Claire Scherzinger: Synesthesia, personal mythologies and the language of art

Not long ago, we stopped by the historic Coffin Factory Lofts to visit the studio of Toronto-based painter and sculptor Claire Scherzinger. The artist holds a BFA from OCAD University, has shown work across the province and was announced a finalist in the 2015 RBC Canadian Painting Competition at the end of last year. We had an inspiring conversation about the influences leading to her most recent body of work: from synesthetic approaches to painting, awakening personal mythologies and the universal language of art:

What’s your first memory related to art?

I made this drawing of a woman on a yellow piece of paper with gel pens and I remember really liking it and showing it to my parents, but then my sister drew on it and I was so upset! I don’t know why that memory is the most poignant, but that was the first time that I ever felt I was actually really good at something. I didn’t really understand how I was good at drawing, but it made sense. I was so disappointed when my sister drew on that little drawing, but ever since then, I’ve been using scraps of paper to sketch out ideas. 


How have you seen your approach to art-making grow and develop throughout the years?

My upbringing was very creative and I think I’ve always had big ideas without quite knowing how to implement them. My head has always been in some other world, so I feel my style has adapted itself through bringing this world into different forms, closer to a sort of reality. With my most recent body of work, I sense more of an awakening to the world that’s around me. I’ve begun to write again, images are more abstracted and I feel my personal mythology is coming through.

Would you say your background in creative writing has transformed how you paint?

I’m interested in conveying experiences to as many people as possible, and I think this is why I paint more than I write. Writing has barriers; languages are boundaries that make social and political ties difficult to convey, so the medium becomes limited. At the same time, my writing affects my painting which affects my lifestyle and back again. It’s all interconnected.  It’s the same with music, which is usually my biggest form of stimulation. When I listen to music, I can picture the sounds in my head; it’s some sort of synesthesia. These images of other worlds come into my head and I feel the need to let them out.  


What’s your take on gender disparities in the art world? 

I could speak for hours about this because I experience it on a daily basis. Now, although more women are in the picture than there were before, the major representation of artists in the city are still white men. There are little to no racialized bodies. Gender politics is an intersectional issue, but speaking just on gender, there’s clear evidence that women don’t sell as much as men. 

What stigmas do you note around women in the arts? 

Men have always been able to make any kind of work they want about any issue. Women are still trapped into making certain kinds of work. Although you can create something about your experience as a woman, you can’t count on selling it in the same way men can. It has to be neutralized in some sort of way in order to be put out into the public sphere, which I think is gross. It doesn’t help that Toronto in itself is a very conservative city. The whole idea behind contemporary feminism encompasses a huge variety of experiences, but regardless of the fact that we are approaching a form of gender equality, we’re still trapped and still have to work twice as hard as our male counterparts. 


How do you see this gender inequality changing?

I think the best thing you can do is be kind, considerate and mindful about other’s experiences. Be the best version of yourself. This is the mentality I try to keep. It’s exhausting to keep arguing otherwise. In the sense of the art world, something that I find very interesting is hearing men and women repeat again and again what is wrong with the Toronto art scene. They say it’s too conservative, that we need to take more risks, be more adventurous… But what does that mean? What are you going to do about it? We need to stop making the same boring work and start talking and being open about these issues. Hit the nail on the head. Then, maybe we can have a good conversation and begin creating more politically sensitive work.

Do you find artists shifting towards entrepreneurial action in opposition to commercial gallery dependence? What’s your take on this DIY generation? 

I feel like this whole DIY generation is more so than ever before about who has money and who doesn’t. Seeing these young adults who are making art just because they can, without worrying about working, is definitely defining what is bought and sold in art markets across the world. I also feel like art has become all about the individual… simply another product of a neo-liberalist capitalist system. There will always be a DIY aspect to any art scene, but I think it should be more about how we interpret the zeitgeist within our own situations. Today, I think the zeitgeist is very much about inequality in all of its forms and how it’s detrimental if we don’t acknowledge its existence. That’s a good thing. As a result, there are also a lot of positive entrepreneurial forays happening into making us all, hopefully, less ignorant of what is happening in the world.  


How do you balance artistic introspectiveness to make sure you’re not losing sight of reality?

It’s amazing to have this privilege to be an artist. Art is not monolithic; it’s a wonderful experience that we get to share with others. I think it’s important to keep away from narrow fields of vision. Most of my friends are artists, but we also have to be open ourselves to other networks, people and other ways of being. Read, go outside, whatever living outside of art means—I’ve been trying to become better at doing that. I go to metal concerts, have coffee with friends, I’m not always in my studio.  Art is like a song, when painting becomes musical…you know you’re onto something. For me, it’s a universal language, and it comes from how you choose to live your life. 

Follow Claire Scherzinger's work and projects on her website