the ones I’ve been doing recently. I’ll do dye and gesso, or leave some of it blank. It sort of begins when it’s just the canvas surface and I kind of section off…the form probably starts in that phase when I’m priming it, and gets more articulated as I go on.
What kind of ideas or themes are you working through in your paintings?
Theme is probably color. I think that is the thing that I feel most passionate about, is seeing different colors and shapes next to each other. That’s pretty consistent in my work.
So is the expression in painting aesthetic for you?
No—it’s how painting feels, the action of it. Then visually I like the color. I don’t always like how the action looks, but I like the color. I like the act of painting. In that case, it’s just about painting.
Have you always been artistic?
Yeah. I made some weird drawings as a kid. I think my mom still has some plastic plates of them. They’re pretty cool.
Fortmakers as a concept seems like a reference to childhood, no?
Yeah I’d say that’s accurate. It’s pretty fun.
What’s an average day for you when you’re in the studio?
Kind of like this: Fussing around, cleaning up, making stuff sometimes, working on a blanket. There’s always different things that have to be done. Taking things places or writing. We don’t have Internet here. We haven’t had it for a month, thats actually kinda nice because it isn’t a distraction. Noah puts on good records, I try to put on good records.
Do you differentiate your personal work from Fortmakers?
I do, just because Fortmakers kind of focuses on object use, or things that have been commonly used. The paintings are my own personal expression outside of my very serious day job.
Do you have any artists that you really love?
The guy that just did the really big rock at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art, Michael Heiser, at Dia:Beacon, he has the shapes that go down really far. He’s amazing. I like everyone at Dia:Beacon. It kind of blows your mind. You walk in and it’s like, “Oh, this how art is meant to be seen!” I think it’s probably the most perfect museum I’ve ever seen.
Do you feel like coming from Colorado you have a different lens to you how you appreciate art?
I like art in nature because those are like my two favorite things. I think I crave distance. I like seeing things far back, I don’t like to look in the micro as much as the macro. That might be from seeing vistas out in the mountain country my whole life. My family is still in Boulder.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished painting 60 yards of silk. That was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I like painting really big, but in the constraints of living in the city it just doesn’t make that much sense. I’m working on a little painting, and a lot of blankets. They’re a series between Nana and I where she dyes and I sew and quilt and applique. They’re more like tapestry, they can all be hung. The blankets are going to Tomorrowland in Japan.