Artist Spotlight: Clay Hardwick

Clay Hardwick is a climber, painter, and videographer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Inspired by the natural environment around him, Hardwick often works outside, capturing the nuances of light and color as they play over the landscapes that surround his hometown. His deep appreciation for Chattanooga’s access to the outdoors, as well as a recognition that spending time outside is often crucial to people’s mental and physical health, connects him to the Access Fund mission.

Make a gift of $50 or more to Access Fund today to get your free t-shirt and sticker featuring Looking Glass in North Carolina, painted in Clay’s signature style, and keep reading to learn more about Clay and what inspires him.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m from Jackson, Mississippi and lived there most of my life. After college, I moved around a bit in my 20s—Portland, Memphis, back to Jackson, the Gulf Coast—and then settled in Chattanooga for the last five years. I’ve really fallen in love with the city and the landscapes here.

I’ve been a freelance videographer for over a decade now, and split my time about half and half between video production and painting.

Foster Falls, Tennessee. Ancestral lands of ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi, S’atsoyaha and Shawandasse Tula. © Ty in the Sky.

When and where did climbing come into your life? For you personally, what does it mean to be a climber?
Exploring Chattanooga when I first moved here with just a crash pad on my back and a buddy or two was my intro. I didn’t get into climbing until I moved to Chattanooga. Mississippi is pretty flat, and there were no gyms where I grew up, so it wasn’t really on my radar. That progressed pretty quickly into getting a rope and learning to sport climb. What I value the most about climbing is that it keeps me outside and motivates me to stay active.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Since I was a kid, I've been interested in art and the process of making imagery, whether digital or tangible. It’s a way for me to process the world around me. I started with digital photography when I was a teen, when digital cameras first came on the market. It was really cool to explore a new medium as it was being created, taking pictures and learning how to manipulate them on my computer. I eventually moved into video and learned how to edit videos I took on the same digital camera. That was my start in video production, and led to making a lot of music videos and experimental art projects throughout my 20s.

How do art and climbing connect for you?
My art is based on the natural environment that surrounds me. When I moved to Chattanooga, I was surrounded by the mountains and river gorges, and my work shifted to more of a landscape style. Being out in the mountains and seeing the views here are what inspire my work. Climbing is a way that I’m able to physically put myself on the land and experience it in a very tangible way that makes it into my paintings.

The 2023 Member Tee. Eldorado Canyon, Colorado. Ancestral lands of Tséstho’e, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, hinono’eino’ biito’owu’, and Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱. © Luke Hall.

How often do you work outside?
I wish more, I love being outdoors. If I don’t spend enough time outside, cabin fever and seasonal depression start to set in. So whenever the weather allows, I like to paint outside. I’ll go out and start a painting in the morning, taking in the experience of being in a place, getting the temperatures of the light, watching the sun move through the clouds, and then I’ll move to my studio to finish the painting.

Reliance, TN, on the Hiwassee River. Ancestral lands of ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi, S’atsoyaha, and Miccosukee. © Catie Boyle.

What makes access to outdoor recreation and climbing areas important to you?
Spending time outdoors helps keep me sane. It’s very grounding for me. Anyone else who feels that way should have access to the outdoors too. We are living in a fast-paced world where our opportunities to quiet down and experience the natural world are less and less. To me, Access Fund’s mission to maintain access to those opportunities could not be more important for society.

Who or what do you look to for inspiration?
My inspiration comes from the natural environment. Being outside, when I’m hiking or climbing, seeing the moss growing in a cool way or the root system of a tree or patterns in tree bark, those little things I see in nature inspire me way more than anything else. When I see that stuff that’s so unique and intricate and think about the fact that it was designed by nature, it just blows my mind.

Foster Falls, Tennessee. © Ty in the Sky.

Follow Clay on Instagram and visit his website to see more of his work.

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