Plum Cloutman

Interview by James Owens
Published July 5, 2019

JO: Hi Plum – What concepts/themes are you exploring in your practice? 

PC: I’ve been preoccupied with the way language evokes imagery lately, especially in old-fashioned idioms and phrases that we don’t hear much of anymore. I found an old dictionary called Brewer’s Phrase and Fable that I’ve been scouring for material, and I’ve been using these phrases as a jumping off point to write a narrative that I can build a painting or a drawing around.

JO: What is your process when making work? 

PC: Since I’ve been building works around Phrase and Fable, I’ve fallen in to satisfying rhythm with my process. From a list of entries, I’ll make up stories to go with them and then make a few loose sketches based on those stories, then use those sketches as kick starters. After that, it’s a long process of painting and erasing until the balance is right.  I try not to use references when I’m working – it’s important to me that the figures aren’t portraits, but more like tronies- just helping the narrative along. I get frustrated easily when I’m painting, so I work in cycle with pastels and sketches to break it up- otherwise I’m liable to compulsively sabotage my work.

JO: Where do the ideas for your work come from?

PC: That’s difficult to pinpoint really- I think rather than looking for ideas in a certain place, it’s more about casting your net wide, and being open to getting ideas from anywhere. I’m working from an old dictionary at the moment, but I’ve found ideas in horror stories, westerns, a synchrotron radiation laboratory, and a tiny pair of porcelain regency shoes I found in a charity shop. I think the key is not to think about it too much, simple ideas are always the best ones.

JO: Name three of your favourite artworks and why?

PC: 1. Elaine de Kooning- Self Portrait, 1946
This really set the benchmark for me for self portraits- Elaine de Kooning is SO cool, I love her palette.

2. Pieter Bruegel the Elder- The Misanthrope 1568
Everything by Breugel is my favourite, but the first painting I saw of his in the flesh was The Misanthrope at Capodimonte in Naples- it had such a great kind of private sense of humour about it. He’s also a really important reference for me lately because of his depictions of old proverbs in his work- he’s got such a unique way of visualising them.

3. Balthus- The Cherry Tree, 1940
I know it’s twee, and of course his interiors are his best, but I found a book of Balthus’s landscapes in a charity shop recently and I can’t stop looking at this one, it really calms me down- there’s something a bit Hayao Miyazaki about it. When you’re painting full time you sometimes forget how to look at a painting without dissecting it, and this is the first one I’ve seen in a while that I just let wash over me.

Discover more of Plum’s work on Instagram @plumcloutman

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