In 2021, after 13 years away, artist Claire Whitehurst moved home to Jackson, Mississippi, to work as a high school art teacher. Returning to the place of her youth also happened to inspire a return of a different sort—from ceramics, her longtime medium, to painting. The resulting works, called Mississippi Shade, are “a reexamination of the world here,” Whitehurst says. She was raised by scientists, and she credits time spent with her father, digging in the Mississippi mud and exploring remote areas of her home state and neighboring Louisiana, for her continuing creative interest in portraying natural forms. In Mississippi Shade, these forms include molten spherical shapes and concentric circles reminiscent of tree rings.
Although her work is abstract, Whitehurst sees her most recent series as a collection of landscape paintings. “I think of landscape as kind of an expression of my own alchemy or queerness,” she says. During her adolescence, Whitehurst felt pressured to mask her identity as a member of the LGBTQI+ community. “Feeling like I had to hide part of myself from myself for a really long time, I created these other spaces to exist within,” she says, “a place nearby but completely different. The swamps or the riverbanks or deep, deep woods with pine trees that go on for miles—it’s like you’re on another planet.” Whitehurst’s paintings contain elements of escapism and fantasy, coupled with ideas of concealment. “I really am fascinated by metaphorical reflections in nature that mimic the emotional places I exist in,” she says.
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