An Interview by Ashraf Osman (original on his website Artinect)
I am very happy to introduce the first artist of the Gifted Artists’ Group: Caitlin Aiston Valloton. Caity, like her work, comes across as innocent and sweet at first glance. And she is that, and much more: funny, witty, sexy, and–in the most refreshing sense of the word–quirky. But I’ll let her speak for herself, for–as much as she may eschew words–she has a wonderful way with them.
A. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Caitlin Aiston Valloton and I am a visual artist. I am originally from a suburb of Chicago, earned degrees in Fine Arts and French from the University of Montana and am now living in Switzerland. Lately, my medium of choice has been clay, which I work into sculptural and utilitarian pieces.
B. Why do you do what you do? Why art?
I do art because it is who I am. I am an artist. It is in me, ever-present. It is in how I view, interpret, feel the world. My creativity and need to create is an integral part of my true self.
Art is also the best way I have found to express myself. I find words constraining and too one-faceted. Art allows for interpretation, feelings, and a slew of experiences. My art, for example, is often an ode to nature and an expression of my love, respect, admiration, and gratitude to mother Earth. Preservation of natural spaces and protection of habitats for other species is very important to me. If I write about these beliefs, it quickly becomes too preachy, which could turn people away. More effective is to show the beauty of nature, share my profound feelings about it through my art, and let people draw their own conclusions from a more spiritual/emotional side.
Finally, I do art because it is a challenge. It is stimulating and the path is unclear, difficult and interesting. I remember when I was at the University of Montana majoring in Environmental Studies and Anthropology, I saw the path to graduation, the path to high honors, the path to success as a formula: write the papers + study + take the tests = succeed. It was simple, straightforward, but too easy and dare I say boring. Whereas pursuing a degree in art would push me, challenge me, force me to produce and take me places I could not foresee. Success was never and is never a sure thing. And what is success really? I am starting to wonder if I am a bit of a masochist…
A. What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
Many, but one crazy job I had was working on a sheep farm during lambing season with my husband. There were 500 ewes in the flock and all were expecting. The lamb meat was destined for one of the largest supermarket chains in Switzerland. Did I mention I’m a vegetarian of 15 years?
Among other responsibilities, we were on nights, which required us to get up every hour to check if any births were in progress and assist the ewes in process. At this particular farm, where production was top priority, practices were very invasive. We did not let nature take it’s course, instead we pulled lambs out, one after another, or occasionally pushed them back in to flip them around when they presented in breech position. Have you ever found yourself cracked out on too little sleep at 3am shoulder deep in a sheep’s vagina? I have.
It was a crazy experience and despite constant interventions and the general attitude of man as all-knowing dominator, the births remained beautiful. Not to mention caring for hundreds of little lambs in the weeks that followed.
Otherwise, in the warm weather months (May-October), I work as a shepherdess on alpages (alpine farms). In 2014, I became the first certified shepherdess in French-speaking Switzerland. I spend my summer in some of the most beautiful places in the world with my husband, cows, donkeys, chickens, goats, dogs, and not to mention a whole bunch of sheep. This is where we lived and worked the last two alpage seasons:
B. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
When hesitating about whether to ask a prominent Montana artist to be my mentor: The worst that can happen is that he can say “no.” And so what? “No” is not that bad.
A. How do you work?
I work in bursts of inspiration. During every day life, I am constantly collecting ideas, getting inspired, and formulating projects. The accumulation of images, experiences, smells, and feelings ruminate in me, sometimes for an extended period of time, before they demand to come out… or are forced out when I have a deadline to meet for a show or other commitment.
Lately, I have been working alone in a studio with a stunning view that I set up in our home. But I do miss the energy of a shared workspace. Something about being around other artists working, struggling to realize their visions, profoundly motivates me to do the same.
B. What memorable responses have you had to your work?
One of the most memorable conversations I’ve had in front of one of my works was at my “After-hours Animal ABC’s” show in Fribourg, Switzerland. Standing in front of a sort of urn entitled “B is for Beluga Boner,” my father-in-law sidled by a friend of his, having not quite understood the premise of the show yet, asked for an explanation: “Ça veut dire quoi? “Boner?”’ I pointed to the torpedo shaped erect penis of the beluga whale featured on the urn. He still didn’t get it. What followed was an awkwardly animated conversation in French in which I most probably used some pretty inappropriate slang. I’m not sure he fully understood. He left the show shortly after.
As the evening wore on and people worked their way through the alphabet, I had more and more conversations in the same vain. Soon the atmosphere began to loosen up. To my delight, as I eavesdropped on conversations in the packed gallery, I overheard more and more talk of sex, and saw more and more thrusting pelvises as visitors attempted to explain “humping” to each other (the verb “hump” does not exist in French, as I learned that evening). At this small gallery across the street from a 13th century cathedral in usually conservative Switzerland, people were openly, talking, laughing and telling stories about sex. It was magic.
As for the Boner urn, it was bought by my father-in-law’s sister. She didn’t (and I’m pretty sure still doesn’t) know the meaning of the words on the side, but she found the object beautiful. Now it sits in a prominent place in her TV room filled with candy. I can’t help but snicker each time I reach my hand in the wavy whale vagina-inspired opening and help myself to a chocolate.
A. What do you think is integral to the work of an artist?
Time and space (both mentally and physically) to create. Resources and materials. Inspiration. A supportive entourage. And for me personally, opportunities to share my work with other artists and a general public. Some form of recognition and acknowledgement.
B. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
Yes, it is lonely. As mentioned above, I often miss being in school and surrounded by other artists in a communal space where everyone is in their own world, yet together. There is no pressure to share; yet there is the possibility. I also miss critiques with other artists which impose due dates and help motivate me to get my work to place where I feel ready to share it.
In Switzerland, I have found it hard to counteract this lonely life. I have yet to find an artistic community. It is something I am struggling with at the moment.