There being a substantial or subtle strangeness and ambiguity behind all that is beauty, really reveals more of it, doesn’t it? You might imagine someone of her creative calibre to take themselves super seriously. Thankfully, on the contrary, a curious and self-effacing person stares at you in the face when you meet her. And while a silent principle ties her work together, it strangely isn’t one that tries to portray anything. But it evokes almost everything. So allow us to take you on an off-beat tour of this spontaneous artist’s psychic and spiritual landscapes, cultivated by her blunt but kaleidoscopic attitudes.
As if she were on fire from within, Claire Denarie-Soffietti produces on a prolific level what I can’t resist wanting to call: orchestral oil paint? Nature and the seasons dictate her moods and creativity. The humour and wonder provoked by her collections have captured people’s hearts all over the world this past decade.
living habitat: What was your first painting and what inspired it?
Claire Denarie-Soffietti: My first ever attempt at painting a canvas happened when I was seven years old: I painted myself in a pair of stripy red and white pyjamas that my mum had bought to last (a long, long time). They were huge. And all of a sudden, they ripped at the seams when I turned 15. I remember them thanks to this artwork!
Then in an attempt to paint like Toulouse Lautrec, some years later, I produced a fat, turn-of-the-20th century lady. It was unsurprisingly a complete failure. Although, surprise, surprise: I managed to sell it.
lh: What is your relationship with nature? Your work shows a connection with her rhythms, tell us more.
CDS: I worship the planet that hosts us and I’m very much aware of her gift. She can take back everything she gives in an instant as part of her cycle. Nature wastes nothing, she’s wise and female, and she makes no mistakes. Only we do! As a fervent Taoist, I believe that observing her is the key to higher knowledge. The law of the Tao understands that everything arises naturally and flows. Within the Earth and its magnetism are Yin, female soft Chi comes from her. It’s counteracted by the Yang, male, vivacious energy of the heavens. The ancient Chinese would say that Nature is a mirror and that smiling at it, it will reflect what you’ve offered it.
lh: Expand on the influence of seasons on your work?
CDS: The trees and the sun are my favourite expressions of the elements. Spring and summer mean the renewal of Nature. I long for their return. Decay and cold work for some and although being able to enjoy the melancholy of the cold seasons, I thrive with the heat. I appreciate that, without the polar opposite of the seasons, mankind would stagnate into a blob of gelatinous warmth. So, I accept, I adapt, and I wait for renewal.
lh: What music do you listen to?
CDS: My eclectic appreciation of music ranges from Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Zaz, Dire Straits – to name only a few. But, not when I paint. My creative ritual craves 17th, 18th and 19th century composers. I lock myself in loops of Chopin’s Nocturnes, Mozart’s operas and concertos, and the great Vivaldi, because a day painting is incomplete without the Four Seasons (and I mean, all four of them!).
lh: How and where do you work? Your habits around painting?
CDS: I only create in my studio, as it is my definition of intimacy. Behind closed doors, not even Nature can see my plagiarism. Whether it be family and friends, or trees and sunshine – that’s all excluded from my creative process. I work in a vacuum and it starts with a black dot. Then comes the vision, followed by colours and patterns and then the inevitable disappointment, of me inevitably letting myself down. I care more about colours because they give me joy and goose bumps. I quite dislike what I do in the present; but sometimes, just sometimes, in retrospect I recognise something inherently acceptable. Often though I think: ‘C’est à foutre à la poubelle…’ (This belongs in the trash) – and that’s about it.
One thing is that painting takes everything out of me: vital energy, minutes, hours of my life. It gives you everything it’s got, and in so doing, it takes it all from you.
I’ve practiced my Tai Chi and Chinese Sword since the age of 26 first thing in the morning; this through parenting four children who had no inclination of following me in my sanctuary later – followed by my ablutions. I’m a creature of habit; disgustingly so! I grab a coffee and I walk into my studio with a sense of gratitude, daily. Spotlights and music (switch on), I mix my paint and I disappear in a parallel universe where hours become seconds. Phone calls or people knocking usually draw me back to this universe. I admit I spent 2020 in a blurred reality. . .and in my onesie. I painted eight hours a day, in pristine oblivion. Sun deprivation is a consequence of obsessive studio time. So obviously I swallow Vitamin D3 by the bucket to supplement the sun, which I so much love. It all makes perfect sense.
lh: What’s the origin of your fascination with the Far East?
CDS: Lao Tsu Hi, Confucius and you name it, all my Masters, were pre-Boxing war of 1911. I wasn’t 12 years old when my journey with China began, I must’ve been a rotten egg, somewhere in Ancient Asia. Although definitely not a pre-determinist, I believe I was meant to meet my first Sifu in Barbados. The daughter of a Mandarin grand Master of Push Hand in Beijing, Li Shu Chuan was my mentor for 10 years and together we opened a Tai Chi school under the umbrella of the Wushu / Tai Qi Federation of the Caribbean. I was then mentored by Master Li in Arizona and finally by a Shaolin Monk. Those were the primordial years which truly influenced my path.
lh: Influences on your decision to become an artist?
CDS: I’m a self-taught artist simply because my parents forced me to study Law. Both my brother and my sister were becoming doctors and we all knew it was never going to happen for me. I was loud growing up, always cracking dirty jokes and I wanted to be a cartoonist for Walt Disney. Instead, I ended up working for Sun International and Sol Kerzner was my boss for eight years (and I was damn good at it!). My workaholic nature caused the miscarriage of my third child so, while I recovered, I started painting (to be honest my crayon box was my security blanket since being a young child). Eight weeks later, I opened my first show in Johannesburg. I exhibited at the Sandy Lane in Barbados a year after that and I’ve never stopped since.
lh: What supports your comfort levels in life (metaphysically and physically)? Where do you go / what do you do to find peace of mind?
CDS: I apply Taoist principles in my craft: Better yourself daily; No matter what you do, avoid stagnations; Paint and be Kung Fu by putting the hours into your craft; Stay in the present, be mindful; Reconnect mind, body and soul and cultivate global consciousness with your actions. I know that a lifetime will barely allow me to scratch the surface of life, so I remind myself to never, ever, ever quit in the process. I remind myself to smile, because even if we’re not ok, others need us and they rely on us. ‘Follow the Guide!’ And, as I always tell my children in French: Qui m’aime, me suive (who loves me, follows me). . . and if you don’t, well, *shoulder shrug* – Adios! Ciao! Bye-bye!
My peace of mind comes from the support system I have. I welcome every addition to my family with the conviction that we are stronger together. I continue to laugh and don’t take anything too seriously.
lh: Where do ideas for works come from for a start?
CDS: I paint not for shock value, not to be in, tortured or politically correct, but for joy and hope. I paint for pushing my limits, for daring, for trying, for the adventure, for being alive, for being me – awkward and mischievous, but always ready to learn and improve. My Taoist principle of the day: Honesty, no matter what – towards myself first and then towards others.
lh: Other passions and hobbies?
CDS: My children are my passion. There’d be no games nor any fun without them and my husband, Beppe (Giuseppe). No time for any extra frivolities. How thin do you think I can spread myself?
lh: I’m concerned about climate change, gender equality and worry profusely about people escaping persecution and conflict and who seek asylum. What’s your number one concern about the state of the world? How do you find serenity?
CDS: My worry is the numbness that surrounds us. People have severed the thread that linked humanity together, the thread that kept us united as human beings. The monstrous ‘Me’ has taken over in its blind rage and I’m not too sure where it will lead us. Serenity comes with surrendering, I think. Yield to the world and accept what’s coming. Be the blotch of colour that will brighten up the day. That’s as far as I’m prepared to go in the master plan.
lh: Do you accept to take on commissioned projects? What direction does the commissioned work process typically take e.g. interview with the buyer to understand their desires or hopes around the artwork?
CDS: It’s so difficult to match someone else’s vision of your own work and it invariably leads to disappointment. Buyers need to be gently guided by the work’s voice to fall in love with it; art is anything but a rational process. Feeling it in their guts if a piece haunts them for days, they should buy it. But don’t ‘twist’ the artist’s arm too much because that can be a recipe for disaster. I reluctantly accept commissions on board. That said however, I’m a sentient and carnal creature who is also reluctant to admit that once she sees a 50% deposit reflected, who knows if ‘selling her soul to the devil’ would seem too low a blow after all.
lh: What’s your favourite artwork?
CDS: I don’t have a favourite work and I don’t have a favourite child either. All my babies come to me under different shapes and colours, some easy to raise, some excruciatingly difficult, but c’est la vie. It goes without saying that my children are my best work, while my paintings are just a pale attempt to replicate them.
lh: You can invite anyone for dinner next week. Who is it and what’s on the menu?
CDS: Jesus Christ. There are a few conversation topics I’d like to engage in with him. I’ve been wanting to grill him for a while now, plus if we run low on wine, I hope he’ll know how to give me a hand. I love food, but I’d be perfectly content with carbs (bread) and smiling faces around me. I live in an excessively generous family of foodies, some pedantic but all very capable and I allow them to orchestrate the kitchen (I handed in my apron five years ago: ¡Viva la Revolución!).
Original works are for sale or you might decide to purchase limited edition fine art prints that replicate the original artworks or are composed of a series. Faire Le Mûr offers collectors their own reign of expression, to help redefine and re-energise their homes, offices or spaces with personality and individuality through the exhilarating exploration of diverse patterns, colours and moods.
This company, Faire Le Mûr, mirrors a French expression which is used to explain secretly jumping over the wall to escape (as teenagers might to avoid curfews). It can be directly translated as ‘going AWOL’ with a freedom from restrictions and living outside the box. It was conceptualised by Claire Denarie-Soffietti and her daughter Victoire.
Artworks are printed on the highest, gallery archival quality fine art paper with a guaranteed colour fast for 100 years. Each artwork is authenticated by Claire Denarie-Soffietti. Door-to-door delivery worldwide is available and FREE delivery throughout South Africa.