Creativity Explored artist Claus Groger
In the Studio

When Art Speaks: Claus Groger

Posted on November 25, 2013

The following essay featuring Creativity Explored artist Claus Groger was written by CE volunteer Rebecca Otto. A Bay Area writer, playwright, and occasional blogger, Otto is a former executive speechwriter and corporate communications VP.

Once Claus knows you—and trust builds—he greets you with hand pats to his heart. To return his hello, you pat your own heart. Not long ago, I saw Claus after a long hiatus. Pats came first, but morphed into this: our heads nestled on each other’s shoulders.  I pulled away wearing tears.

Our connection began slowly. Those first afternoons together, we were a bit like two skittish deer. I felt like an interloper, hungry for the same grass.  As weeks passed, I could come closer.

I would fidget some. Claus worked non-stop.  He couldn’t bear the day’s end. I watched his work be pulled and teased away over and over again when the bus came. I’d leave fed and full. Claus was insatiable. I came weekly, for several months. Claus, now 59, has come each weekday for almost 15 years.

Like father, like son. 

Claus’ father worked repairing complex machinery. He could repair almost any machine, and was still working at 90. Claus, too, works every day with metal. 

Claus hovers mere inches above boxes and lids filled with piles of small, machine-made objects. Nails and screws predominate, but jewel-colored colored beads, glass buttons, fuses of higher and lower intensity, and other eye-catchers awaiting recognition and possible placement in an assemblage.


The tip of Claus’ index finger drives an unseen current, restlessly, through a nail.

This nail—now the particular, singular object arousing his senses—is blessed by total attention. Its sharp tip will be tapped. Its head will be spun between fingers, its length perused. 

Its fate is unknown. It may rise gently like a kitten in its mother’s mouth and land with intention—or be pushed, tapped, or rolled like a cat’s toy. It will settle eventually, or not. Any swift jolt (the flick of a fingernail or jab of a toothpick) will render it anonymous again. This keen risk of abandonment is offset by what may be the thrill of inclusion in a most mysterious world of Claus’ invention.

Claus is tensile, like a human crane, lifting and lowering metal nails and screws mechanically, repeatedly, robotically touching upside-down buttons inside the strong edge of a frame, constantly creating sounds and rhythms that please him, guiding his objects into temporary balancing acts, then into final unexpected impossibilities glued together as assemblage.

While other studio artists and their teachers strike up conversations, hum, fuss, laugh, or call out for help, Claus works in a bubble of silence. Startled by sudden noise, he will halt and search for the sound’s source, then land a look on it as stern and piercing as the glare of a fierce and regal bird.

It is clear when enough is enough. The extreme displeasure of anyone touching one of his objects causes Claus to clutch it when it is returned. Claus will scold only by moving the piece far from its original spot. If in passing, someone skims Claus’ shoulder, he’ll flinch, and even dust away the point of contact with the back of one hand.

Claus loves his world close up. Occasionally, he’ll break his hover to stretch.  His retracted neck straightens like a turtle’s, or his body shakes out like a bird ruffling feathers.  

Claus does working lunches. He grabs his banana eagerly, sniffing it roundly at its tip. He brings both thumbs come together to press in, slitting its skin.  Banana flesh budges out for consumption. His sandwich earns less joy, but is eaten is measured bites. 

Between bites, he is back to his landscapes of order, disorder, texture, random color, and glistening light. They morph until someone asks, "Is it time for glue, Claus?" When Claus nods yes, the polymer adds its own smell and sense of movement—a torrid current of capture and release.

In one finished work, nail points stand tall on their heads like sentinels, fattened up by the three, stacked gray beads encasing each one. These upright nails mirror each other proudly, like tiny Michelin men on guard. If they could speak, would they say?

They are collected and in harmony, as if they have triumphed over and are guarding distraught piles of tiny green and gray plastic soldiers. A few soldiers are still alive, renegades on a hill of nails, but will they overcome the nails? Perhaps even Claus doesn’t know how that war will end. He simply poses the question for us all.

Claus also paints with watercolor in long strokes and intersecting lines, but there is much less room to edit and Claus soon returns to assemblage--his true calling—and the joys of assembling and archiving familiar objects in unfamiliar ways. 

There’s a whole other Claus, who comes alive once he’s cajoled, distracted and ushered away from his art. After a long day of work, he can quickly grow outsized: playful, clown-like, boyish, grinning, spinning. In the men’s bathroom, he’s been known to stand on the toilet seat and spread fingers to opposite corners of the ceiling.

Many have seen him seize on a real-world object that’s lost, tossed or out of place. A glint on the sidewalk is a dime, or the tossed twist top of a Coke can. He will hide it away in one hand. It will leave with him on the bus.

A nail found between floorboard and wall—no unusual discovery in a studio/gallery where a million things happen in a week—will find itself airsick, then perched ominously at the top of a doorsill. It will either stay there, or be gently removed, or pushed off the gangplank. 

Claus decides, now or tomorrow. I wait in suspense. That’s how it was and how it went. 

I could edit forever, like Claus. I could keep adding and changing words, lines, whole paragraphs, to describe how delicious those afternoons were—so very like the way Claus makes, then remakes his art. 

But first I was asked gently—now I’m forced to admit it’s time for glue.

By Rebecca Otto
November 20, 2013

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