Claire Burbridge leans over a huge piece of thick black paper on her drawing table, making tiny marks with a colored pencil. She occasionally glances over to a large piece of fungus sitting nearby — the inspiration for her newest creation. It’s easy to see how her work takes so long to create. One piece in 2014 continued for eight months. “It takes so long to do each piece that it contains many, many messages and stories. It’s almost like the story of my life, my internal life, unfolding,” she says. “And it comes together as a sort of complete world when it’s finished.”
While her work is inspired by pieces from the natural world these are not purely botanical drawings. “The work contains lots of minute observations and it also contains things that I’ve made up and things that have lodged in my mind over the years. So really it’s a kind of collaboration of my imagination and beautiful found objects,” she says.
From her home in the hills of Ashland, Claire can walk out her front door and instantly be in the woods. It’s a ritual she practices nearly every day, heading to the forest to observe and collect objects that call to her. Some end up in her drawings, others become part of intricate arrangements on a shelf or hearth. “My house is full of these objects — it’s an ever-changing display.”
For most drawings she starts with a compass, drawing dozens of overlapping circles in pencil. “The interlocking circles create a beautiful, balanced, symmetrical matrix. Everything in the world has a structure,” she says. In some drawings hints of the underlying structure are still visible. In most, the circles have long since been absorbed by her colorful points and lines. But in all the work the sense of harmony and balance is deeply present.
“I’m not specifically making mandalas, but they are in a sense devotional pieces,” Claire says. “Sometimes I think about my practice and it seems more like being a monk or a nun rather than what somebody might perceive as an artist, the daily routine of it. It’s very, very slow and peaceful.”
She hopes that sense of peace she finds while walking in the forest or creating her drawings comes through to viewers of her work. “I would like it to create … a doorway into the self. Maybe bringing people to their own kind of authentic self, just through looking. I think things can have that effect.”
Claire Burbridge’s solo show “Here and In Between” runs through June 30th at Nancy Toomey Fine Art in San Francisco.