Claire Elliott’s work addresses concerns about the relationship between humans and landscape, as well as the idea of painting. Her work probes the connection between everyday landscapes and human reactions to nature, exploring spaces where landscape is either manufactured or controlled to a degree where the tension between humans and nature is highlighted. Beginning with the body of work that formed her 2014 MFA thesis, she has been captivated by the relationships between humans and their surroundings and how these have evolved visually and psychologically across time and cultures. She contrasts the physical and symbolic differences between contemporary and historical landscapes, such as the different ways that palatial gardens and backyards communicate to visitors. Architecture acts a stand-in for the human presence in a space, angular and guiding, a symbol of the aggressive relationship we have with the natural world. She uses color, abstraction, and altered viewpoints to explore and describe spaces such as backyards, parks, gardens, and city streets.
Her most recent body of work is based on the types of landscapes that fill the sidewalks of San Francisco. Her paintings concentrate on the intentional and incidental details of these urban landscapes, an intimate investigation of how people present themselves to the world around them using plants as well as what we require of the organic forms that adorn our public spaces. Some of these spaces are personal, a way to communicate one’s self to passersby and others are institutional, civically mandated and placed by city workers. With a narrowing in focus, the visual language of Elliott's work has evolved. The empty walls and concrete sidewalks easily slip between painted surface and blank canvas, the grids of brick and tile provide consuming passages of complete abstraction. Bright light and sprawling shadows have crept in to the canvases, creating large swathes of pure color. Despite all of the inherent potential painting holds, it’s simultaneously doomed to a certain level of failure. Elliott's goal is to acknowledge that, pushing her paintings deeper into the space between representation and abstraction, coherence and failure.