Checking in with Clay Witt

Checking in with Clay Witt

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a piece right now, about halfway finished, and the idea is that I’m doing this ring of fire floating on the waves. So we have several layers of waves, and I’m using larger flames as the ring comes around to the front, to the effect that it creates a sense of receding space. Whereas my work before had a lot to do with these kind of totemic images in space—these circular flaming things—now I’m trying to situate things in this imaginary yet mystical space: a slightly artificial, aperspectival dream space. Which sounds so cheesy, but it’s exactly how I see things when I have my eyes closed—kind of flattened, very dark, but you can see anyway.


Wild kingdom: Clay Witt (with his dog, Agnes) stands alongside the Japanese paper animals that he incorporates into his work, including pieces in the UVA faculty show at Ruffin Hall.

Do you have any plans to present your work locally soon?
Dean [Dass, an artist and UVA Studio Art professor] and I are working on a collaborative piece with the print shop students. It’s a giant constructed print. Each student was assigned to create an animal in different scales and sizes and aspects, and they had to print them out and put them on Japanese paper, similar to what I’m doing here. So we had this giant mountain with this city on a hill, exploding and burning to the ground, and hundreds of animals sitting and sort of watching it happen. It’s going to be in the faculty show at Ruffin Hall.

Favorite tool of the trade?
Paper. Just paper. It’s the absolute basis of everything I do. I happen to use Japanese paper because it’s thin and strong, and the strength of the paper is determined by the length of the fiber, not so much by its thickness. In this case the paper has very long fibers, it’s thin, and it stays strong even when it gets wet. It can be manipulated, all sorts of things. So paper really is my favorite tool.

Favorite working snack food?

You know, I try not to eat when I’m working, because there are a lot of materials lying around that I don’t want to be ingesting. I drink a lot of bubbly water. You know what I do while working? I listen to books on tape. That’s my snack food. I love mysteries, I love Agatha Christie. Especially the BBC radio adaptations of her novels.

An item you carry with you at all times?

A knife.

Guilty pleasure?

Asian martial arts movies from the ’70s, especially the Lone Wolf and Cub samurai series.

Favorite artist in your genre? What about outside your genre?
Francis Bacon had a big impact on me as a young artist. I love his fuck-you attitude towards life, and I love the technical quality of his work. He was an outsider, and I feel somewhat like an outsider with my work. So I love the work of Francis Bacon. Outside of my medium, Denis Johnson, the author of Jesus’ Son. His work to me is painterly. Full of images, incredibly visual.