Artists Illuminated: Clara Congdon

Clara Congdon is an emerging artist based in Montreal. She makes tactile drawings and artists’ books exploring gender, media consumption and representation, and personal archives. Congdon holds a BFA from NSCAD University, where she received the Margó Marshall Award for Textiles. Congdon has recently exhibited at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax, The Red Head Gallery in Toronto, and Galerie Monastiraki in Montreal. Her artists’ book “Want to buy some illusions?” is currently featured in Art of the Book 2018, a traveling exhibition of work by members of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild.

“Notebook 1”

Embroidery and textiles are politically loaded media, traditionally seen as utilitarian women’s handiwork, and not historically given much artistic clout. ELAN member Clara Congdon’s work fits within an experimental milieu that is still challenging the accepted norms of creating and exhibiting embroidery, quilting, and other textile-based arts. Congdon’s work also explores the form of the book as a conduit for unusual experiences of reading.

Drawn to the tactility of textiles, Clara Congdon works with three-dimensional media at the intersection of collage, embroidery, bookbinding, illustration and sculpture. She often reuses thread from old clothing, lending an intimacy to her work and creating contrasts between ink and paint, cloth, muslin, satin, plastic, coarse thread, or old gloves. Congdon describes her use of thread and cloth as a drawing medium: “Cloth and paper are a rich starting point because they are accessible media that everyone relates to—we interact with them in everyday life. Textiles also refer directly to clothing and the body, the politicization and policing of which are central concerns of my practice.”


“Sussi”, Drag Portraits (left), and “L’oubli No. 2”, Sewn Bound, Cover: Inkjet, Pages: Laser, Colour. 2018 (right).

Congdon’s hanging tapestry installation, entitled “Volume 1”, reflects the material items that were important for the artist. “In the way that you can tell what people value by what they take pictures of, I think you can also get insight into what a person values by observing what material objects they chose to hold on to.” Congdon’s work is informed by a diverse range of performing arts, comedy and costume design. She lists her inspirations as Louise Bourgeois, Faith Ringgold, Tracey Emin, Tschabalala Self, Kai Chan, Anna Torma, and drag artists. Her most recent work-in-progress is a zine titled You Betcha Iris, that profiles one Montreal drag performer per issue.


“Proceed Inward Until the Last Instant” (left), and “L’oubli No. 1”, Sewn Bound, Inkjet, Colour. 2018 (right).

Congdon’s “Calendar Series” combines the themes of “gender, media consumption and representation, and personal archives”, chronicling her day-to-day experience through miniature quilts. At the end of the month, she stitches these quilts together, creating a reflection of the materials, experiences, and inspirations she was exposed to. “One month was documented by stitching the headline that appeared most frequently on my phone’s news app each day,” she explains. “Another month, I stitched the name of a woman or non-binary creator whose work I consumed. In May 2018, I simply taught myself new embroidery techniques by practicing a different type of stitch each day.”

“May 2017”, Calendars.

“February 2018”, Calendars.

Live exhibitions are important for Congdon, as digital media does not convey the tactility of her work and the importance of touching the materials. She has exhibited across Canada and in the United States, and participated in the Montreal fairs Expozine, Artch : art contemporain émergent, and What the Pop!, as well as the CBBAG Book Arts Show and Sale in Ottawa. Congdon describes one of the challenges of exhibiting at commercial arts galleries as framing or preparing the art to be hung, seeing the restriction as a creative opportunity: “It usually needs to be ready for someone to walk away with it on the spot”. Congdon also describes the value of participating in art fairs which, though they may not garner many sales, consistently lead to more connections and opportunities. Describing her experience in getting into exhibitions, Congdon says, “Sometimes curators have seen my work at another show and have encouraged me to apply to the group show they are putting together. Sometimes they find me online. I would say apply as often as you can—sometimes you won’t get the first thing you apply for, but the organization that put out that call now has your info and will likely notify you when more opportunities come up.”

Visit Clara Congdon’s website: www.claracongdon.com

Follow Clara Congdon on Instagram: @claracongdon

Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc


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