Portrait of the Artist

Clara Nulty

Eliminating the Human Element

By Noelani Kirschner | May 15, 2017
Bridged, 2017, watercolor on paper, 24 x 18 inches
Bridged, 2017, watercolor on paper, 24 x 18 inches


Clara Nulty went to Carleton College in Minnesota, where she began her career as an artist. She now lives in Louisville, Colorado, and works as a co-teacher at a school in Denver.

“I’m always commuting; I never seem to find a job that is convenient to where I live. When you’re experiencing your daily life, and you’re commuting on the road or you’re walking around the neighborhood, the landscape is there but there’s all this stuff in between. Driving around, if it was early in the morning, there would be this beautiful sunrise, and I would want to stop and take a picture of it—but there was always something else there.

I’ve been painting in a way where I will deliberately make sure there is some human element, like a lamppost or a traffic sign or a stoplight. And I’ll eliminate that. I’ll block out what I don’t want to paint and then paint the landscape as if there wasn’t something there. I like this running theme of absence in my work because when you take something out, it creates questions: What’s missing? Why isn’t it there? What does it say that it’s not there? And how much of the landscape are we actually seeing?

I most recently did a painting going back to Lyman Lakes [in Northfield, Minnesota]. Especially in a place like Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, so many of those lakes are manmade. It’s an interesting place for me to dissect and think about: What am I leaving in and what am I taking out? Where is my line between what is man-constructed and “natural”? How much of it is something we’ve made for ourselves?

I don’t always feel like it comes from a critical place, like a political or environmental statement. But something so small can fuel us; the tiniest strip of landscape can make us feel closer to the earth, which is pretty amazing.”

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