Painting What the Paparazzi Captures

The walls of Claire Huber’s (MFA ’18) studio are studded with paintings of crying celebrities, plastic bags, and poodles.

Huber grew up with poodles and explores the status symbol that the dogs often represent, while the celebrities and bags are an exploration of consumerist culture.

Her work reflects the world around her as it always has.

“I was the kind of kid who as early as first or second grade said, ‘When I grow up I want to be an artist’ and I was always obsessively drawing and copying things I’d see,” said the second-year MFA student. “I’d take different VHS covers of Disney movies and I’d try to draw Belle or whoever was on the cover.”


  • Claire Huber in the studio.
    Claire Huber in the studio.

A lifelong love of art drew her to PAFA after graduating with a BA in Mathematics and a minor in Studio Art: Drawing from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Her focus on business and math during her undergraduate experience meant Huber was usually only able to take one art class each semester. A mentor, Fred Stonehouse, saw she was hungry for more.

“He had recommended PAFA to me and what really drew me to the program was that at PAFA they can really push you both conceptually and technically. Those were both two important areas I knew I needed that I wanted improvement in,” she said. “It seemed like a lot of schools fell into one bucket or the other and then once I came to visit I really fell in love with the school.”

With the help of two grants from the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation, Huber felt secure in taking the next step in her art career.

“It’s definitely super significant because I still have a lot of loans from my undergrad that I’m working on paying off,” she said. “I’ve still got a ways to go but it made me feel a lot more comfortable going into this and taking a risk. It is a big financial risk and life decision, and it was nice to have some sort of reassurance too. It was definitely validating.”

An oil-painting class her first semester at PAFA caused a shift in the art she was making, from hyper-realistic drawings to paintings. Huber said her practice usually changes every six to nine months, but they are all connected.

Her current focus on celebrity culture drew many visitors to her studio for Open Studio Night.

Open Studio Night is the one time each year when PAFA's graduate and undergraduate students open their studios to the public to show and discuss their works in progress. The evening gives visitors a rare up-close and personal look into the creative process of a new generation of emerging artists, see the inner workings of their studios, and get a sense of how they develop their ideas.

“I sold two paintings which is awesome and I’ve had a bunch of people reaching out so it was a really, really great opportunity,” Huber said. “It’s always a funny experience because some people come in and they immediately recognize something and they get really excited about it and that’s really rewarding to see. Or even little girls come in and say, ‘OMG, Kim Kardashian!’ I love it when that happens.”

Huber’s crying Kim Kardashian or singer Selena Gomez hiding from the paparazzi shows the playful side of art and its flexibility.

“Before I came to school here I had a preconceived notion of what “serious art” looked like,” she said. “But since coming here I’ve learned art can be Kim Kardashian, art can be a poodle, art can be a plastic bag, art can be anything.”

Although celebrities are featured prominently in her current body of work, Huber said the depictions aren’t a critique of the people themselves. She’s commentating on the engagement the public has with stars and how they are treated.

“I was really drawn to paparazzi photos because of the weirdness of them. There’s something very jarring about the photographs themselves because they wash out the skin in a certain way and it’s this very strange moment of this person not consenting to the photograph that’s happening,” she said. “They’re trying to shield themselves but you still completely see them any way and that image appears everywhere over and over again.”

Huber’s interpretation of the paparazzi paintings could be shown at the Annual Student Exhibition.

The Annual Student Exhibition (ASE) has been a tradition at PAFA for more than 100 years and is the culminating event in a student's journey at PAFA. Each spring, 3rd and 4th year BFA and MFA students have the opportunity to curate, install and sell their own works in the PAFA museum galleries.

PAFA students create more than 1,000 paintings, sculpture, works on paper and installations. It is one of the most celebrated student group shows in the country. More than 100,000 visitors will attend the ASE, and sales of student's works are expected to be nearly $300,000. Students retain the majority of the purchase price of works sold.

For her celebrity series, Huber created nine works and displayed them like an Instagram feed. She isn’t sure how her ASE wall will be styled, but has been making work all semester long.

“It’s definitely nerve-wracking. In some ways it’s good because you have something to work toward but at the same time it’s hard not to put a certain kind of pressure on the work you’re making,” she said.

After the ASE, Huber is focusing on finding a position that will allow her to continue her art practice and share art with others.

“I’d really like to teach drawing somewhere, you have to be flexible and open and ready for whatever may come your way,” she said. “My number one priority is finding something that allows me to maintain my studio practice because I just love making art so much.”

Learn more about PAFA's MFA program