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The Not-So-Still Lifes of Watercolorist Dawn Clements

A Cumulative Effect

Dawn Clements draws and paints her environment, moving from 1 perspective to the next with an intense eye and a sure hand over days and weeks. The works become cumulative, not only as observations but also physically, since the artist adds sheets of newspaper to incorporate each new region of her subject. Gradually, they develop to become huge pieces, some more than 20 feet long.

Chrysanthemums by Dawn Clements (watercolor on paper, 80x94)
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After I gave myself permission to paste on more newspaper, I understood that I could make massive drawings from smaller modules. Once the framework of the rectangle was changed, I might consider drawing at a more simplistic manner, a drawing needn’t be a’window’ but may pose itself as the object it is.”
Recently, faced with grave health issues, Clements has chosen to integrate evidence of her continuing remedies in the form of medication packaging. A body of work which takes on the shifting, transitory nature of perception has now broadened to become a meditation on mortality.
Sometimes my drawings become torn or worn or distressed as I fold and glue them” she says, but I patch and repair them. All this is part of my process.”
We were saddened to learn that artist Dawn Clements, whose big, accumulative still life works recorded the joy of normal life, passed away recently at the age of 60. According to the obituary by Neil Genzlinger for The New York Times: Dawn Clements, whose intricate drawings and watercolors captured detailed scenes from her life and from film melodramas, frequently on a panoramic scale, expired on Dec. 4, at a hospice in the Bronx… Ms. Clements’s drawings — generally in sumi ink or ballpoint pen — along with her paintings often used multiple sheets of paper, stitched together into large, irregular shapes which contrasted with the technical precision of her hand.”

Peonies by Dawn Clements (watercolor on paper, 69x93)
Clements was featured in an article by John A. Parks in the April 2018 issue of Watercolor Artist. Battling cancer at the time of the interview, Clements addressed her illness and how it had impacted her work. We dedicate the article, re-published here, to Dawn’s memory.
Clements further discovered that she did not have to keep her climbing drawing flat; once it got too long to manage, she could just fold it, allowing her to make drawings on a bigger scale.

Table (MacDowell) by Dawn Clements (detail; watercolor on paper, 81x99)
Clements’ procedure inevitably results in images which are somewhat stern. They incorporate various disjunctions as one day’s work is added to the next. In ways, the job reflects the way in which we approach a more comprehensive and continuous world in the patchwork of changing perspectives and sensory inputs. But the drawings also present a much more elaborate grasp of the visual abundance of an environment than we would normally consider.

A SHIFTING VIEWPOINT

Clements works up close to every object, spending time observing it intensely before moving on to another. She accepts her procedure means that she will dispense with a complete, coherent perspectival space throughout a job. While individual objects or little groupings may have correct” standpoint, the entire work can comprise many different perspectives while choosing a particular flatness.
Not only do I shift my outlook,” states the artist, but I could draw at different times daily. This might cause multiple shadows or shadows that don’t adapt to a single light source” Clements’ earlier work featured a variety of media, but in recent years she’s begun to work extensively in watercolor.

STARTING SMALL

Tabletop (Civitella Ranieri) by Dawn Clements (detail; watercolor and gouache on paper, 53x92)
I love how watercolor can show a change of mind or a shift in position, a direction considered and diverted.”

Before 2012, I worked mostly in ink and gouache,” she states, sometimes ballpoint pen, sometimes Sumi ink and ink, occasionally gouache. People often describe my job as’drawing.’ Though I frequently use paint, there is something in my procedure that makes people believe my work is drawing. I don’t mind what people call it. To me, it is work.”

Three Tables in Rome by Dawn Clements (detail; watercolor on paper, 85×248)
As you can imagine, this was a really confusing time for me. However, there I was in this extraordinary place, using a glorious studio at a community of accomplished and brilliant artists and scholars. It was a very strange time, dreamlike in many ways,” she says.
Achieve an extremely large scale. All these are attributes that both add to the character and power of the job, but also pose challenges concerning longevity.

Unexpectedly, Clements launched into a really large watercolor. For my Rome project [Three Tables in Rome, below] I wanted to experiment with some ideas having to do with whether or not different levels of definition or resolution could coexist efficiently in a single work,” she states. To do this, I made some rules for myself. I determined that I would draw what I discovered across several tabletops. Rather than staying fixed in one position, I’d move across the border of the table so I’d always be near the items I had been observing, translating them much how a movie or film camera might slowly traveling and scan a distance ”
The finished works are displayed unframed, extending out across the walls of a bunch, and subjected to accidents. I do worry about the durability of my job, but I suppose I am more curious about the search itself,” says Clements. I often make large works in tiny spaces, for instance, a huge drawing of my table”

Three Tables in Rome by Dawn Clements (detail; watercolor on paper, 85x248)

DAY BY DAY

To do this, she could start little, insert paper with adhesive as she progresses and then fold the paper to accommodate her achieve. Clements almost always functions on a flat surface parallel to the floor, like a table, and almost never works on the wall. This keeps me near the items I’m drawing and sets me at the kitchen table,” she says. I hope that Though the work can become very large in size that it’s never’monumental.'”
Clements strives to convey a familiarity in her work, even when it is a huge format. I want the work to reflect my life and what I see–both of the love and the mess,” she says. Possibly the distress that happens into the work a part of it”

A NEW CONDITION

While Clements’ work consistently has been somewhat autobiographical in documenting the distances in which she has worked and lived, it’s taken on new significance because the performer has seen herself facing serious health challenges.

Plant and Shoes by Dawn Clements (watercolor on paper, 75x83)
Plant and Shoes by Dawn Clements (watercolor on paper, 75×83)
The day after getting this news, Clements traveled to Rome to get a scheduled two-month residency at the American Academy. Assuring me that I could get the same medical care in Rome, my oncologist encouraged me to proceed,” the artist says. An oncologist at Rome hauled with mine at New York so that I could start a therapy. This was a pretty crazy time, adapting to a new place and a different health program while trying to wrap my brain around the gravity of my new condition.
In April 2016, I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer,” Clement says. It was catastrophic, but from what I understood, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment might very well cleared the cancer from my body. Unfortunately, my cancer did not respond to therapy. In late-October 2016, it was shown to me that it had spread into other parts of my body and that I had a very advanced stage [Phase IV] metastatic cancer. There was no role for surgery, and my prognosis was quite grave. This came as a dreadful shock to me.” But in Rome, I made even stricter parameters to acknowledge nature’s role in change, growth, corrosion and time,” Clements says. In my mind, this forced time constraint gave the selections of resolutions purpose.” Together with the distressed paper and also the folds, the levels of settlement became an integral part of the process.
While pursuing this focused and considerate project, the artist acknowledges that the whole enterprise was complicated by her physical and psychological state as she grappled with her medical state.
Three Tables in Rome by Dawn Clements (watercolor on paper, 85×2481/2)
She wondered if their existence would overwhelm the work and create a narrative that was too powerful and maybe even too sentimental. But ultimately, she made a decision to incorporate the major box of medication (Xeloda) and also the vacant blisterpacks.
Clements’ self-imposed principles did really allow her to comprehend how different levels of settlement might operate within a single function. Usually, I would have worked on the image of an object until I felt it was complete, frequently with a rather high level of definition,” she states. In my past works, certain bodily and physical changes often prevented me from solving an image in the way in which I had intended.

As she moved across and painted the tabletops, Clements added objects such as fruits, scraps of newspaper and other things she encountered in her daily life. In the last weeks of working on this particular piece, I kept accepting chemotherapy tablets and taking a look at the box, saving the used blisterpacks of those pills I’d consumed. I wanted to incorporate them at the job, but I didn’t immediately do so.”
Yet the final story of Three Tables
And the job itself was rough and exciting for me. It took a great deal of attention”
For instance, a flower would wilt or shed its petals; a hyacinth would bloom; a piece of fruit gradually would rust; or even a residency could come to an end. I always tried to react to these changes and incorporate them into the job. The impact of time passing and bodily change affected the way I wrote and resolved work. As opposed to controlling my surroundings, I tried to associate with it.
In ways, it became a calendar, a way of counting days,” Clements says. And I simply decided that, for me, it would be unethical not to incorporate these items that had become such an important part of my life. They became significant and as ordinary as any of those objects on the table.
Clements started each day by cutting out a piece of paper by a large roster, picking a size that she believed she would fill that day. For instance, on day one, I proposed to paint a pine twig, so the newspaper was about how big the pine twig, not far larger,” she states. She subsequently painted an olive branch onto it. On each subsequent day, I’d add only enough paper for that day,” she states, and that is the way the job grew [eventually reaching 22 feet in width].”
But naturally,” she’s, the text on the tablet box package is quite legibletext in a visual work can be an area of focus. People today see it and examine it. It has a capability to induce and emphasize a story.”
Clements added the following rule to her procedure; she vowed never to return to the prior day’s work. She’d only move forward. I could add any size or paper that I desired, and the completed work might be any size or shape I wanted within the boundaries of the eight weeks of the residency. I was only limited by time, not size,” she says.

PERSONAL EPHEMERA

Dawn Clements (d. 2018) grew up in Chelmsford, Mass., in which her dad was an artist. Some of her earliest memories were drawing in his own studio. In school, she studied film before finally embracing a career in art. I know music and film influenced my work and invited me to think about how we move and continuously framework, interpret and present our experiences as we move through our lives,” she said. I came to consider observation as looking closely, but also listening and touching. I came to appreciate points of view that move and shift.”
If we are drawing an interior of an ornate church, we might be considered obsessive if we draw all the details,” she says, but really, that’s the topic.” Clements says her interest in a minute drawing of a patch of yard was influenced by particular functions of Fra Angelico (Italian; 1395-1455), in which sections of yard, thick with assorted flowers, appear alongside amounts.
Article written by John A. Parks, a painter, a writer and a part of the faculty at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
A lot of times, I explain it as a sort of climbing-in,” Clements says, referring to carrying a state of extreme monitoring. Acknowledging the heavy detail, she points out that with some areas, detail is just unavoidable.
One of Clements’ most unusual watercolors–Grass— represents a small area of lawn seen from directly above, in which every blade of grass and wildflower is researched with the almost-obsessive eye.

Around Dawn Clements

I am not a botanist, and I’m a gardener, however, it was fascinating simply to spend that time using a square foot of yard .”

In Rome turns out to be much broader than the narrative of an illness. Incorporated within the picture are all fruits, foliage and many different Italian packaging displaying vibrant, stylish type. A lamp and a telephone are joined by the worn woodgrain of a desk , and a glance of lawn and light in the view through a window.

Life is ongoing in all of its aspects of growth and decay. Sophisticated electronic artifacts take their place together with natural forms; a particular flavor for pleasure and lightness occupies the piece. The entire richness of existence is here. If a number of its attributes are always darker than many others, the artist manages to give us a look at the entire with substantial relish and joy.
To paint the yard, Clements decided she would spend only an hour every day of her six-week residency in Umbria painting a part of roughly a square foot of lawn. She did this over 23 consecutive days. What interested me was that a yard is always growing,” she states. Sometimes even over the course of 24 hours, it would be difficult to find my place again.

Clements’ work has been exhibited widely over many years, including at the Whitney Biennial 2010. It’s also included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; The Tang Museum, at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; The Deutsche Bank Collection; The Saatchi Collection, in London; The Henry Art Gallery; the University of Washington, in Seattle, Wash.; and Colecção Madeira Corporate Services, in Portugal.

Grass by Dawn Clements (detail; watercolor on paper, 30¾x33)
Clements left her home in New York and was a member of the school of the Rhode Island School of Design.
I had been struck with the revelation of just how much European footprints look at the Fra Angelico yard and that Fra Angelico’s lawns may come in the observed adventure of his surroundings,” she says. Because Fra Angelico’s paintings are so ethereal, I never really thought of them as being of the world. To see this Fra Angelico yard in life outside my studio door in Umbria struck me in a potent way. The very process of drawing it every morning made it a more meditative than obsessive focus”

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