When I arrived at the Clayton Brothers’ studio, in the small town of La Crescenta just north of Los Angeles, I had a little trouble recognizing it. I was thrown off by the storefront sign above their one-story studio which read “FOOTHILL PERFORMING ARTS ACADEMY,” flanked by treble clefs. But as I u-turned, I realized, I must have the right place.
The Clayton Brothers are a collaborative team: Rob Clayton and Christian Clayton. They are known for their intensely-hued, surreal narrative paintings and installations while drawing inspiration from their immediate environment. Due to the short notice, only Christian was able to meet with me that day, and he greeted me at the front door.
“It used to be a ballet studio,” said Christian of their studio they have rented since 2002. “There was an old wooden dance floor on top of this one, about a foot higher than it is now, We took it out in 2002 to have enough space to build I come from here, our second life-sized house structure. The walls, windows, floor and ceiling, even the air conditioning unit was built and assembled here.” The studio was modestly-sized, particularly considering that two successful artists share it, and that space is relatively easy to come by in the LA area (compared to, say, New York). “The rent was cheap. Like rent-control cheap. We couldn’t pass it up.” I noticed they kept the drop ceiling and fluorescent lighting—not typical for a painter’s studio, but it made sense for their fluorescent-hued work—and perhaps to retain a bit of the building’s history as a mecca for budding ballerinas in the 70’s.
One wall was covered with small, foot-or-so-square drawings and works on paper. “This is where we bounce our ideas off each other. Some graduate and get worked into a painting or sculpture, and others that stay untouched for awhile get swapped out with something new. We have several odd things that we keep in the studio for inspiration, like these.” He picked up a box of dried acrylic paint dollops collected in a cardboard box. “These will sometimes get worked into a piece. They could be used any number of ways.” ”So it’s a way station of sorts?” “Yes,” he laughed, “And these, I don’t know why, but we keep them around, ” he said of several paintbrushes that had dried upright, mid-use, in a container of paint. “When we’re in full force working on a show, we quickly forget to put them in water and come back and they’re completely dry.” “How long have these ones been around?” I asked. “For years. We’ll find a way to incorporate them back into our process or work.”
He pointed to a vintage black shoe with a pitted metal brace attached to it, explaining, “then we have some other objects of inspiration. Like this old polio leg brace. It’s been in the studio for many years and has made it into several paintings. It was a Christmas gift from our father, perhaps because he had polio as a child. He’s really supportive of our work, so he’s always keeping his eyes open for ephemera we might use. And this was another gift from our dad,” Christian said, pulling out a framed sepia-toned photo circa 1940 of a married couple in their fifties posing for a portrait. It seemed rather mundane until I noticed that the man’s left eye was stitched shut. Collected objects such as these have occasionally been starting points to collaborate for their work; and, along with common household items, are often woven into their kaleidoscopic narratives.