Chris Clamp chooses everyday objects to paint. The details in his oil paintings of vintage toys or tools tell a story about the item's history. He wants his work to encourage viewers to reminisce of days past. His larger format paintings are complex with layers of symbolism. Clamp grew up in Leesville, S.C., but has been in Charlotte for the past 17 years. After he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Winthrop University, he worked in local galleries while painting in his spare time. Now, he freelances in fine art services, assisting with artwork acquisition and installation in homes, galleries and museums. Clamp, 40, is one of six summer artists-in-residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. His answers below have been edited for clarity and brevity.


What's the first piece of art that made an impression on you?

When I was in high school, the Columbia Museum of Art organized an exhibition of prints by Edvard Munch. An art teacher thought I'd enjoy seeing it. I took a sketch book with me, and I went around and made sketches of many of the works in the show. That was very impactful. I spent hours there that day, and I remember some of the staff at the museum interacted with me. This was before I decided to pursue art in college and as a career.

What's something you want people to know before they see your work?

I do not think that the viewer needs to know or understand anything prior to coming. I work hard to make sure the paintings are created in a way to make it easier for the viewer to relate to what is presented. The still life objects are presented at life-size, and the objects are commonplace. I want the audience to come to the painting and experience the work, look and ask questions. Quite often the painting will become a catalyst for a memory, and the viewer continues the exploration.

Can you offer an insider tip for people who are seeing your work?

The current series are all single object still life paintings that I am referring to as, "Object as Portrait." The objects belonged to someone in my past, and these objects are relevant to a memory of this person. In some cases, the object will be from someone else's perspective.

What's an obstacle you had to overcome in your career?

The biggest obstacle is finding enough time to work in the studio as much as I would like. Having a day job and trying to paint in the evening is rewarding but challenging. My paintings take a great deal of time to create, so I am not as productive as I would like.

Who inspired you to do this work?

My grandfather has always been an inspiration in my work, and he will always do that. However, the most recent work was inspired by my mother's morning rituals. She drinks coffee every morning, and in spite of having a cupboard full of coffee mugs, she chooses the same mug every day. That mug is her. I think we can all relate to that.

What might surprise people about you?

I love UFO documentaries. I grew up in rural South Carolina, and we didn't have cable or satellite television. We had three channels, and I found one show, "Mysteries of the Unknown" so fascinating.

Who is someone you believe is underappreciated on the arts scene in Charlotte?

Tony Griffin is a painter and draftsman in the Charlotte area, and his work has inspired me for years. He is incredibly consistent and is committed to his craft. He has a tremendous story that speaks volumes about his knowledge and his experience.

Who in Charlotte has most influenced your work?

Jerald Melberg has been a huge influence, teaching me about the business of art and the proper presentation.

What concerns you about art right now?

There are many (concerns), but the No. 1 issue for me is art in education. Art teaches problem solving and allows for creative expression. It is so valuable to children growing up in difficult environments. It bridges gaps in communities, and creates dialog, so that we may understand and empathize with each other more.

What makes you proud about the Charlotte art scene?

What is happening at the McColl Center and Goodyear Arts is amazing. These organizations provide a platform in which the artist is leading a dialog, and others can join in. Artists can work with each other, and the community can communicate directly with the artist. Some artists are getting together, hiring a model and drawing the figure. There's a lot to learn from working alongside other artists, refining drawing skills.

Who's someone in your genre we should keep an eye on?

Tom Stanley. Tom has encouraged and influenced me for years but has always put others first. Now that he has retired from Winthrop University, and is focusing on painting full time, his work is going to be everywhere.

July 24, 2019