Artist Bill Claps has described his past 12 months as his “year of Asia,” with exhibitions at the Today Art Museum in Beijing and at Art 33 Gallery in Hangzhao, China, and with an artist residency on a rural volcanic island in the South of Japan. Finding inspiration in sources as varied as language and code, calligraphy, Chinese landscape painting, expressionism, and Pop art iconography, Claps’ work reflects an ongoing dialogue with art history, appropriating the imagery, motifs, and language used by artists and art critics. Check out a video the artist made about his practice, take a look at two of the artist’s ongoing series, and add Claps’ shimmering work to your collection!
“Natural Abstractions” is Claps’ homage to traditional Chinese painting and to the 18thcentury Japanese master printmakers whose graphic style greatly influenced the European Impressionists. In this series he creates contemporary interpretations of nature motifs used and repeated by many generations of artists. "Chinese and Japanese landscape painting has been an inspiration for me for some time now, and I wanted to pay tribute to those artists,” says the artist. Each work is executed in a positive and negative version.
In these recent works you can see Claps’ fascination with the natural world, captured up close and translated into autonomous compositional elements, which at times recall geometric abstraction, calligraphy, and cellular processes.
His creative process begins with photographs taken in varied forests and mountains around the world: Cuba, China, Japan, the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, and the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains of the U.S. The images are processed digitally and printed in black and white. Claps then applies a layer of gold foil and paints into the images.
Gold is the symbol of immortality, eternity and perfection, and the divine—reflective, spiritual, metaphysical, with a warmth that evolves as the day’s light changes. In recreating these art historical motifs, Claps attempts to create dynamic images that live in balance between figuration and abstraction.
"IT'S ALL DERIVATIVE"
In the “It’s All Derivative” series, Claps comments on the practice of appropriation and veneration in the art world by combining borrowed imagery from the past with the visual language of Morse code. He then applies gold foil to the surface of the works, using a unique technique he developed, thereby creating his own signature version of these iconic images. All the works in the series have “It’s All Derivative” written on them in Morse code.
“The series originally came about as I was thinking about my influences, both in my art and in my life, and I started playing with images and artists who have influenced me the most. I began to realize that as much as we want to complement ourselves for all the “brilliant” work we’ve done in our lives, nothing we do is totally original. It’s all derivative on one level or another.”
Claps began using Morse code in his works in 2012, initially drawn to the code as a way to make his works more narrative, but in an opaque way that invited viewers to investigate the work further. According to Claps, “Morse code was the first digital codes of the information age, but it is no longer used, so it is both modern and retro. This is really important to me, particularly with the series “It’s All Derivative,” which comments on art historical ideas. Additionally, I like the code’s simple, clean elements, which I can distort and abstract in interesting ways to fit the images in my artworks.”
The works of Claps express a search for the motivation behind artistic expression, and questions his own place in the continuum of art history. “As an artist, unless you’ve grown up in a windowless room, it’s impossible not to have been influenced by all those who have come before you, and you need to pay homage to that.”
To see more of Bill Claps available work, visit his biography page.