Works on View in SALON at David Klein Gallery

I’m happy to share that two of my drawings are currently on view in SALON, an exhibition at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery. The show is all work on paper and features drawings, paintings, prints and photographs by thirty-seven contemporary artists based in Detroit, the East Coast, West Coast and in-between. Other works include drawings by Mariana Olague, Judy Pfaff, Jessica Rohrer and my husband, Trevor King

David Klein gallery in downtown Detroit. Image from David Klein Gallery.

David Klein gallery in downtown Detroit. Image from David Klein Gallery.

The two drawings I have in the show were huge breakthroughs for me last summer and have really influenced the direction of my work this past year.

Treetops, Clara McClenon, charcoal on paper, 2018

Treetops, Clara McClenon, charcoal on paper, 2018

This drawing, “Treetops,” is based on an image I took in Caylus, France, where I was an artist in residence at DRAWinternational in 2015. For me, the checkerboard is another way to “explain” the beautiful flickering you get from light pouring through leaves. I had to be very careful drawing the small squares, and it took over 40 hours to draw all the tiny leaves in the upper part, but it was worth it.

Picture I took in McCarren park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that was my reference for “Being a Woman”

Picture I took in McCarren park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that was my reference for “Being a Woman”

The other drawing in the show, “Being a Woman,” started with a picture I took in McCarren park, which is in the neighborhood my studio is in (Greenpoint, Brooklyn). I was attracted to the round, portal shape in the middle, which reminded me of the round portal in my “Treetops” drawing. I started the drawing thinking that I might surround the tree scene with a checkerboard, like I had in “Treetops” but I wasn’t quite sure, and the drawing sat around my studio for a few weeks in a kind of half-way state.

Being a Woman, Clara McClenon, 2018, charcoal and gesso on paper

Being a Woman, Clara McClenon, 2018, charcoal and gesso on paper

It was late in September 2018 during the Kavanaugh hearings. I was in the studio, but my mind was there, and I was really trying not to look at my phone. It all made me inside out, with old hurts at the surface— vulnerable and furious. I starting hatching around the edge of the drawing that would become “Being a Woman.” I worked fast and pressed hard and, as it often does, Joanna Newsom’s song “Only Skin" came to me. There’s a line in there where she echoes twice, “…being a woman, being a woman…” that’s somehow always felt like a potent summation of feminine pain and power.

In between marks, I gave in to temptation and started scrolling through coverage of Dr. Blasey Ford testifying. I’ve never felt so thankful for Instagram as I saw woman after woman confirm I wasn’t alone. Working more, I passed the time, and somewhat suddenly finished the drawing with the spiral.

For me, these drawings are about how things are never just one thing. Treetops are leaves, but also light and dark, and so much more… Looking up at the flickering brings me a kind of static, meditative peace, but it also troubles me. I can’t help but think about how much there is up there that I can’t see, can’t appreciate. I think about my old broken heart and how it somehow took me to “Being a Woman.” How does hurt make beauty?

Installation shot of the SALON show at David Klein Gallery. Image from David Klein Gallery. You can see “Being a Woman” in the upper left corner.

Installation shot of the SALON show at David Klein Gallery. Image from David Klein Gallery. You can see “Being a Woman” in the upper left corner.

If you are in Detroit, please do check out the show! It will be up through November 3rd.

September 14 - November 3
David Klein Gallery
1520 Washington Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan


I like the way libraries smell. I like the way everything feels accessible, organized. I like to see the grids of books on shelves and grids of shelves on floors and to think about the weight of the floors on top of floors in a humming Rubik’s cube of information. Letters lined up in words, lined up on pages, tucked into covers. All the information feels present, possible, suspended—like quiet dark birds sitting up on telephone wires.  

Clara McClenon,    Treetops (McCarren Park),    2018, Charcoal pencil and gesso on paper, 5 x 7”

Clara McClenon, Treetops (McCarren Park), 2018, Charcoal pencil and gesso on paper, 5 x 7”

Growing up, I had a sense that I’d real all the books in the library one day. It just seemed inevitable. I’d check out towering loads at a time, hauling them home in bulging tote bags and stacking them on my bedside table. I figured I was on track. I got top grades. I liked all subjects. I read mountains of books. Devouring information, I felt assured that, by the time I was older, I’d have it all figured out.  

I’d thought that books were bricks. In reading, I thought I was building something I could climb, like a pyramid ascending to knowledge. It felt sturdier to build a wide base, so I read widely, pulling from biology and history, music and chemistry, literature and art. I read about dreams, cooking, magic, robots, etiquette, psychology, and economics and always felt eager for more.  

No one told me how much I’d forget.

It started with novels. College friends would ask for recommendations and titles would come to mind…. but I struggled to recall even basic plot points. Around the same time, I was struck by panic when I looked back at my Latin American History syllabus and realized I couldn’t remember what I’d written my midterm on (though I’d earned an A in the course).

As a student, learning about things meant having the answers for the next level. You memorized and took a test. You passed Pre-Cal and went on to Calculus. You rose from Freshman on to Sophomore. Learning was to get you past thresholds: final exams, semesters, grades, graduations. It all conveyed a sense of accumulation and ascent. But with a leaking brain, forgetting as fast as I was learning, I worried that I wasn’t qualified to level up. I secretly hoped there’d be a final exam before graduation. Shouldn’t there be a checkpoint to make sure I really knew everything?

There wasn’t. My GPA and course credits awarded me my degree without question. I sold my textbooks back to the bookstore, lugged my library books back to the library, and ripped my notes from their spiral bindings so I could lay them in the recycling bin.

I’d hoped learning meant reaching a high point where I could look out and understand everything at once, but my years of study hadn’t built me a pyramid and I certainly didn’t feel like I had anything figured out. Graduating, I felt disappointed, disillusioned, and a little bit lost. Not only was I no longer a student for the first time in 17+ years, but my whole sense of the purpose of my education felt shaky. It wasn’t just the forgetting that bothered me. I ached to know the world, but every step into a subject had only revealed the immensity of what there was to learn. More than ever, I felt the futility of accumulating knowledge from an infinite pool. What had been the point of my relentless curiosity?

A few months back I came across a study that sought to understand the impact of exposure to the humanities (music, visual arts, literature, theater, etc.) on medical students. Analysis of the study’s survey data revealed a significant correlation between exposure to the humanities and positive qualities like empathy, wisdom, and tolerance for ambiguity. The researchers noted that, of course, correlation is not causation. We can’t say that exposure to humanities made the students wiser. (Or visa versa.) In fact, the author suggested that there could be an underlying factor linking exposure to the humanities and the positive personal qualities they’d measured. One such factor they suggested? Curiosity-- the desire to know and learn.

I don’t always like curiosity. It’s sent me down strange paths to seemingly dead ends. It’s left me with dry, scratchy eyes from following too many links through too many articles on my phone. It’s led me in circles of indecision. But it’s a spark.

I sit in front of a tree and look up at its thousands of leaves, and the flicker of light, and the branches and twigs. It’s a library and I can’t read it all. Paper and pencil in hand, I’m saddened and humbled and awed-- overwhelmed, as ever, by the immensity of information.

But I begin. Line by line, mark by mark, look by look… and somewhere along the way I stop worrying about how I’ll ever get to the finish because I’m just in it. I’m beyond my intellect. In drawing, I’m reminded that the real fruit of curiosity isn’t accumulation, but presence.

I don’t think of learning as an ascent anymore. When I read, which I still do, hungrily and widely, it’s because I want to keep coming home to what it feels like to be here. And that’s a million contradictory things, and that’s too big to know, and it’s achingly familiar.  I keep learning (reading, looking, drawing, listening) because I yearn for not for mastery, but mystery. I keep learning because I love the world and I want to be close to it.