This paper artist inspires others to save the earth through art

Discovering Clare Celeste’s immersive paper installations is like entering an enchanted realm – a liminal space where the magic of nature leaves you bewitched. In her artwork, the Berlin-based American collagist uses thousands of hand-cut images of plants and animals to raise awareness of our current ecological and biodiversity crises.

“I find nature endlessly inspiring,” says Celeste, whose love for nature grew when she encountered the dazzling beauty of the Amazon rainforests as an expat child in Brazil. Saddened that whole swathes of Amazonian forests are slowly disappearing, Celeste, who uses naturalistic images from around 1900 for her collages and installations, says: “I realized that many species in my works have already disappeared or are in disappearing. It adds a layer of ecological urgency to what I do.

“To address this aspect of my practice, I have an ongoing collaboration and creative dialogue with scientist Louisa Durkin of the World Biodiversity Center in Gothenburg. As an artist drawing inspiration from the natural world, it has become impossible for me to ignore the current ecological crisis,” she says.

How his fascination with art and nature began

Claire Celeste in The garden, a facility that hosts online events with women climate leaders. Photo: Claire Celeste

Born in Thailand to an American diplomat father and a textile artist mother, Celeste has lived in seven countries and 10 different cities, and sees her life as a kind of collage made up of visual impressions – especially impressions of nature. – which she remembers from different parts. of the world.

“I have assimilated into different cultures and environments all my life, having lived in Brazil, the United States, Italy, Honduras, Argentina and Germany. Collage allows me to bring together naturalistic images from around the world and create a cohesive visual story. Just like my memories and how they form my sense of myself,” she says.

Her attraction to installation and assemblage art began in Brazil when she was 5 years old and was already collecting and rearranging objects in her parents’ house to create “art projects”. “My parents had been traveling the world for almost 10 years by then, so there were some amazing items to shoot!” she remembers.

(Read more: Local artist and Cultural Medal recipient Goh Beng Kwan documents his career in new book)

Scrapbooking gave him a passion for collage

Art collage on canvas The Forest Dark.
Collage on canvas The dark forest. Photo: Mar Martin

As for her passion for collage, it was born when her father gave her a leather-bound album when she was 12 and they lived in Florence. “I loved that album and added to it religiously for the next six years. I still have it in my studio,” she shares.

Since childhood, Celeste has been drawn to collage, a language that allows for rich narrative layers. “I thought of it as an intimate visual storytelling. As a huge fan of Joseph Cornell’s work, my early collages were very much influenced by his assemblages and collages.

She rooted and flourished as an artist in Berlin, where she lives with her husband and son. “I have been in Germany for eight years now, and this is the longest stay I have ever made. Allowing me to create a permanent home has been important in helping me flourish as an artist,” she says.

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Fulfilling his dream of becoming a collagist at the age of 37

From the Intimate Immensity art installation.
From the establishment Intimate immensity. Photo: Trever Bon

In 2017, while working on her Ecologies — a collection of small multi-layered glass collage sculptures — she recalled a dream she had when she was 18. “In this dream, I found a tiger that had been forgotten. He had been in a cage for 20 years until I finally released him. It came to me in a flash that the tiger was my creative voice and that I needed to be an artist. I was 37 that year, which was about how old I looked in that dream.

This epiphany prompted Celeste to quit her day job as a public policy professional and become a full-time artist. “When I hit a dry spell and work is scarce, I still remember that dream and the tiger. It reminds me to keep going,” she says.

Related: Art in the time of Covid-19

Turn a paper collage into a 3D work of art

Immersive art installation The Mushroom Hunters.
Immersive installation The mushroom hunters. Photo: Kolja Raschke

Celeste always kept elaborate scrapbooks filled with collages and montages, but until 2012 she treated them as a space to collect ideas and for private creative practice rather than an art form. “I’ve done more painting before and used collage as a way to plan my paintings. Once, while working on a drawing from a very complex collage, I realized that I liked creating the collage more than painting it. After that I never looked back and I’ve been doing collage ever since.

I realized that many species of my works have already disappeared or are disappearing. It adds a layer of ecological urgency to what I do.

His work has grown organically since then. Although she has always loved immersive installations, it took her several years to find a way to translate her collage into a 3D work. “The idea was there long before I had the tools to make it happen; there was a lot of trial and error. My first setup, Intimate immensity, was a first step towards immersive work. Since this installation, my work has become more immersive and more coherent. With each series, my creative voice becomes clearer. It’s a very gratifying feeling,” she says.

Read more: Dr. Neo Mei Lin: Saving the environment the right way

Art inspires others to save nature

Order piece for Riem Arcaden.
Order piece for Riem Arcaden. Photo: Claire Celeste

Like so much else in nature, Celeste’s immersive installations such as Biodiversity, The gardenand The Garden of Healingare site-specific and temporary, so you’ll need to follow her closely on Instagram (@clarecelesteart) to find out where her next project will be on display.

“Everyone has a responsibility to leave the world a better place than they found it, and in any way possible,” says Celeste, who sees the world’s artists as “storytellers who allow us to imagine a new way to be”.

“In times of planetary crisis, this is so crucial. Imagination is needed now more than anything. I want my works to remind the viewer that they are part of nature, not separate from it. I hope that it will inspire people to take action to protect the planet,” she says.

Read more: Dr Jane Goodall’s new online platform preserves Asia’s incredible wildlife biodiversity through photography

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