Bill Claps has taken inspiration from China, Japan, and Cuba, and he’ll soon add Whistler to the list.
The New York City-based multimedia master is coming to the resort this month as the Whistler Contemporary Gallery’s Artist in Residence.
Claps utilizes a number of mediums to express himself, including photography, painting, video, poetry, filmmaking and performance, and he will demonstrate live painting Aug. 21 through 23 at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
Claps has just returned from six weeks in Europe, where he exhibited at Switzerland’s Photo Basel, had a residency where he produced homages to classical European landscape paintings, and travelled through Italy’s mountainous region.
Back on this side of the pond, Claps is eager to get to Whistler to see what the resort has to offer. One of his series, Natural Abstractions, prominently features trees from all around the globe, so inspiration won’t be in short supply if that’s the route he opts for.
“I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do. I always have a general idea, but I never want to get boxed into it,” he says. “Typically, I’ll do a little research. I used to do a lot of research, and now I do some research and I try not to over-research. I want to have that feeling of discovering a place with an open mind, and from there, I decide what I want to shoot and what I’m feeling in a place, and then I produce the works.”
Holding space for an open mind proved especially beneficial for Claps during a residency on the Japanese island of Kyushu. The island is home to Mount Aso, which erupted in 2016 and 2021. During Claps’ residency, the region was seeking UNESCO World Heritage Status and required a level of cultural activity, which led to his invitation along with others.
“Everyone thought I was going to do a project about the mountains and, in doing the research, that’s what I thought would happen,” he recalls. “When I got there, I was far more intrigued by the rice harvest.”
Because of the Aso caldera, “a large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses” according to National Geographic Society, there is fertile land for agriculture. Claps was particularly drawn to near-daily textural changes in the rice stalks, which he strove to capture in his work.
Claps has studied painting, drawing and history at prestigious institutions, including earning a bachelor of arts from Harvard University and studying at the Art Students League in both New York and Florence. This particular project initially grew out of an interest in martial arts that found its way back to visual arts.
“I started by doing the feeling of Asian landscape painting, but doing it in places outside of Asia, so over the last 10 years, I’ve done a number of different series and geographical locations all around the world,” he says. “I’m documenting the place, but it has an Asian aesthetic to it.”
If you notice the use of foil in Claps’ work, that’s something that grew out of the series and is meant to recreate natural light in the piece itself.
“In the work, I developed a process—it’s a combination of photography, painting and then this gold and silver foil process that I have invented that I perfected over the last 12 years,” he explains. “I apply foils to surfaces of the artwork. It allows the work to take in light and it allows the work to evolve and change as the day’s light changes.
“What I’m trying to do is recreate the feeling of natural light in nature, how it’s changing all day long. When you look at an object, it looks different in the morning than at noon than at night. My artworks do the same thing. I’m playing with light and I’m playing with this feeling of this movement that you have in nature, which is very hard to achieve in a static artwork.”
Claps will paint live at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on Aug. 21 from 7 to 10 p.m. and on Aug. 22 and 23, both from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. From there, he’ll head to the Four Seasons Resort for a meet-and-greet on Aug. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Lower Gallery. RSVP by emailing email@example.com.
“I’m actually more interested in what people don’t like than what they do,” Claps says.
“It’s a point of information, a data point. It doesn’t mean that I specifically agree with them or that I’m going to change what I’m doing, but I might. Or it might just give me an idea or a window on how things are perceived.”