Claire Stigliani’s life is charmed. Early on, she lived near Vienna, where her father worked in a palace once upon a time occupied by Maria Antoinette’s cousin. She and her siblings visited the splendor often, so perhaps it was the beginning of dreamscapes for young Claire. Years later, her imagining led to a 2010 master of fine arts degree in painting and drawing from UW-Madison. A career as an art educator followed at the University of Missouri, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Tennessee. Though firmly on the tenure track, being a professor wasn’t for her. With a recent grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation and savings from her teaching days, she set out to make her fantasies come true in New York City. The Tower of Academia was too confining.
Your student art days and those spent teaching after you graduated—did you notice any difference between the two experiences? Have art students changed?
My Drawing I students often posted their works online via Instagram. They wanted to be seen. I had five siblings and we had no television and were homeschooled. We imagined that we lived in New York City in a tall tower that we never left as it had everything including a swimming pool with a lifeguard. The Narnia stories also expanded my universe. Now I’m in New York City and find that working in my studio is when I am happiest. It’s better than going out at night. Better than a vacation. I’m a very private person.
The work you will be exhibiting at Tory Folliard Gallery, “Dream Within a Dream,” focuses on sleeping, not just any sleeping, but a sleep dusted with magic.
I am greatly influenced by Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. She dwells in a tower where she weaves and sings. Along comes Lancelot. She flees the tower to pursue “love,” but dies in her quest.
The Victorians saw sleep as female passivity and others critiqued sleeping as a kind of death, and still others equated death to orgasm. Instagram could be a dangerous lover. Right? I’m thinking “art as commodity” is the nightmare of reality.
When I finish a work, I have to distance myself from it. I never want to be the center of attention, and though I hope my work sells (running a gallery is expensive!), it’s because I want to do right by the people I’m working with. But my commitment is to my work, to the next painting I’m making, to this imaginary space that I have created for myself. So maybe it is a kind of sleeping that I’m after…a looking inward rather than outward at the world.
“Dream Within a Dream” will be on display at the Tory Folliard Gallery June 2-June 30.