Artist, Visionary Donor, Teacher, Past WSW Board Member
About 20 years ago I saw a Women’s Studio Workshop announcement for an artist book residency in one of the arts newsletters. At that time my life was in transition. Three years earlier I had left my day job as a financial analyst, my partner died, and I was struggling to survive as an emerging artist. Although I had begun to meet other artists through participation in Artist’s Call Against Intervention in Central America and the New York City chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art, I felt isolated and lonely in the midst of so many people. As a result, I organized an evening for women artists of African descent to meet and connect. Never had we all been in a room together. Exciting and electrifying, that gathering led to my working with Faith Ringgold to organize the Coast to Coast Women of Color National Artists’ Book Project. The book I made came out of creating a series of alternative photographic prints that I called “Reframing the Past.” The Lower Eastside Printshop supported me in the production of a photographic brown print version of the book for the conference exhibition.
I wanted to produce a book edition, so I made a new book dummy and mailed it with my WSW application. When I received the letter that awarded the residency to me, it was like a dream come true but it became far more than that. Ann and Tana encouraged me to experiment and gave me the advice and assistance needed to make the idea a reality.
The rare opportunity to work daily in a structured environment with the support of other artists was extremely important to me in many ways. I had come from a working class family and community where there was no understanding or support for anyone to become a visual artist. At WSW, I reconnected to what it felt like to be supported and respected and to have my work taken seriously as a worthwhile endeavor.
I have made two artist book projects supported by residencies at WSW, in 1988 and 2004. I also taught a summer workshop and was a juror on a panel that selected artists for residencies. Until recently I served on the WSW board of directors for several years.
I make photographic series, artists’ books, and text based installations. Although I research and investigate while constructing and framing images and text, I hold a place in my mind for the idea of the artist as shaman, as spiritual medium, who draws on both personal experiences and things inherited from ancestral memories to speak of the human condition. The themes of my projects vary, but they all draw on the history of this country and its relationship to where I come from–the South, a blue-collar black community, small white frame houses, racially segregated public facilities, illegal NAACP meetings, and black women’s secret societies.
Each time I visit WSW, I am reminded that it is one of the few places that provides a creative environment for nurturing the female voice and vision. While some women artists have been singled out for major recognition, most that I meet continue to work in relative isolation with little support for their ideas. As an emerging artist, having the opportunity to work at WSW in order to realize my vision for a project gave me the recognition and confidence needed to continue to pursue my work. At a later stage of my career, WSW supported a more controversial project that other non-profits had refused to consider. To me it is very important to be able to go someplace to work where there is a dialogue that is open and nonjudgmental about a broad range of ideas.
Clarissa recently collaborated with Chris Petrone on Drawing Conversations, part of the Islip Art Museum’s show Out of the Incubator.