An Interview with Clio Newton in Zurich, Switzerland


Clio Newton is an American fine artist living and working in Zurich, Switzerland. She is known for her large-scale charcoal portraits, which perfectly capture her subjects. Artists she’s been inspired by include Alice Neel, Artemisia Gentileschi and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Clio trained at Cooper Union, New York as well as Florence Academy of Fine Arts and is currently pursuing her MFA at Zürcher Hochschule der Künste in Zurich. Follow her on Instagram @clionewton to follow her journey. 
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to be an artist?
For as long as I can remember I was serious about art. My father is a sculptor, my mother is a photojournalist and my brother is a brilliant musician and scientist so creativity was abundant in my childhood. As a kid I spent a lot of time in my room painting and drawing and just had this feeling from very early on that art was going to play a major role in my life.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Sometimes when I begin a piece I have a clear direction of where I’m taking it and other times it’s a process of discovery. Inspiration can come from a lot of places, women that I meet, looking at art I admire and from the making itself.
What piece of your artwork would you like to be remembered for?
I’m still working towards the piece or pieces I’d like to be remembered for.
If you could work within a past art movement, which would it be?
I wouldn’t trade this art moment for any other. There’s this incredible history of craftsmanship, deconstruction, abstraction, rebellion, to pull on or push against and the speed at which things are transforming is unprecedented. But I believe there’s a simultaneous slow down effect happening in western culture. People are reevaluating everything and trying to understand what is really important. It’s a very exciting time to be creative.
Your work is predominantly figurative, so how have you deepened your understanding of the human form?
I’ve always been interested in the challenges of figuration. Playing with scale was an important development for my work. Sometimes in order for an art object to translate a feeling or experience of reality you have to manipulate and invent.
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
For me, beauty is a lot about authenticity. I respond most to the people and things that feel real in my life.
Is there a favourite painting, which inspires your work?
I would never say I have a favorite painting, there’s way too many to choose from. There was a moment when I was 13 though, visiting the Met in New York, when I was struck by a small Ingres painting of St John the Evangelist. It’s a small, quiet painting, just a head study, but it’s remarkable. In that moment I realized paint has a unique ability to do something supernatural. The portrait was more than an illustration of a man, it somehow embodied his soul. I think this began my fascination with the uncanny and what happens when an artist transcends representation in their work. 
You’ve studied across Switzerland, America and Italy, but which experience was the most impactful on your work? 
I’ve been fortunate to have experiences in very different types of art institutions. It’s difficult to say the impact my experience in Switzerland will have on me since it’s ongoing but looking back I can say Cooper Union in New York was the most impactful so far. For anyone who’s familiar with the school, it has a really special history and I was able to attend tuition free – in keeping with the school’s mission. I met incredibly talented and driven people there who I am still in close contact with today.
Which artist of the past would you most like to meet?
That’s a tie between Alice Neel and Artemisia Gentileschi. Both women were phenomenally gifted and completely unabashed, determined to make their work regardless of what the world around them had to say about it.
You move between both charcoal and oils. How do you balance the materials involved in your practice?
Both mediums have an immediacy and malleability that I like. I usually go through phases, where I’ll focus more on drawing for a few months and then switch back to painting. I’m not consciously balancing anything, it feels natural to move between them.
Has social media had a positive impact on your career?
Social media can connect artists with each other and with incredibly diverse audiences. I like that I’ve discovered artists on the platform that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, yes I think it’s had a positive impact.
What do you wish every child were taught?
Treat your dream like it’s your job and it will become that.
Do you prefer to work within a community or independently?
I work independently in my studio, it’s the only way I can get quiet enough to get into the mind space necessary to make work. For my studio practice it’s important to have long stretches of undisturbed time in order to be productive.
Do you often make and receive studio visits? Are they important?
Yes, I do make and receive studio visits and they are very important. One of the most valuable resources an artist can have is colleagues they respect who are willing to be honest with them about their work. Art is this funny in between – it is something you make for yourself but it is also something you bring into the world for others. Critical conversation helps.
Do you have a routine or follow any rituals when you paint?
I do have a routine, I’ve found showing up is the most powerful thing you can do in making art. If you wait for inspiration it might not come; you have to go to your studio, hang your paper and start looking for it.
What advice would you give a young artist following in your steps?
My advice would be to make the work you want to see, not what you think other people want to see.
Do you love what you do? Why?
Yes, I love what I do. Every time I start a new piece there is this thrill of uncertainty and unlimited potential. It’s incredibly freeing. I think art is a lot about pursuing that feeling of freedom. 
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.

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