July 2021  Vol. 2, No.7

The Magical Realism of Clara Joris

Zwischen Träumen (Between Dreams)

Series: Cocoon

Acrylic, Fabric Remnants and String on Canvas

80 x 100 cm

2013

The forces that shaped the art of Clara Joris, an émigré Spaniard living in Berlin, Germany, far transcend her own published artist statements. 

She was born in Malaga, Spain, into a family of language teachers who fostered and encouraged her art at home. After a lifelong love and passion for art, she studied Fine Art at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. Her artistic evolution took her through stages of experiments, including with German expressionism à la Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and “Automotismus.” This post-surrealist artistic form, in both visual art and literature, seeks to portray the “real process of thinking” by exploring and revealing the subconscious and the conflict between the physical and spiritual. Artistically, the hand is freed from the mind and spontaneously flows where it wants to go. All connections to logic are severed and the artist’s hands are emancipated and no longer guided by the brain. The effort is to regain the innocence and freedom of unencumbered children’s art. As a skilled portrait artist, she simultaneously took on paid commissions.  

Four of Hearts by Clara Joris

Four of Hearts

Series: Pulsion

Acrylic on Japanese Paper

55 x 35 cm

2019

All artists express their muses driven by some personal intrinsic motivators. Musicians have it easier than visual artists because nobody expects a written artist-statement from them after each performance to explain what they were thinking and feeling. People just listen and get out of the music what they get out of it, what they hear and feel. Likewise, writers put their words on paper and that is that. Nobody expects them to also graphically illustrate their own writing. For some inexplicable reason, visual

artists are paradoxically expected to write statements to explain their own art, to make lofty intellectual statements about the meaning of their work. Many artists struggle with that. Yet, after all that effort, most viewers of the art don’t even read those statements. They look and see what they see, forming their own impression. Ultimately, it does not matter what the artist wrote, and sometimes it is good that way because putting the impetus on a visual artist to reveal their inner self in writing often leads nowhere.

Die Schublade der Vergessenen Sachen (The Drawer of Forgotten Things) by Clara Joris

Die Schublade der Vergessenen Sachen

(The Drawer of Forgotten Things)

Series: Kae

Acrylic and Pencil on Wood

55 x 60 x 10 cm 

2107

Her Soul Kept Looking at Her by Clara Joris

Her Soul Kept Looking at Her

Series: Kae

Acrylic and Pencil on Wood

50 x 72 cm

2107

Zurückblicken (Looking Back) by Clara Joris

Zurückblicken (Looking Back)

Series: Kae

Acrylic and Pencil on Wood

2107

“My art has a tendency toward the intimacy I see in Asian art. It projects an inner peace . . .”

Her current work carries a distinct Asian aesthetic, a gentle realism with direct relations to Japanese and Chinese painting. She uses warm colors, light and airy, understated with subdued hues. Her paintings are underpinned by a strong foundation of refined drawings in classical form, showcasing her profound artistic competence. She said, “I love it when a dreamlike atmosphere intersects reality and imagination.” She explained further, “My art has a tendency toward the intimacy I see in Asian art. It projects an inner peace and it seemingly simplifies life’s complexities. I feel a sense of timeliness.” 

This is the arc, the twist in the story, when the artist’s own definitions and self-described meaning of her work converge with the existentialist reality of the immigrant experience. Even before moving to Germany, she was already immersed in the complexity of the cross-cultural experience. Her mother is Swiss born, a foreigner in Spain. Clara left for a period of time to study in England. She has lived in the freewheeling artist quarter of Kreuzberg, Berlin, since 1998. Germany was her home of choice, a place where she was drawn to for feeling constrained and limited artistically in her native Spain. The reality of that migration eventually confronts the artist in the same way it does most who resettle to new lands. When the honeymoon period of excitement and 

discovery of the new host country ends, immigrants often find themselves in the cultural no-man’s-land, between both cultures but not fully accepted by either. In the homeland that was left behind, the émigré is soon looked at as an outsider, while in the new country one remains a foreigner, even after many years of residence. The original national and cultural identity then remerges, often subconsciously, connecting the immigrant with the home country in various ways. Joris’ path took her into the realm of inspirations tied to her native Spanish culture by way of the literary genre “magical realism,” which is not often connected with visual art. 

Der Feuertanz auf der Insel auf Eis (The Fire Dance on the Island of Ice) by Clara Joris

Der Feuertanz auf der Insel auf Eis (The Fire Dance on the Island of Ice)

Series: Déjá vu

Acrylic and String on Canvas

120 x 145 cm

2017

Literary realism was a response to romanticism, and magical realism was a reaction to realism. The term ‘magical realism’ was introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic in 1925. It was to create a new art category that strayed from the strict guidelines of realism. Magical realism is most often used to describe the literary subgenre popularized by Latin American writers in the 1950s such as Jose Martí and Ruben Darío.

Usually, the story is set in a realistic environment with magical elements. It blurs the line between realistic fiction and fantasy as reality meets dreams and the mystical, creating a form of surrealism. This movement was prevalent in Latin America. The visual artist Clara Joris delved into this literary genre, reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Del amor y otros demonios (Of Love and Other Demons) 1993; and, Jorge Luis Borges Historia de la eternidad (A New Refutation of Time), 1936, and more. 

Visually, she was profoundly influenced by impressionists like Paul Gauguin, and by the Mexican surrealist Frida Kahlo, who also impressed Joris’ depiction of the female experience and form. She was also influenced by the Berlin based anti-fascist, socio-critical Dadaist artist Hannah Höch. Joris also delved into the films by directors Emir Kusturica, Luis Buñuel and Alfonso Arau, favoring films with the interplay of realism and fantasy.

Auge in Auge (Eye in Eye) by Clara Joris

Auge in Auge (Eye in Eye)

Series: Carmen

Acrylic on Wood

75 x 120 cm

2015

Gegen den Sturm (Against the Storm) by Clara Joris

Gegen den Sturm (Against the Storm)

Series: Carmen

Acrylic on Wood

76 x 128 cm

2015

Gerade Vorbei (Just Over) by Clara Joris

Gerade Vorbei (Just Over)

Series: Carmen

Acrylic on Wood

80 x 152 cm

2015

Carmen by Clara Joris

Carmen

Series: Carmen

Acrylic on Wood

60 x 90 cm

2015

The connection to Spain and Spanish Latin American culture is evident. She often listens to Andalusian Flamenco music when painting, if not to Bach’s cello concertos. She painted homages to Frida and to the famous opera Carmen by French composer Georges Bizet. Set in Spain, the soldier Don José falls in love with the beautiful Gypsy Carmen, who abandons him in favor of the torero Escamillo, after which José kills her in a jealous rage. Joris’ homage series, also titled Carmen, captures the essence of the opera’s characters while reconnecting her to distinctly Spanish thematic.

Noch Nicht Jetzt (Not yet) by Clara Joris

Noch Nicht Jetzt (Not yet)

Series: Carmen

Acrylic on Wood

50 x 43 cm

2015

Lady Bird by Clara Joris

Lady Bird

Series: Lady Bird

Acrylic and String on Canvas

90 x 120 cm

2018

Deine Erinnerung (Your Memory) by Clara Joris

Deine Erinnerung (Your Memory)

Series: Lady Bird

Acrylic and String on Canvas

25 x 30 cm

2018

Blauer Flügel (Blue Wing) by Clara Joris

Blauer Flügel (Blue Wing)

Series: Lady Bird

Acrylic and String on Canvas

25 x 25 cm

2018

Der Tanz der Hand (The Dance of the Hand) by Clara Joris

Der Tanz der Hand (The Dance of the Hand)

Series: Lady Bird

Acrylic and String on Canvas

25 x 25 cm

2018

In each of the series of paintings on these subjects, Joris stays within a refined Asian aesthetic, merging her Spanish roots with the fantastical creative spirit that was captured by her imagination. For example, in her series Lady Bird, Clara Joris couples her self-portraits, interpreted in a metamorphosis, depicting herself with wings, as if an angel. The resulting series of paintings indeed carry a sense of wonderous magic, a dreamscape equally balanced between beauty and illusion. This is most evident in Alles eine Illusion (Everything an illusion), where she explores the convergence of magic and dreams.

Alles ist eine Illusion I by Clara Joris

Alles ist eine Illusion I

Series: Alles eine Illusion (Everything an Illusion)

Acrylic on Canvas

60 x 90 cm

2015

Alles ist eine Illusion II by Clara Joris

Alles ist eine Illusion II

Series: Alles eine Illusion (Everything an Illusion)

Acrylic on Canvas

60 x 90 cm

2015

Tanzend in einem Meer aus Seerosen (Dancing in an Ocean of Sea Roses) by Clara Joris

Tanzend in einem Meer aus Seerosen (Dancing in an Ocean of Sea Roses)

Series: Alles eine Illusion (Everything an Illusion)

Acrylic and String on Canvas

130 x 70 cm

2014

Gedanken Tagebuch (Thoughts Diary) by Clara Joris

Gedanken Tagebuch (Thoughts Diary)

Series: Alles eine Illusion (Everything an Illusion)

Acrylic, Fabric and String on Canvas

80 x 100 cm

2013

Joris is a thinker, someone who reads and analyses. The psychologist Jung is one of her influencers. She delves into philosophy and other intellectual pursuits. All of these aspects work their way into her art, albeit perhaps invisible to the viewer. 

One unmistakable aspect of Joris’s art is her visual expression of women, often in self-portraits, in a form of sensitive intimacy. She explores women’s form to symbolically express a feminine mystique, as much veiled in magic as all of her thematic. She also infuses animals in her paintings to show the interconnectivity and belonging between human and animal. Without being overtly feminist, or animal rights oriented, her paintings are symbolic and compelling, making a statement without hitting an articulated

photo of Clara Joris

Clara Joris - Artist Portrait

message. She evokes subtleties. The body language speaks, small movements project. Details like the dress she wears, or the way she holds her hand, exude intimacy and a feeling of belonging, a gentle romance between reality and symbolism. Her paintings evoke a form of grace, and often depict herself.

Her work process is one of studies, of experimentation, with the freedom of perpetual change and movement. She does not believe in rigid form and works with a variety of materials. She will paint a whole, then focus on sections of that painting to study and to solve perceived problems, finding visual solutions where her eye sees it is needed. 

Joris has joined artist-in-residency programs, like the Fresh Winds Art Biennale in Iceland, explaining, “I love it when I have a chance to work on cooperative projects and have interplay with other artists. Painting is a solitary act, often in a form of lost loneliness. I love the discovery of other artists. When it works, it is wonderful. I love to network and have cultural exchange.”

Den Himmel Zeichnen (Drawing the Heavens) by Clara Joris

Den Himmel Zeichnen (Drawing the Heavens)

Series: Cocoon

Acrylic, Fabric Remnants and String on Canvas

70 x 220 cm

2014

Joris’ work exudes realism, fantasy, spiritualism, femininity and mysticism. Something draws us in with an indescribable knowledge that there is something bigger than us that we cannot see. Nonetheless, instantly feel and connect with it, yet we cannot describe it.

The result is a form of vulnerable sensibility and, indeed, magic.
 

Frank Matheis

Frank Matheis
Writer. Photographer. Producer.


Contributing writer to the Hammond Museum, Frank Matheis, is a music, visual arts and culture writer and photographer. His latest project was the book ‘Sweet Bitter Blues’ co-written with National Heritage Fellow Phil Wiggins (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). His Hammond Museum column ‘In Other Words’ features member artists in all disciplines. He is also a contributing writer to ArtsWestchester, Living Blues magazine (Center for Southern Culture Studies) and thecountryblues.com.