Les artistes: The Art of Experiment
Lafayette painter Karen deClouet finds distinct methods to create masterpiece landscapes
The Acadiana Art community can attribute Karen deClouet’s innovative and avant-garde landscapes to none other than FOMO. For those not in the know, that’s the Fear Of Missing Out.
“I couldn’t handle other people majoring in art and not me,” deClouet says, regarding her decision on what to study at UL. “I figured that, if you’re jealous of what other people are doing, you need to be doing that thing, right?”
Like many in her situation, deClouet flipped that degree into a graphic designer career, but over time yearned for work that incorporated the use of her entire hands instead of mouse-clicks with her fingertips. That lack of professional fulfillment pushed deClouet’s decision to go to grad school and take up painting.
In a market saturated with landscape artists, deClouet’s work stands out from the cluttered crowd. How many different ways can you paint that same old bayou, or that same old Cajun prairie? Well, more than you think, as deClouet has implemented several nontraditional, experimental techniques of painting — eschewing stuff you find in an art store for things like an electric power sander to prep certain surfaces. Her pour style — the process of applying thin, slow-drying paint to the surface without traditional brushwork — took years to master and involves to use of gravity and occasionally her breath (yes, her breath) to move colors around.
“It’s a one-time shot,” deClouet says. “It’s probably like what people do when [working] in epoxy. I’m doing that with paint. At a lot of shows, like at The Big Easel, people come to my tent [and] thought my pours were printed because there’s no brushstroke ... I’m not a painter-ly painter. I don’t take a brush and finish a painting in a couple days. It’s more like I’ll work on six to eight paintings at once, and then I’ll hone in, one at a time, to finish.”
While deClouet’s approach to painting is a break from the norm, her inspiration for choosing landscapes as a subject matter is fairly orthodox. As the daughter of a geologist, deClouet spent family vacations touring the vast natural wonder of the United States, developing a deep love for the surrounding splendor, which is why most of her paintings feature geographic elements from places she’s lived and places her father photographed.
“My goal every time is to take a blank space and create something entirely new,” deClouet says.
Though technically a landscape artist, Karen deClouet’s pieces — mostly of Acadiana, the American Southwest and the American Rust Belt — are unique, as she’s experimented with different painting techniques for years.
You did your undergrad work locally, but studied art in grad school at the University of Arizona. What was your reasoning for that decision?
I applied to many graduate schools and got into one in Texas and one in Arizona. And obviously, the one in Arizona was a lot farther and had a whole different landscape and a whole different region of the country. I felt if I went to Texas, it’s be just like Louisiana. So it was Tucson — and that’s where I started painting, and I had to just figure it out … it was a huge learning curve.
Figure it out? What do you mean?
If you ask me to teach a basic, traditional, skilled painting class, I’d have a really difficult time thinking about how to do that. Because the way I learned to paint is the way I taught myself how to paint. [It] isn’t traditional.
Unlike many landscape artists who try to a make a facsimile of a single image on canvas, many of your pieces combine elements of multiple regions into one painting. Why is that?
Being true to an image — representing that faithfully as a direct copy of another space — that’s not interesting. That’s not why [people] notice me. It’s a contemporary approach. I’m faking you out. I’m making you think I’m a landscape painter when I’m really just putting all these things together. It’s an illusion. I think a lot of us have Imposter Syndrome (laughs). I’m trying to make you think I can paint when really I’m here just trying to figure this all out.