Clayton Meyer is the next big thing (and the last person who would tell you so) | Bleader

Clayton Meyer is the next big thing (and the last person who would tell you so)

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Clayton Meyers papier-mache moose
  • Clayton Meyer
  • Clayton Meyer's papier-mache moose
There are some artists who can never be disentangled from their geographic reality—artists whose aesthetic eventually becomes synonymous with a certain emotional topography. Think of Toulouse-Lautrec and the rotting splendor of Montmartre, or the vapid expanse of Ed Ruscha's Southern California. For me, this phenomenon has always seemed particularly pronounced in artists from the midwest; I think that's because artists tend to reflect what I find pronounced in people from the midwest. There's an ethic of self-effacement and a deep-seated desire to please; people from the midwest are generally nice. Not everyone, obviously—we have our fair share of assholes—but midwesterners seem to be united by an inclination to be slightly less self-absorbed than our counterparts on either coast. We're told as children that it's not nice to talk about yourself, and as we grow into adults, that little adage can go a long way in shaping our worldview. In an artist, it can translate into a relative lack of ego, a willingness to deflect attention away from self and towards the surrounding world.

Chicago artist Clayton Meyer is a perfect example. Though he spent nearly a decade in Orange County, adopting all the outward traits of a southern California surfer type, as an artist, he just can't shake that essential midwestern-ness. Meyer works in large-scale papier-mache, a medium he first practiced as a child with his grandmother in her Kansas farmhouse. Papier-mache often brings school projects to mind, but in Meyer's hands the medium is elegant and subtle. He hews closely to natural forms, using steel wire and foam to coax forth the shapes of rams, oxen, and wild boars, before constructing an exoskeleton—layers of paper coated in materials like gelatin and cornstarch. Standing at a distance, it's impossible to tell what a piece is made of. It's only upon close inspection that you can discern the material and even closer inspection that you can make out print from a newspaper or magazine behind a horn or tusk. And there's something about his use of such unassuming materials—taking what is essentially refuse and using it to emulate the dignity of the natural world—that seems so unselfish and kind.

Meyer says that he's learned to work with, rather than against, the elements—the heat and humidity of Chicago summers transforms the leathery sagginess of his materials into a quiet, world-weary gravitas in a bull or moose. Meyer thinks of each piece as a living thing, and so it's fitting that the work would be a product of its natural environment. He makes no attempt to preserve it—from the moment the first layer of wet glue is applied to the wire framework, the steel begins to rust and degrade. There's a poetry in that, in creating something and then immediately returning it to the earth. Meyer's art begins dying as soon as it's born, and that's a simple inevitability that each of us, despite whatever attempts we make towards immortality, are powerless to stop.

Meyer has had a few small shows since moving back to Chicago in 2010. He had a solo exhibition at Grand Bizzare, "Of Fur and Fang," in 2011 and was part of a pop-up effort in the parking lot of the Wicker Park Aldi. In 2012 he began collaborating with restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff to create work for the now newly opened Bavette's Bar & Beouf. That job led to a commission for the Toronto iteration of Soho House, a swank, members-only club with outposts in places like London, New York, West Hollywood, and Berlin. Meyer created a moose in honor of the Canadian House that he drove to Toronto to install. When he arrived, he found the crew in the middle of several frantic, last-minute construction projects. Meyer, who also has a background in carpentry, volunteered to help. His work—both the moose and the construction—so impressed Nick Jones, Soho House's CEO, that Meyer was hired on the spot to serve as a creative consultant on the forthcoming Soho House Chicago. He's also been commissioned to create work for the space, which means that in addition to a steady paying job, Meyer's art will be seen by every celebrity and corporate titan who walks through the doors. In the two hours I spend over drinks with Clayton Meyer, this is the last thing he tells me—because after all, it isn't nice to talk about yourself.


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