Claire Boucher, who creates music and art under the name Grimes, would like to decorate every possible surface, whether human, inanimate, or cyber. “Anything that can be elaborated on and decorated is something that I’m interested in decorating,” the 23-year-old aesthete says. Boucher’s self-made cover art for her recently-released album Visions looks like a detail from someone’s tattooed sleeve, with a sobbing alien, finely-etched flames, block foreign scripts, two tied bows, ribbons, and a mirror image of the Eye of Horus squeezed around a skull. Boucher practices maximalism in her songs too, filling the silence between the glitchy notes with variations of her falsetto. Preparing for her debut art exhibit at New York City’s Audio Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery with fellow Montreal artists Dan Rocca and Alex MacKenzie — who she picked herself– Boucher shared her approach to visual art, why she is limiting her possessions to what she could carry on tour, and what it was like to pose for the head of Yves Saint Laurent.
What was the inspiration behind this exhibit?
I’m obsessed with the art of everyone involved in this show. There’s not necessarily a theme, as much as I was really struck by the beauty of everyone’s work. It’s all super detailed and Arabesque and creepy and fucked up. I met two of the artists, Dan Rocca and Alex MacKenzie, staying at their house after a show. I walked into their house and was completely blown away; the whole thing was covered in murals that were giant pieces of art and they were so gorgeous and scary and weird. I was like, “Holy fuck, this is the coolest space I have ever been in.” Everyone in the house was up at four in the morning meticulously, obsessively working on a painting, and I was like, “Wow, you are way cool. I want to be your friend.”
How does your music relate to the show?
I do everything as Grimes and anything that I do visually is from the same sentiment. I’m more obsessed with detail in art — and obviously the way one is oriented visually is the way one is oriented sonically– but when I make music it’s a pretty visual process. I’m thinking a lot about how it’s going to look and sometimes the music can be extremely evocative of color. It feels related because it all comes from the same place. I want to have as much output as I can artistically and I don’t really care what form it takes.
How often do you work on your own visual art?
Not often, because I’ve been on the road. It’s extremely labor-intensive. I need to be somewhere where I can access huge pieces of paper and paint and be able to make a mess, and I’m currently homeless. The last time I worked on my art was in September and before that was the [prior] September, so a lot of my stuff in the show is really old.
You’re homeless: Did you get rid of your place before you went on tour?
Yeah, if I’m on tour for months at a time then there’s no point in paying rent.
Do you travel with all of your belongings?
Pretty much. I gave away all of my stuff. There are certain things I regret giving away but it’s in the past.
What were some of the things that you felt you had to keep when you went on tour?
My bear that I’ve had since I was born, certain clothes, some instruments, and my computer. But it was extremely liberating to get rid of most of my stuff.
Do you have all of the art that you’ve made stored somewhere?
My manager took it because he didn’t want me to throw it out, which is nice because now we can do this art show.
Of music, video, and fine art, what medium do you find to be the most challenging?
“Where I am with visual art right now is kind of where I was with music a year ago. I’m still kind of embarrassed to show it to people .”
Possibly video because it’s so dependent on the physical environment, being charismatic and present, or other people. When you’re directing a video, it’s totally dependent on you. If someone isn’t giving a good performance, you have to think of a way to make them give a good performance, whereas with other types of art I can just rely on myself. If I’m not doing a good job, I can make myself do a good job. With video, I can’t control the weather or the light or other people; everything is at the whim of the environment. It’s more physically intense — shooting outside in Montreal when it’s below freezing and you’re pretending not to be catatonic, dying.
I love the shoot you did with YSL’s Hedi Slimane for the cover of DAZED. How did you end up working with him and being styled in Givenchy and Alexander McQueen?
That was amazing. That was such a good experience. It was so different from any shoot I’ve ever done. I didn’t wear makeup for most of the shoot, and he was really cool and super intense. He talked to me beforehand, and he was staring into my eyes and I was staring into his eyes. He’s the best photographer I’ve ever worked with. Most of the shoots I’ve done have been like, “Let’s make it look pretty. Let’s make it look fun.” And it’s always kind of weird. I’m uncomfortable because I’m wearing something too sexy and people are staring. But this shoot wasn’t about looking hot. It was about intensity and about making something that’s visually gorgeous but not about sex. The stylists were really good. It was all art. The Givenchy was art. It was gorgeous. It looked tribal. I was wearing so many pounds of jewelry that I could barely stand up.
In a lot of shots I had hawks. So I was trying to hold up these huge birds of prey and interact with this crazy bird and not have it screw up the Alexander McQueen dress. Everyone was so on edge because so many variables could go wrong at any point.
Do you look to fashion as an art form as well?
Yeah, fashion is one of the most basic means of self-expression. It’s your physical being. Anything is a statement — not being fashionable is a statement — about the way you interact with the world and your priorities. There’s nothing more charismatic than human beings and that’s why I like vocals and literature and fashion. It’s literally styling a human being — a way to build a public identity and sense of iconography.
I can’t disassociate art from an artist. I always like to know what’s behind it. That’s not everyone’s preference but I care about that a lot. Fashion to me is a good way to direct my image.
Is there anyone you’re particularly trying to reach with your art, or do you create it mostly for yourself?
I create art very much for myself. I use it for therapy. It’s more about relieving stress for myself and getting shit out of me. I’m not necessarily making a political statement.
Where I am with visual art right now is kind of where I was with music a year ago. I’m still kind of embarrassed to show it to people. I don’t know if I’ve reached where I want to be with visual art– and discomfort is kind of a good thing — but it’s best not to think about other people and just do it.
What’s your favorite piece of all the art you’ve created?
The cover for Visions is probably the best piece of art I’ve made. I think it’s technically proficient, super intense, laid out well, and it has a lot of meaning. It seems so agonized. It’s hard to make emotionally impactful visual art and I think I achieved that with that piece.
Where were you when you made it and how long did it take you to make?
It took about 14 hours. I was hanging out in my upstairs neighbor’s house and we were watching really fucked up movies like Silence of the Lambs, Enter the Void, and The Shining. So, I was totally distressed. I was too scared to go downstairs and we pulled an all-nighter. Within 10 seconds of sketching the skull, I was thinking it was a really good skull. It’s the best skull I’ve drawn to date. The cover of my albums always has to have a skull because it’s one of my primary symbols. It represents based, disgusting dead humanity in the most basic form and it’s something that everyone recognizes — this idea of death no one understands but everyone is obsessed with.
Grimes’ Visions is out now. Grimes: Visual works by Claire Boucher + Friends opens tonight, March 23rd at 6pm at Audio Visual Arts gallery in New York City. On March 24th Refinery 29 will sponsor a silent auction at the gallery benefitting Sisters in Spirit.