Artists: Tiffany Clark

Last month I sat down with Laurana Wong, an artists whose work I've been familiar with for a long time, she described to me the Dayton Circus Sideshow: an event of her own design that set out to showcase local talent and local spaces. Throughout our conversation she made a point of mentioning Tiffany Clark, and said that I should meet with her. 

I wasn't sure what to expect, I hadn't seen a lot of Tiffany's work except online, but what I found was an amazing woman with an amazing  story that highlighted Dayton's most beautiful and terrible things. She expressed to me her desire to tell people this story, even though she had been afraid in the past, because of a chance to give hope to others through her words, and through her work. 

I'm positive I don't do it justice in this transcription, but Tiffany's work speaks for itself better than words ever could: so I encourage you to take the time to see some of what she's created and to hear her story. 


-Tiffany Clark-


There’s something just really beautiful about taking something broken down and taking people’s art, this organic thing they’ve created, and putting it inside of that broken space

I am a 2d artist mostly. All artists, I think real artists, dabble in everything: but my niche is drawing.

I wish I was a painter, but I'm way better at drawing [laughing]. I've always been an artist: my mom was an artist and I really wanted to be like her. So in first grade I lied and I copied a cartoon of the jungle book. She tried to catch me and make me copy something else, so I did my best job of copying something else and I've had to convince everyone ever since! [Laughing] it started out as I lie and then I just had to get good!

I studied and was obsessed with art all through high school and in college too. I went to Antioch for art education.  My mother started working there so I could go and between her and scholarships I was able to go for free for three years, but I was unprepared to pay for it the fourth year and I never got to graduate. So all of my experience as far as career wise hasn't been through teaching: there are only certain places in Dayton that hire artists to teach, but those places have really helped me out. 

After I graduated I did some regular jobs and just tried to make art for myself and I met people that worked at Stivers and had front street studios and stuff and then they encouraged me to try out for sideshow [you can read a little more about sideshow, which was started by last month's artist, here]. That was my first one, sideshow 2. I went to the first one that Laurana put on and they convinced me to work the second one, so I worked my ass off gutting the Cannery building there on the corner. It was just destroyed, I was one of the people you know: nails through the finger, hard working. 

After that, Heather Lee Reid asked if would run it the next year. The way it went at that time was that the person who ran it got to pick the person to run it the next year. It was one person. and that was it. It was overwhelming, I had never done anything like that before.
I decided to use the Merc. The Merc is a broken down abandoned building, 40 foot high ceilings. There's a hole in the roof, there's no electricity, there's no door, so for the weeks before the show I had to clean up the building and then that one week before I, or someone else, spent every night in the building to guard everyone's art, guerilla style [Laughing]. While people were sleeping I got a bucket lift and hung lights up from the ceiling so that when people came in the circus was awesome.  There's something just really beautiful about taking a broken down urban building and taking people's art, this organic thing they've created, and putting it inside of that broken space. It just made light in such a dark place. I even took trees from some of the forests around here and made it look like they were coming out of the hole in the floor and up through the ceiling and had lanterns and things.

[These shows] are incredible. The circus and sideshow provide something I think is necessary in cities like Dayton. You don't have to pay anything, first of all, so poor people can be a part of the show. Where as a lot of the shows you have to pay, you know, $20 just to try to get in. Even now the purpose is to get artists that are successful and then get kids or people who have never shown before and put them together! they learn a lot from each other. I find that being from both sides of the spectrum: seeing new people's work, or their fear, or their questions; keeps me on my toes. 

After I did that third sideshow in 2007 or so: that really helped me. I got a job at Stivers, I taught when they needed help and my title was "Gallery Co-Director" or something like that. I was the gopher [Laughing] I did whatever needed to be done. It's a tough job there. I got the job at stivers not just because my work was good, but because people there really vouched for me. Justen Teilhet, he told the magnet principal at stivers I was the best sketch artist he had ever seen and that's really what got me the job. That, and someone I liked was working there and he put in a good word for me.  We ended up moving in together. His name was Jason Dryden, from the band Sleepybird.

Sleepybird was an electric folk band that was pretty big here for a long time. They  had anywhere from four to eight members at a time and they were the first people to do those laser light shows at the Boonshoft. I fell in love with the upright bass player with the curly moustache who also was a pottery thrower at Stivers. It took a little while, but you know when you start dating and you start to fall in love with someone their little bad things come out.

 One of his bad things was that he had a heroine addiction.  

Eventually it comes to the point that when you love someone and they ask you things or share things with you, because it's from them it doesn't seem bad, so I started using with him. While we were teaching we were both using and we were living together for three years while we were using. So we were both functioning addicts. We both worked at K12 and I ended up leaving Stivers because I could teach at K12 and because, of course, the  principal could tell something was going on. There comes a point, when you're a functioning addict, that you are no longer functioning: you're just pretending you are. To yourself more than anything. 

In 2010 in may on the 13th I was at work and He didn't answer his phone. He had gotten in a fight with someone. We had been clean for a week, but he went and got stuff and he OD'd at the house. 

Jason felt that the Rhinoceros was his spirit animal of sorts. When he died, Tiffany painted this image, using Jason's ashes to add texture to the image.  Tiffany's works are characterized by this human connection and the reminder of difficult times. 

It was a huge thing. A lot of people in Dayton knew him. K12 used him on their billboards, we had people driving past our house: we were on the news. It was not just like someone that I loved died, but someone that the community loved. A real sense of everything in me died. My art. everything. He had a house that went to his father, I got kicked out. My friendships deteriorated. The thing with heroine is that it becomes your "hug". They call it "the mother's womb" or "your warm blanket". When he died, all I fucking had was heroine. So, I even though I was still K12, I was less of a functioning addict and just an addict. I got fired, and should have been, though I loved teaching.  I ended up getting pregnant and cleaned up. It took 2 years after J died for me to get clean. 

In 2012 I had just had Lily and I was clean, and all of my friends were mad at me, and I was overweight: so I just woke up one day and changed. I started making art because I saw sideshow was coming up so I was like "fuck it! they'll never hate me, they'll always love me because they're loving people" so I started making work for them. I didn't even know what kind of work to make. I had always made sort of realistic-ish paintings and impressionist things. But Justin Teilhet and some of my other respected artist friends, people who had taught at Stivers, really loved my sketch stuff: so that was like my primitive therapy. 

Instead of making stuff that I saw I decided to make stuff from my soul. At the same time I started to work out and change my diet. I learned how to cook! Within six months I had a brand new style of work, really more from the soul, that I showed at sideshow. I sold almost every piece that I hung up, including one to someone visiting from Australia. I also ended up losing like 80 pounds. 

So then was Toxic Brew. I did that sideshow and was losing weight and was becoming more productive and becoming a better person so to say. A friend of mine from high school, Patrick Heintson and his brother and a friend were starting up Toxic Brew in the Oregon District and he was telling me about how they had someone to have art in there and she had bailed on them, but that I could show work. He said he trusted me and I could show anything I wanted. For a year I was the only one showing in there: I kept that place full, and I've sold all but maybe three pieces that I've made in the past decade there. They've been so good to me. The guy that's the brewmaster there is really a rocket scientist. He actually has a piece on some ship going to jupiter to collect data. But anyways; they built it all themselves. That building was all broken down, they did everything themselves: even the barrels.  

I did lanterns for them, and they bought those from me. I thought they were temporary but they've become a permanent display. I've also worked at Clash: Amy Kollar has been great to me and has been a huge cheerleader. I feel like most artists have a lack of confidence, but considering my weird path I have like no confidence.  She has encouraged me to do things I've never done: I got into rosewood solo show for this July. Mary Katherine, Kate Urban. Everyone. 

 I'm going to be doing some kind of mural soon about drug overdose and awareness with the downtown graffiti task force. I'm excited to help with that. It should be a busy summer [Laughs].  I've been uber broken, but I've tried to flip the switch and build my way back up. 


Tiffany Clark is a multimedia artist living in the Dayton area,  Her primary work is sketches and mixed media 2d images. She has been a part of the Dayton Circus Sideshow as both a participant and an organizer. Likewise she has worked as part of Stivers High School and K12.  Clark's work can be seen on display in various places around Dayton including Toxic Brewpub and The Rosewood Arts center. Currently she has plans for several projects this summer and continues to create work that tells a beautiful story about difficult things.