Clare Gillen, Creative Director and Artist, Steps Into the Spotlight
Issue 1 | Emergence
In October, Somewherelse was enlisted by Red Bull to produce Red Bull Music Festival Toronto. Amongst the collaborators across the 4-day event was Clare Gillen, the L.A. based photographer and creative director, who was tapped to develop an intimate concert experience for MorMor. “Seth from MorMor and I met and talked about community and intimacy. We developed and curated a marketplace of art vendors in a beautiful old church where the concert was held,” Gillen says. “We had a string quartet play in the art marketplace. An interactive poetry area and visual installation made the night feel surprising, and different.” Contributing editor Sarah MacDonald spoke to Gillen about her emergence as a creative force and why creative directors are gaining more public, immediate notoriety.
Clare Gillen loves that I ask her about balance. After all, it’s Libra season when I ask my first question for the Los Angeles based creative director and artist. Perhaps true balance is unattainable in totality but I’m curious how collaboration between herself and another artist (or several artists) exists. “Balance is so loaded and is the root of me going to therapy,” Gillen says via email, typing an additional “haha,” so I know there’s levity among the seriousness of it all. “Each relationship is unique. Some clients become friends instantly, and some stay as professional working relationships. Los Angeles and the industries bred here have an inherent balance issue. Everyone is expected to go above and beyond every single time,” she says.
“I am actively working on balance because I work too much. What I am often selling is myself and my ideas and abilities so it can become draining quite fast.”
It is very clear Gillen has been putting in time non-stop over the last few years so balance, in all its connotations, isn’t quite here yet. Gillen’s current résumé reads like pop music’s future hall of famers: she has worked with Blood Orange for the Freetown Sound tour, Mount Kimbie’s tour, Mor Mor for Red Bull Music Festival in Toronto, Maggie Rogers’ 2017 tour, Julia Michael’s Inner Monologue tour and Kim Petras’ campaign. Not to mention, King Princess’s debut Cheap Queen for whom Gillen did the campaign work. King Princess is also a sort of muse for Gillen.
Additionally, Gillen works with brands, mostly photography, and shoots for magazines, and does all sorts of other projects that pique her interest.
Like I said: she hasn’t really stopped.
The set designs, photographs, and music videos she produces for artists emphatically enriches their performances and personas. It takes care, and a sort of sensitivity to understand what is driving the artist behind the work. “My job is to listen and pay attention so artists or brands feel heard. It’s such a huge undertaking to plan a visual campaign, let alone to even talk about art or have the sensibility to make an idea come to life,” Gillen says. “Sometimes an idea is just a feeling and that feeling needs to be dissected, examined, edited into fruition. If I’m not listening to their emotional qualities I am just making my own art and that’s not why I’ve been hired necessarily.”
This is where balance becomes necessary. For a few years now, coinciding with Instagram’s rise and takeover of visual and artistic culture, creative directors have seen a spike in popularity. Virgil Abloh, for example, is one such artist whose creative work led him to head up Louis Vuitton. His streetwear line, Off White, is extolled. But Abloh’s is the story of ultimate mainstream success. Creative directors thrive in the digital age because it means they have to step out from the shadows of the artistic geniuses their work supports. Gillen’s notoriety is impressive. Many of her twenty-thousand plus Instagram followers are there for her. Creatives now dictate to their communities or on-lookers their vision for the culture, what they think should be amplified, where it’s going. More light is being shone on the creative ecosystems that exist in our world. Bringing those directors into the light is crucial for that.
It felt for too long that photographers, directors, and creative careerists were reserved for a certain group of artistic people. While that, in a sense, makes that artistic pathway feel more collaborative and as a community, it is perhaps too often exclusive and inaccessible. Social media has, in more ways than one, burst open the doors of creative collaboration and artistry, and creative directors are at the fore of this. “Everyone involved in a project is a click away,” she says. Perhaps being this emergence and being well-known has led Gillen to more work, too much of it. But then again: it keeps Gillen working.
Because a creative director before could sometimes be just a “creative director” in name, ambiguous but powerful, now these professionals, like Gillen, lean into all the pathways involved with creative direction. Her portfolio is full of artistic and brand collaborations. It’s an opportunity to flex all sorts of sensory muscles and transmute ideas into tangible things. The evolution of the creative director is an astounding thing to watch.
Gillen’s work is remarkably vibrant. Intense blues, bright reds, vivacious pinks. She’s so well-versed in mood setting and what that means not only to the artist but an audience, too. “Trying to pinpoint the quality of feeling the project should embody prior to anything happening is crucial. People want to see and experience new things so letting a visual or project take on a unique life of its own is the best.”
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There is no great equality in social media quite yet but the accessibility of who an artist or brand can turn to is much better. The pool is widening and deepening. Gillen illuminates vulnerabilities in her artists, transforming them on stage, in a photograph, or presentation. She tells me she practices listening, very intent, thoughtful listening. And no matter which works you are looking at that she had a hand in, you can see how Gillen’s listening paid off.
Photos courtesy of Clare Gillen.Written by Sarah MacDonald.Photo collage by Marta Ryczko.