Profile | Clara Lieu

Clara Lieu




I am a professor, writer, and visual artist. I write an advice column for visual artists called “Ask the Art Professor” which is featured in the Huffington Post. I currently teach in the Division of Foundation Studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. In the past I have taught in the RISD Illlustration department, the RISD Printmaking department, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, at Wellesley College, and at the Lesley University College of Art and Design. For four years I was the Director of the Jewett Gallery.

My studio practice explores isolation and mental illness through drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. I have exhibited my work at the International Print Center New York, Bromfield Gallery, the Danforth Museum of Art, the Currier Museum of Art, the RISD Museum of Art, and the Davis Museum and Cultural Center. I have received grants from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and the Puffin Foundation.






This project is a visualization of my personal experience with depression, as represented by a series of drawings, sculpture, and prints. The contemporary human experience, with its balance of awareness and repression of mental illness, provides a both a context and a reason for this work to exist. The human face, in its infinitely subtle range of emotional expression, has been explored throughout the history of art, and remains an irresistible subject.

The emotional spectrum surrounding the contemporary context of mental illness is broad, and although the topic has had increased awareness in the past several years, it remains largely a difficult topic for many. Through the lens of my personal experience and with the visceral connection that art innately creates with its audience, I seek to open and foster a dialogue about mental illness; not from an objective distance, but from the understanding and intimacy of shared pain.

Depression and anxiety were frequent catalysts in my life for the loss of emotional and physical control. Unable to release myself from these episodes, I waited for the physical limitations of my body to end them. I had been so accustomed to depression’s influence for such a long time that I could not distinguish the emotions and behaviors belonging to the illness from those of my own personality. After struggling for many years without treatment, a diagnosis brought relief, and the process of unearthing myself from the disease began.



This project presents the most severe form of isolation as loneliness that is experienced when physically surrounded by other people. This is a specific form of loneliness that is involuntary and imposed upon by others, creating a state of discontent characterized by bitterness and a sense of punishment. The presence of others is what can heighten and intensify the experience of loneliness for an individual. These works depict figure groups wading in an infinite and undefined body of water. I visually portray loneliness as the experience of feeling unseen and unknown within a group.



I am interested in the contradictions found in waiting figures: even though these figures stand in very close physical proximity to each other, it seems apparent that there is a significant emotional distance between them. Each figure seems locked within their own existence, unaware and unresponsive to the other figures surrounding them. Yet simultaneously, waiting in a line creates a situation where the gesture of one figure leads directly to the next, creating a fluidity between all of the figures. I am engaged by the individual and group anxiety that seems to permeate such silent and still scenes.



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