Interview with Clare Celeste

Clare Celeste, Artist of Gems and Fish 1000 Piece Puzzle

How does your artistic process compare from creating 3D installations to creating a piece for a puzzle?

"I create both my puzzles and my installations in Photoshop, so the creative process is quite similar in the beginning. One difference is that I have more freedom when designing the puzzle as I can choose very delicate and fine imagery. When I design my installations, I am always limited by which images I can realistically cut out!

Although my puzzle designs are two dimensional, I try to create as much depth and detail as possible. I try to make them feel visually lush and immersive, so one can seek and find imagery as one would when walking through one of my installations. 

When I create my three-dimensional works, I print out the elements, hand cut them out, and then finally install them into the space. That final part of the process involves a lot of tape, putty, string, ladders, problem solving - and a good playlist."

You have a strong focus on the environment throughout your work, have you always been eco-focused?

"Before becoming an artist, I worked in Policy and I actually hold a Master's in Public Policy from UCLA. I was always interested in green urban planning, community outreach and development, and essentially how to make urban spaces more healthy, vibrant and equitable. 

It has been a slow process of merging my artwork with my policy interests, but I believe they have started to come together nicely in the last few years. I used to use only found imagery in my artwork (for instance, the installation Intimate immensity was made entirely from found imagery) But these days, I pull my collage imagery primarily from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. As I use illustrations from 1900 and earlier, many species in my artwork have vanished or are vanishing. When I started looking into how many species I was using were already extinct or facing extinction, I was really gutted and alarmed. 

This adds a layer of ecological urgency to my work. To address this aspect of my practice, I have an ongoing collaboration and creative dialogue with scientist Louisa Durkin of the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Center. Louisa is wonderful and helps me to understand the crisis and also keeps me focused on solutions. "

What recommendations do you have for an eco-friendly lifestyle?

"My first suggestion is to educate yourself on the climate and biodiversity crises and then start talking about it with your friends and family! I recently read the book “All We Can Save” and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I read it with a circle of other women and that was truly one of the most nourishing experiences of my adult life. 

The podcasts “Outrage and Optimism” and “Mothers of Invention” also are wonderful- they make me laugh and keep me informed. 

There is a wonderful podcast called How to Save a Planet that I really recommend, and I particularly recommend the episode “Is your Carbon Footprint BS?” (Hint, it sort of is. And the term Carbon Footprint was invented by… BP.) This is a great episode to listen to if you are asking yourself the question “what should I do?”

I think it is important to focus on systemic changes like holding the fossil fuel sector to task on its role in, well, destroying life on earth. One way is to vote in every election and then to put pressure on elected officials to act urgently on climate change and biodiversity. The Environmental Voter Project is a great organization to support! I make a monthly donation. :)

Another way is to “green our money.” We can do this by divesting our money from banks that fund fossil fuel infrastructure. Banks like Chase, Citi, Bank of America and TD Bank are currently funding an absolutely disastrous pipeline (Pipeline 3 by Canadian oil company Enbridge) that must be stopped if we are to protect our water, honor our treaties to Indigenous peoples, and turn the tide on our emissions. You can check out how to get involved and support frontline, indigenous water protectors here. 

In terms of individual actions, cutting out beef entirely from your diet is a GREAT way to have an immediate impact. I am a vegetarian and eat a mostly plant-based diet and it is not only good for the environment, it also is delicious and I feel much healthier. :) But even just reducing your intake of animal products can have a meaningful impact on the climate and the earth!"

 When did you start creating collages?

"I have always made collages. I actually kept a very elaborate scrap book all throughout high school that I still have. But I always saw collage as something I did for myself and never thought to make the collages public. I used to make paintings and I would often plan the compositions for the paintings using collage. One day in my late 20’s I realized that I liked the collage more than the final painting, and that was when I started taking my collage work more seriously."

 Have you always wanted to be an artist?

"Yes, when I was a little kid I always wanted to be an artist. But I also wanted to be a writer or a marine biologist! Those were the three contenders. :) And I must say that the Venn Diagram of interests, versus a singular focus, is still an issue today. I am an artist, but I also love writing and communicating. And of course, the interest in the natural world and ecology is ever-present. So I am happiest when projects somehow integrate those three interests. My project The Garden did this nicely, for example."

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