Phree flowing at Feldman Family Art Space

Phree Claudio returns home to Martha's Vineyard to exhibit her artwork.


Classy and chaotic at the same time: The exhibit “ArtByPhree: Negative Space” is extraordinary by any stretch of the imagination. The artist Phree Claudio’s work, while it sits on two-dimensional canvases, takes us to visually exciting places.

The artist has vacationed on the Island since childhood, and develops new installations for each of her solo exhibitions. Walking into “ArtByPhree: Negative Space,” curated by Featherstone Center for the Arts in the Feldman Family Artspace at the M.V. Film Center, is transporting.

The first thing that strikes you in her stunning pieces is their fluidity — the fluidity of paint, its movement, and the swirling, shifting, and drifting of colors. It’s no surprise that the method is called “acrylic paint pouring,” which she describes as allowing “the flexibility to produce from the energy of movement and soul direction.

“I use the elements of fire, water, and air to design each unique one-of-one fluid acrylic piece.” To get the right consistency, Claudio liquefies her acrylics and pours them onto the canvas, which she moves to manipulate the pigments, or alters them with out-of-the-box tools such as a straw, torch gun, fork, strainer, beads, string, and more.

“A lot of my inspiration is nature. This is how I heal, and a lot of that and spirituality is through the way I see the world,” Claudio says. Indeed, the first impression of her canvases evokes the moving, constantly evolving cosmos, filled with bold colors that are moving at some astral level.

The paintings are, in fact, both intimate expressions and part of Claudio’s healing process from childhood trauma. “Typically, in traditional therapy, you sit and converse and share. For me, being Black/Afro-indigenous/Latinx queer person from the inner city in Boston, healthcare and therapy weren’t at my fingertips. Growing up, I had to learn to do therapy, and this is one of the ways.

“I’m also a spoken-word poet and performer, and so I write, which is a part of my therapy as well. Art is another tool I have in my toolbox. This being more fluid, pun intended, I could go in with a goal, and the painting will completely change by the end. I allow it to speak to me, as opposed to dictating what the painting means to me. So when I say spirituality, that’s what I mean. It’s very ritualistic and meditational.”

Each painting has its own color palette. Claudio teaches color light therapy. “I use a lot of color and color pop, because it actually affects the body, mind, and spirit. Essentially, what you are looking at is my soul,” she says. The weight of the different pigments and the ratio of water with which they are mixed determines how loose they are, thus affecting their flow and intensity. A rich black is the dominant color, which creates what in art is called negative space or “blank spaces” that are their own shapes. “I also use the color to highlight black and brown bodies and that we, as a people, are deemed negative, dark, ‘outcasty,’ and demonic. I wanted to highlight that because there is so much color in black. And it is so necessary, not just in art but across time, space, place, and life,” Claudio explains.

“Alchemist” could be from an explosion gone haywire. Various shades and opacities of turquoise, green, white, and slips of gold spread out across the canvas surface. It could be a star bursting apart, or ripples from the Big Bang, in the pitch-black universe. Or you might step back and see the colored shapes as a whole emerging as a gargantuan dragon or whale turning from the right and heading with its gaping mouth straight toward you. For Claudio, the title “Alchemist” refers to transmutation. She says, “It is something I do across my art. Being able to take trauma and pain, and even joy, and be able to make it into something else more elegant and beautiful.” The black space against the swirling colors defines the possible imagery. Claudio says, “It’s the idea that blackness can’t take up space.” Here the black takes the space and does something positive with it, which is what she felt when she created the piece.

Claudio makes her art, and then lets it tell her the title. In the vertical “No Room Without,” the black appears to part the undulating colors that reveal what might be a blue sky behind it, conveying to Claudio the idea that we cannot have spaces without black. “There is simplicity in the middle of chaos,” she reflects.

Looking at Claudio’s verticals, including “Close to Home,” she also explains that the paintings can change orientations, hanging vertically or horizontally, upside down or right-side up, altering possibly the suggestive imagery: “It’s the idea that we can see the same thing and have multiple perspectives of it.”

A black thunderbolt slices the hot-blazed colors apart in the vertical piece “Split.” She relates, “I see it as a passageway or fire on the left, and the burning out on the right side. It’s adventure-based. The vibrance of personality … still split and very colorful and full of life.”

The vibrations are turned up in “Magic,” with its smaller and tighter undulations. The glitter over the black is reminiscent of a star-filled night sky. “Magic, in general, is still stemming from spirituality. It is what I can create with the gifts given to me, which is magic,” says Claudio.

The final painting of the exhibit, “More Love,” is something Claudio has recently been exploring. It is visually very different. The word love in all shapes, sizes, and colors is written, sprayed, drawn, and painted, covering every inch of the long canvas, similar to a graffitied mural on a wall where a multitude of people have made their mark. There are about 17 to 20 layers of the word love. A thick, textural layer of dripping, melted, vibrant-colored crayons rain down from the top. Claudio created the effect by laying out a row of crayons along the top of the frame and using a torch gun so they melted and rained down the canvas, partially covering the love-filled surface beneath: “Ever since I was a kid, it was love, love, love. The world needs more love. I think we need to push the agenda of love more.”

Speaking of this new medium, Claudio says, “It’s like what’s to come, and there’s always room for love. I’m going to push love everywhere I go.”

“ArtByPhree: Negative Space” is on view through April 7. For more information about the artist, see Instagram at @phree_dom and @artbyphree.