When Claire Tollstrup thinks about influence her first thoughts go to Monet, though Mary Cassatt would be a close second. “Claude Monet showed in his later work how to be free in his paintings. His loose brush strokes give every artist permission to be themselves and to interpret the world they see in whatever bold color they would like. I will always feel bold and free looking at his paintings, and I still hope to lose myself a little more and go even deeper in my own work.”
Tollstrup earned a liberal arts degree from Utah State University, where she studied history, drawing, painting and interior design, and has supplemented her academic study with classes and workshops by many prominent Utah artists, exposing herself to varying styles and techniques. “When I create, one of my biggest challenges is knowing when a painting is finished, because there are so many beautiful phases in the process. Each painting is unique in its process and journey, and most of the time it will end up a little different from what I had envisioned. I feel strongly that we should paint what is calling to us, and we should treat ourselves as artists, not factories.”
“My style is impressionistic,” she says of her still life and landscape paintings, which she executes with a liquid, painterly touch. “My goal is to capture a mood rather than precision. Some of my pieces will take on a deeper meaning, centered around womanhood, growth, or second chances, and some will simply be a representation of the subject.”
For the past 15 years, oil has been her preferred medium, and she has enjoyed the chance to paint en plein air. “Recently I’ve traveled to England and France in small groups of 7 to 9 artists to paint. This has been my favorite form of study, as we teach and learn from each other.” These trips have given her a chance to see Monet’s work, and the landscapes that inspired them.
“When I look at the journey [Monet] took as an artist from classic and traditional renderings and representations, to loser, softer Impressionism and then veering towards abstract it gives me a sense of excitement and wonder for my own artistic journey and what is possible. I remember standing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and seeing the evolution of Monet’s paintings and the journey of his work. It was such an eye opening experience for me. Seeing “Garden at Sainte-Adresse,” painted in 1867, just a room away from his 1919 “Water Lilies” will always be the best lesson in artist evolution.”
But don’t forget about Cassatt. “Cassatt’s work, especially her pastel drawings, have given me the permission and inspiration to leave paintings unfinished, or rather, not overworked,” Tollstrup says. “I love her line work and the suggestion of things to come in her paintings. One of my favorite parts of a good painting are the pieces that aren’t clearly defined, the vague shapes that we get to guess at and fill in for ourselves.”
During the month of February we ask Utah artists about a specific piece of art or artist, living or not, local or global, that has sparked their curiosity or influenced their work. We run their responses throughout the month.