We had the good fortune of connecting with antonina clarke and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi antonina, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk tolerance is a huge part of what I do and how I’ve gotten to the place I’m in now – A full time artist and part time fabricator, with 12 years of building trades experience. I paint, dye, sew, weld, produce animated videos, and build. All that makes me deeply happy, to fluctuate and draw on lessons learned from each medium. In a world of specialization, this choice to generalize is one of many risks I was told would hold me back, but I’m so happy I chose.
As a self employed artist, my sense of community and financial security aren’t ever guaranteed. But working and living without certainty allows for rich experiences and the chance to pursue my greater passions. As a tradesperson, I truthfully face doubt and fear every time I turn on a power tool. It takes a certain kind of trust and risk tolerance to hold a 14” cement saw steady against your 120# body, or run an angle grinder under a bus- you can always sto- it’s actually quite fine to say I can’t do this, no one wants to see you injured- and you can always go forward if you feel safe. Everytime I overcome my doubts I feel more confident of my abilities. Most notable to me though, is rolling the dice on believing in myself as a builder, when there aren’t a lot of physically small women in the spaces I find myself working in. Misogyny has inevitably been a challenge on my path; from trying to get an apprenticeship (took 10 years for a yes) to various people doubting my ability to read a tape measure. Truthfully those doubts and perpetually stepping through altered my concept of what is possible vs what is visible for the better.
I’ve risked my reputation in my various trades, proving that I can do the necessary math, can handle operating tools with accuracy, and have risked my safety working with my body building physical things.
There are many things that could go wrong, and truthfully sometimes they do. It’s hard to describe how good things can go too- my gratitude for mentors, fellow tradeswomen, artists, wild projects, and rich experiences that came along with those risks is incalculable. I am immensely thankful for the art and fabrication community I’m a part of and have called upon throughout the country and even abroad (I worked as a welder outside Bogota, Colombia for a little in 2019, and painted murals for room and board in Sri Lanka in 2020 pre-lockdown).
I believe “great love comes with great risk.” That’s my mantra whenever I’ve hesitated to tell a stranger I’m interested in them, or friends that I love them, and in pursuing all the weird paths that led me here. I feel wholeheartedly that the risks I’ve taken with my physical well-being and financial security are returned tenfold in ways I couldn’t dream. I truly believe that all those leaps of faith were worth it, even if I have some stitches, didn’t land every jump, and the path hasn’t looked exactly how I pictured it.
To avoid failure, or to avoid rejection isn’t the choice I want to make. Failing quickly makes more sense. I’ve often risked my comfort in the name of things I cannot yet see. Like most of us, I don’t always do well with uncertainty, so it’s not always cozy. But the journey looks rad as hell when I look back, even if it sometimes feels a little lonely, scary or foolish along the way.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My mom was an art teacher so I’ve had art supplies as long as I can remember. The world will tell you what’s good and bad art early on, and I can’t say my abilities ranked well, even if decades later I got scholarships for them . I never made art for the external achievement so I kept right on. My mediums and skills diversified while my style proved undeniably mine. Eventually I’ve found people that like maximal, colorful, vibrant folk art style work. For example; I love my painted truck and the convos it’s produced, more than any of the gallery or museum shows I’ve had.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would take them to the grocery store in little Tokyo, eat sashimi and miso soup plus some to go fancy sodas. We’d walk around the arts district or go thrifting at Saint Paul’s. Find a food truck in Lincoln heights and maybe walk around Elysian park.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
This shoutout is dedicated to Yhanni Durdin-James for trusting me with their walls, giving me this opportunity, and helping laugh and understand the highs and lows of the process until we got the beautiful result we did. I’d also like to spotlight Chico Barber for his infinite well of knowledge, support of my craft journey and generous donation of paint and tools.