Sitting in Clint Colburn’s living room, I realize I’m surrounded by cats. A print of a leopard hangs above the couch, a picture of a tiger hangs over a bolt of groovy fabric on the opposite wall, and another framed leopard is propped against the mantel. To my left, a real-life cat (named Manx) stares at me with disdain.
“There are a lot of cats in here,” Colburn concedes as he enters from the studio carrying a box of his new work. He is whip-thin, his blonde hair pulled back into a lank ponytail. “I grew up with all this stuff. It’s my parents’ from the seventies, so it has that connection to my childhood. I keep it around because I’m interested in early influences…how my eye was trained to see from an early age.” I inspect a red dresser in the corner covered with stickers of the Garbage Pail Kids, deformed parodies of the Cabbage Patch Kids. “Those are Garbage Pail Kid stickers,” he chuckles, “like I said, early influences.”
Colburn grew up in Western Kentucky, but has lived and worked in Lexington for nearly 11 years. He attended the University of Kentucky, where he credits professors Jim Foose and Ross Zirkle for facilitating his early development as an artist. He now lives in a second floor apartment in a Victorian house close to downtown, which he shares with his girlfriend, Erin Eldred. The pair has converted an adjoining room into a studio space, where Colburn creates his deeply self-reflective artwork surrounded by a clutter of books, supplies, and ongoing projects.
Colburn works in a variety of media, and often turns to unconventional materials: for every piece rendered on canvas or paper, there is another on an old book cover or scrap of poster board. When he paints, he occasionally eschews brushes, preferring to apply the paint with sticks or rough pieces of cardboard. Many of his newest works are mixed media compositions made with remnants salvaged from earlier drawings in marker or ballpoint pen. He says, “Before, I used outside material when I made collages…images from books, etcetera…but now I’m cannibalizing my own old notebooks.”
This process of recycling and layering is indicative of Colburn’s attitude towards his work. For him, the act of art making is a profoundly contemplative exercise, and a tool for self-discovery. “By the time I finish a piece, sometimes I don’t even remember how it started out. The whole reason for doing this is to push my subconscious to the front of my mind and see what comes out,” he explains.
Colburn’s process of incremental accumulation pushes some pieces beyond their original dimensions, resulting in diptychs and triptychs. “I’m fascinated by how a drawing can open up into another one,” he comments, “a big part of my process is about seeing how I can find the potential in what I’ve already made, and how I can tweak it. Everything is in flux.”
Because of the inward-looking nature of Colburn’s work, perhaps it’s not surprising that much of the imagery that appears in his art should be mirrored in his home and studio environment. He has adopted a visual language rooted in his early aesthetic development—prints of predatory cats from his parents’ basement, a psychedelic palette, the cartoonish grotesquerie of the Garbage Pail Kids—and reimagined it in fresh, compellingly meditative compositions.
Clint Colburn has shown his work throughout the region, as well as in Los Angeles and London. His exhibition Mad Flag was on display at Land of Tomorrow Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, March 2 – March 23, 2012. For a video of that exhibit, click here. His publication Wild Glass Look Back, published by Space Face Books, is available in Institute 193’s webshop. Visit his website.