Artist Interview

Claire DeVoe

"I started processing my emotions by ripping up my beautiful photographs of nature and flowers..."
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Hailing from the quiet, seaside town of Naples, Florida, Claire DeVoe’s work that spans countless mediums and uses speaks to her proximity to water. All around Naples, stretching upward from the Ten Thousand Islands up to Tampa Bay, a nexus of basins, tributaries, rivers, and bays bleed into one another—much like her collages. Now, DeVoe lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband, Anthony, where these two artists run their respective businesses from home. DeVoe grew up close to her family, and still holds them dear. In her life, women have become paramount as mentors, teachers, and guides—evident in her path to becoming an artist. While her work spans design, fine art, and soft-goods, the thread of solidarity remains the use of vibrant, saturated color that permeates all her work. While she comes from a rather inconsistent surf destination, her family was and remains big into the pursuit, and that is what might have led to her interest in surf culture and the adjacent aesthetics that have spilled in and out of the subculture. DeVoe worked with Black Rose MFG. to design the inaugural logo that adorns all of our boards and products. You can find the original sketch in the photos below. We recently did a collaboration with Claire, incorporating her prints into deck patches and fins. As the first artist Black Rose MFG worked with, we caught up with DeVoe to learn a bit more about her work, what spurred her foray into art, and where she’s headed in the years to come.

How’d you start making things? Give us a bit of insight to those early inklings of becoming an artist, maker, etc.
My art career took root at the darkest, rawest, acute and miserable time in my life. I had overcome a lot of adversity over a very dense span of time from 2009-11. And to be honest with you, I should be dead. No seriously, I should be dead. What is that common saying? “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger?” Yeah, well it only holds value if you apply it in your own life and make the choice to properly process and address all the crazy emotions we feel, let things go and grow through the hardships.

I believe we all have people of paramount importance in our lives, and I firmly believe that more common than not, those relationships are bound by unconditional amounts of love and trust and my Nana and I shared one of those unbreakable bonds. My precious Nana slowly deteriorated from the inside out finally taking her last breath in 2011, and I was the only family member not by her bedside on that final day. I can remember the phone call from my mom as if it was yesterday telling me to say goodbye to Nana over the phone because she was taking her last breaths. Sadly, I couldn’t say anything, and to make matters worse my Nana was nonresponsive on the other line. I felt as if my heart had been dropped into one of those machines that shreds up tree limbs into mulch in the blink of an eye. I probably should have died that day too since this phone call happened while I was merging onto the highway during rush hour in Jacksonville with my eyes pretty much filled to the brim and my mind completely numb. That was probably my tipping point, which led me to ‘making things’. Sometimes all it takes is one experience or one emotion to release an outpour of creativity and expression. But for me, I needed to be face to face with death multiple times and then experience the death of a loved one before I let my creativity explode on everything around me. You could say I am very stubborn.

I started processing my emotions by ripping up my beautiful photographs of nature and flowers and my adventures all over the world. I would sit and go through the beautiful photography that is featured throughout my National Geographic Collection and rip out a few pages here and there to add to my pile of ripped material. I surrounded myself with shredded pieces of beautiful moments in time because that was how I felt inside. It just so happened that in that same year one of my Fine Art professors at University of North Florida, Louise Freshman Brown, had introduced me to a new way of creating art which can be understood as collage on a universal level,but if you look closer it is a beautiful juxtaposition of tactile materials layered with fresh brush strokes of paint and other mediums, also commonly known as mixed media art. I saw this approach and technique to creating art as a healthy form of therapy for me. I started to see a blank canvas more as a space that needed to be mended or healed, and that’s how I approach my work to this day. I think of myself more as a choreographer of space and in the process of adhering my shredded photos and materials onto the surface, I use paint as an additive and accent on the surface. In the end, it’s a new, beautiful composition and a feeling of healing.

How do you think of the relationship between surfing and what you inevitably make? Does your work relate to surfing and how?
I grew up three blocks away from the beach in a small bubble of paradise called Naples, Florida. I am sure you are thinking, well that’s on the Gulf of Mexico and there are rarely any waves there, and yes you are correct: It is a warm bathtub of happy fish and flats boats. But my entire family surfs, and my dad would drive us to the East Coast on the weekends to surf as much as possible. He taught me the fundamentals when I was 7 or 8 in Cocoa Beach. Growing up, I went to a lot of Surf Expos with my dad. He has been a surfer his entire life and has become quite the surfboard collector as well as a longboard Legend on the west coast of Florida. At Surf Expo one year, my older sister landed a job right out of college as a full-time, bilingual nanny for Robert August’s little girl, Christine. She lived with him in Huntington Beach, CA for a few years, traveled the world with him and Robert “Wingnut” Weaver. Sometimes, my family and I would travel to Costa Rica with them or follow the caravan up the East Coast for the Endless Summer East Coast Tour. These surf legends quickly became family to us. One of my dad’s best friends is Claude Codgen, who is another East Coast legend, competitive longboarder and world renowned shaper of Sunshine Surfboards. These old guys have been heavy influences in my surfing and life. Most of my artwork has this underlying Floridian/Island/Hawaiian/Beach-chic aesthetic, and when I translate my fine art into fabric design and patterns it looks like it belongs on beachwear, resort wear, adventurous lifestyle products and water sports apparel and yes even surfboards. I think the relationship between surfing and what I make is intertwined since it is a part of who I am, my style, my taste, and my life ultimately.

Can you tell me a bit about how you came to sewing?
On Easter weekend of April 2015, I called and asked my grandmother what she planned on doing with her sewing machines one day. Do not get this twisted, my grandmother is another woman of paramount importance in my life to this day and she can still average more steps than me in one day (10,000 a day), has mastered over 10 different professions and trades and can teach you something you don’t know about your iPhone. Yet, she gracefully lives life with one legally blind eye and the other one has macular degeneration so her vision is not ideal for getting thread through a pinhole, and I wanted to know if I could have her machines when she was done using them. To my surprise, the next day she packed up every sewing related item in her house along with all of her sewing machines and set them outside for me to pick up. The seed of DeVoe Design was planted on that Easter weekend. We turned our spare bedroom into my sweat shop/sewing room and then the sewing “began”. This led me to reach out to a former high school teacher, Mrs. Peggy Sadelfeld for sewing lessons, and after my first one, I was hooked. I would drive six hours to Naples on the weekends just for lessons from Mrs. Sadelfeld. She is an amazing mentor and a master in her trade. Mrs. Sadelfeld not only gave me the skill set I needed to make my dream a reality, she empowered me with grace, patience, perseverance, and faith, which is why Mrs. Peggy Sadelfeld is another woman of paramount importance to DeVoe Design.

What would a mood board of yours look like? What type of things do you tend to look at? Where do you draw from?

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

I guess you could say our home studio is my mood board. One way I draw inspiration is from my photography taken all over the world during my travels, but I get just the right amount of inspiration from a quick glance at my mother’s epic Jams World collection which she has graciously handed down to me and my husband. Jams World is everywhere in our house. From the sheets on our bed to the pillows scattered everywhere in the house, to the men and women’s apparel hanging in our closet. If you aren’t familiar, it’s an original Hawaiian lifestyle brand. I‘m also inspired by the brand Coogi. Don’t get me wrong; I feel like every artist should keep one foot in the art history book and the other foot in the paint of their own work, so you can have an idea of where you fit in the canon of art history, but there is a fine line. I don’t want my style of work to be similar to any other artist so I try to remain aware of this. Some of my favorite artists are Anthony Rooney, Joe Puskas, Willem DeKooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Rauschenberg, Egon Schiele, Carlos Betancourt, Zio Ziegler, Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Stella (who I was recently able to meet at a funeral of another one of my favorite artists, John Hutchenson, the great Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. But the list goes on.

What are your goals moving forward in the coming years, professional or personal?
My personal goals moving forward are landing more solo shows and two-person shows with my husband. Making sure I average over 10,000 steps a day. Mastering how to design and sew surf suits, bathing suits, etc. Developing a new pattern for my DeVoe duffel bag and building an inventory of those. Finish remodeling the inside of our home and then flip it and move to the next one. Start our family in two more years? Get a DeVoe x Robert August collaboration together. Get a DeVoe x Claude Codgen Sunshine Surfboards collaboration too.
Some professional goals are sitting down and setting up wholesale accounts with local boutiques here in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Naples in order to get my products out there. Finding a warehouse large enough for DeVoe to grow into for the long-term goal of being a manufacturer in the U.S. for not only DeVoe products but other brands that wish to be made in USA. Hire employees and start looking for a storefront down in Naples, FL and here in Jacksonville too.

What’s a typical day like in your studio? Where do you work? How do you work?
I wake up to do my legacy Devotionals and vacuum the entire house before I brush my teeth. I run our dog, Elijah, work out for 30 minutes, feed all of our rescue animals, dog, cat, bird, water the front and back plants, then I listen to the news on the radio, eat breakfast while checking work emails and respond to them. Most days, I turn on Pandora to Kim Walker or Taya Smith or Lecrae or tune into the WSL website if there is a day of live competition, but we do not have a TV, which I am really grateful for. If I have orders that need to be shipped to customers, then I take care of that first and take them all to UPS. After all that, I start sewing for the rest of the day. I work from home. How do I work? I don’t stop. I move from room to room depending on what needs to get done that day. We have set up different rooms and spaces in our home studio to maximize efficiency in production mode since both my husband and I run our own businesses from home—staying organized is key. I have my sewing room, mixed media corner and the mono-printing station in the garage where my hand-painted fabrics are created, and my husband has the ‘living room’ and hallways for his large-scale mural commissions. Even our master bedroom has three wooden panels lined up against the wall for a current commissioned job. You’ve got to be hungry if you want to be a successful small business starting from the ground up in this fast paced, highly competitive consumer-driven economy.

How do you think of design and function in the world?
Everything looks better with a good design and some careful thought put into it. I think that a design with a function is ingenious and unstoppable, that’s probably why I decided to take a step back after graduating college and look at all my artwork as fabric design and turn myself into a brand and business instead of just pieces of art to hang on my wall.
I read this quote once a day; “You can’t see the picture when you are in the frame.”

DeVoe X Black Rose Mfg. 

Justin Quintal, Founder of Black Rose MFG., said he first met you when you two were taking “The History and Appreciation of Jazz.” A prerequisite at UNF. He said you stood out to him not only because of your eclectic style, but that he had seen you at the Surf Expo in Orlando that semester, an uncommon place to see a classmate. At the time Quintal had no idea you were an artist. Fast forward a couple years, Justin walks into a local cafe “Delicomb” and sees your art hanging up. Quintal explains, “I thought her work was some of the most captivating local art I had seen in Jacksonville, and I was really impressed. I also thought it would look great incorporated into a surfboard or fin. I grabbed one of Devoe’s cards off the counter, looked her up and was surprised to see that I recognized the artist from a class I had taken two years prior. I wanted to learn more and potentially collaborate with Claire. It would be years before I would go on to start Black Rose MFG. but I knew she was the first artist I wanted to work with. We met up to start the initial conversations of incorporating some of her work into our products. She asked if we had a logo yet, I told her that I wanted a single silhouetted Black Rose as the symbol for our brand but that we did not have an official logo at that time. She kindly volunteered to sketch some roses, and one of them in particular popped out, that specific sketch heavily influenced the design of our logo.” Can you explain more about your initial and continued involvement with Black Rose MFG., those first sketches, and why you offered to help?

“Justin didn’t actually ask me to draw him a potential logo for Blackrose MFG”, DeVoe continues, “but I did ask him if he had started to think about what he wanted his logo to look like for his brand and he mentioned having it be a simple black rose. At the time, logos were heavily on my mind because I was ankle deep in the process of trademarking my own logo and brand identity, going back and forth for 8 or 9 months, overthinking about my logo until one day it just happened naturally. So I felt compelled to help get the creative juices flowing for him and sat down one day and sketched out three different style black roses in pen and sent them his way. It was a random act of kindness really. I just wanted to help Justin as he charged towards his big vision and dreams with his own brand and manufacturing company. I believe none of us are at the point in life we are at today without the help of others and I am thankful for people like Justin, and everyone that has helped me along the way. I believe in Justin and his vision and can’t wait to see it blossom.”