Although she started her career as a tattoo artist, Clarissa Callesen has since put down her needles and moved on to other artistic pursuits. These days, in addition to pottery, the mixed-media artist uses a variety of components to craft everything from dolls the likes of which you’ve never seen to paintings and assemblages. This weekend, when she opens Strange and Wonderful Things, her new studio and gallery space in Ferndale, viewers will get a chance to see her creative power for themselves.
Cascadia Weekly: How did you go from being a tattoo artist to a potter and mixed-media maven?
Clarissa Callesen: I started tattooing and running my own business at 21, and it taught me so many valuable lessons. One of the most important was the discipline of making art every day. I tattooed the past owner of Good Earth Pottery on her 40th birthday, and that tattoo led to me becoming a potter and a co-owner of Good Earth Pottery and a lifelong friendship.
CW: Those dolls you make are spooky and beautiful. What’s the process of creating them?
CC: Building each doll is a journey. They start as traditional, often horribly tacky dolls from Goodwill or a yard sale, and end as far from that as possible. They are transformed with the help of paint and a blowtorch, dressed with hand-dyed fabrics, embellished with found objects and then brought to life by an original, hand-painted face.
CW: Where else do you discover your found and recycled objects?
CC: The RE Store has been a great source of materials for me over the years. Then, once people really discovered I made use of junk, it started showing up on my doorstep. Lots of friends and acquaintances have a Clarissa box they save random treasures in for me throughout the year.
CW: Your bio says you’ve been fortunate to work all of your adult life as a self-employed artist. What’s been exciting about that, and what are the challenges?
CC: It gives me the freedom to make my own artistic choices, but along with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility. As a self-employed artist, you have to not only make the artwork, but also photograph it, display it, blog about it, market it and file the taxes. To keep up, I have had to really broaden my skill set.
CW: What can people find at your new gallery?
CC: My new space is a combined studio and gallery. People can see where I work and some of my works in progress, as well as finished pieces on display. It also creates a much-needed space for me to teach larger groups of people. It also allows people interested in shopping for new art pieces to see my work on display.
CW: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
CC: I love the Zen-like space that is created when I have paint and rusty metal in front of me. I stop thinking and just live in the moment of putting color here or an object there, and I try to be grateful that I don’t have to squeeze my creativity into a small window of time between dinner and the news.
CW: If you were to describe your art to somebody who hadn’t seen it yet, what would you say?
CC: My work isn’t like anything else you will see; I draw from many sources of inspiration, but create something unique. I find and try to express the beauty of old things, of discarded things, of things that are often overlooked. Each piece tells a story that is unique to the viewer.
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