Lately it’s been raining off and on in Paris and sometimes snowing. Today it’s overcast but I notice bits of white light find their way onto my path as I make my way to the 7th arrondissement. I pass Rue de Bac, the Eric Bompard cashmere store and a cafe/restaurant that hasn’t been open since last October called Les Antiquaires. Their deep brown and cream early 1900s decor reflects the name but somehow feels older, dustier than even the vintage bike parked out in front. I cross the street and step into the Le Pave D’Orsay gallery. The echoing of my boots on slats makes it feel vacant but the color palette in the paintings brings a warmth, an intimacy. Clare Thackey is waiting for me, snuggled to one side having coffee in a mustard cup. She harmonizes with the color palette of her latest paintings in a heather grey v neck, wearing a short strawberry bob with bangs, calm with eucalyptus green eyes.
"What do you mean by 'exhausting' Clare?"
“Hummm...like you’ve worked really hard…or maybe like your pushing something up a hill…”
It's like...not flowing. So I guess that idea of start...it’s the beginning of something. You’re about to push something up a hill. It’s not like you’re in the middle of flow. You’ve got all these things ahead of you. Which can be exciting. It can be new and…refreshing.”
“When you push something up a hill, what do you imagine that to be?”
“Ahhhh, you mean like a physical object? I think it’s more like a heavy body, an unfit....a heavy load that you need to build.” She’s imagining this heaviness as she stares up and to the right.
“I think also ‘start’ for me also means about a building of a fitness, you know?" She looks me in the eye. “As you go on with the project, you build that fitness and you end up in that flow state or whatever that is. I think a start isn’t that flow state. I think the start is setting the parameters, pushing that thing forward.
I guess I’m kinda thinking of it in terms of running. When you start running, your body aches. You feel all the muscles in your body. You might feel your bones, feel the clicks and what’s not working, then suddenly you warm up and you get in this flow state.”
“I guess I was thinking about that metaphor of ‘pushing a rock up a hill’. But then I think the reason why that's hard is because it's your own physical body, your own physical fitness. It's building that conditioning for yourself to then make that load easier. So whatever that is, the effort is your own limitations and your own body.”
"Clare, you mentioned that as you build fitness, it feels clunky. It sounds like, then, you’re saying that after a while you get the wheels turning, you finally hit a state of flow. What does ‘flow’ mean to you?”
“Hummmmm...flow….I’m thinking flow in terms of a psychological idea. It’s that state where you’re in extreme focus, but it's not effort-full. But it sort of feels as though you’re not looking at the clock. Eight hours could pass and you're in this sort of state of focus - you're not lost in it. It's almost like meditation. You’re completely lost in the process.
So it's like, you’ve gotten to this peak of this hill of this effort….and then you’re rolling down. Your gaining momentum...you're gaining speed. It's almost like you're riding a bike, riding down a hill...things feel like they're flowing.
Which isn't about-I don’t think that’s related to ‘start’. You get all these things together and then you know, you push and push and push and then you’re goooooing you know?”
I'm enjoying the enactment of her pushing something - maybe a cart with her daughter inside. “Why do you think you said that? Is that coming from a logical point of view?”
“No no...it’s coming from an experiential point of view. I don’t know about you, but like when I start creative processes, I ask myself what are the parameters?
“At what point do you do this?”
“At the start. That’s how, I then, approach a painting project. I go ok, 'what rules am I setting for myself?' Then if I come up with another idea as a tangent, sometimes I’ll implement it. It might not end up what you intended at the start. It's still a journey, things change as you go.” I say I'm gonna work with these people; limit to this to 5 elements; or this is the timeframe, the scale, the tools I'm gonna use. That’s the initial effort stage. And then on, it's a matter of executing. You might have influences, different voices, different things coming into it but those parameters are already set. So the flow state is when you’ve got all those things sorted out and then you’re off and running.
Thoughts After Our Chat
Clare talks about setting parameters and building a fitness for a good start. In some ways she reflects what TV writer Sam Callahan said about flow in artist 4 with their hill-peak-rolling analogies. You climb it like a roller coaster does a hill or in Clara’s case, pushing that 'rock up a hill'. The difference is if you interpretation of 'start' to be more of anticipation or labor.
Let's take it further. Is it the anticipation a rollercoaster might give; the challenge of pushing the rock; an invigorating finish; or structure you set with parameters that feels most appealing about a start? Which one is easier to reach for you?
I’d love to have the benefits of euphoria, or however you personally describe flow, before a hard climb. In fact, what would happen if we were to reverse it? What if we could say that in order to ‘start’, one would need to flow...first. That in order to get up that hill (representing start), we need to initiate flow.
For Clare, flow was all about meditation, a state of extreme focus, being loss in the process. What if one was to do things that felt like meditation, where one could get into that state. Different people have various meditative processes - some do yoga, others do breath meditation. During our chat, Clare mentioned she liked to run. Would that be one thing to help you get you to a point of flow?
My favorite author, at the moment, is Haruki Murakami. He’s written over 21 books and in 2015 was added to Time Magazine’s list of most influential figures. He runs 10K and participates in triathlons at 72 years old. Is that how he gets into a state of flow...how he “climbs”….to ‘start’? My beginning always involves playing! Corralling my ideas into a mood board with images, fabric swatches, poems, etc works to create silhouettes or color combinations I would have never thought of before. I also love dedicating 20 or 30 hours during a season to just drap various fabrics and shapes on the mannequin and take photos to get into that point of focus.
What do you think? What is your definition of flow? Of ‘start’? What’s symbolic as the climb for you and what would make it easier?
Check out Clare's pieces on her website. My favorite piece is called Longing Forward, 2020, oil on canvas, 65cm x 54cm. What are yours?