‘I Love Giving Gifts’: Artist Claudia Comte on Her Favorite Holiday Traditions, and How She’ll Be Celebrating This Year

In our new series, Entertaining With Art Icons, visual artists share their favorite traditions, tips, and tricks for hosting holiday parties.

Claudia Comte. Courtesy of the artist, © Gunnar Meier.
Claudia Comte. Courtesy of the artist and photo by Gunnar Meier.

Swiss artist Claudia Comte is known for her installations and sculptures constructed from wood and other natural materials that are juxtaposed against abstract backgrounds. Each explores the life cycle of its materials, and life on earth more broadly, in works that seek to “bring people together” and engage with art that encourages viewers to “embrace all the senses,” as Comte puts it.

Much of this work is inspired by Comte’s life and home in the Swiss countryside, where she will be spending the holidays this year, visiting with friends and family and taking time to catch up with loved ones.

Just in time for the holidays, we caught up with Comte to learn about how she likes to entertain and celebrate during the holiday season, and what she’s looking forward to next year.

How do you generally like to spend this time of year (late November through New Year’s)? Do you typically take a holiday?

My studio and home is located in the Swiss countryside at a higher altitude which means we get quite a lot of snow. I enjoy spending time in the studio around Christmas because I love the atmosphere, the snow-laden landscape, even the cold short winter days. Our home is relatively isolated, its also fully sustainable with its own water source and biotope pond set within a big garden. It’s wonderful to experience each change in season. 

I typically take holidays during Christmas, as it seems the entire art world more or less shuts down. So I take this opportunity to have some quiet time with family and friends, and some peaceful time in the studio is also a nice change. 

Are there any traditions you celebrate or partake in altogether?

I like to visit with as many people as possible (with the current restrictions permitting of course) and I love giving gifts. I really enjoy finding the right gift for someone. Each year, I give my family a special advent calendar, with little individual gifts for my son Kai, my parents, brothers, and nieces and nephews each day in December. It’s a lot of fun. 

Claudia Comte's Pink Marble Cactus in front of her studio in Bennwil, Switzerland. Photo courtesy Claudia Comte.

Claudia Comte’s Pink Marble Cactus (2021) in front of her studio during the first snow this year in Bennwil, Switzerland. Photo courtesy Claudia Comte.

What are some holiday traditions you grew up with, or things you’ve always enjoyed about this time of year?

Every year, we cut down our own tree from the forest of our village where I grew up in Grancy, Switzerland. In fact, the commune still opens it up to the community during Christmas. But now my partner and I will grow our own, so the tree will be with us year-round… and when it grows too big we will replant it in the garden and begin to grow another anew. I want to keep this tradition I had with my family, but adjust it to be more sustainable. I like that the shift puts emphasis in growing rather than dismantling. Other traditions are of course decorating the tree and eating, drinking, and laughing together are all regular past times with my family on Christmas. 

Readers at the moment are likely thinking about how they’ll spend the season which includes, hopefully, a few intimate gatherings, whether virtual or in person. Do you enjoy entertaining? If so, what are some tips you have?

Yes! I like to entertain with friends at home. With my family at Christmas, we enjoy playing Pictionary and charades a lot.  But we play all the classic card games and Scrabble, too.  

 

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A post shared by Claudia Comte (@claudiacomte)

What is your favorite recipe to cook when you have people over?

Raclette or fondue. But these days I am finding new ways to approach these typical, very Swiss dishes in a way that’s more helpful to the environment, and for animals generally. I make my family vegetarian meals over Christmas. Ideally, I want to start making more vegan dishes too. I thought there would be more resistance from my family members that enjoy eating meat, but in fact they’ve all been so open. My family take a lot of pleasure in cooking and being in the kitchen together, and I think our shared interest in food has helped to encourage a more vegetarian repertoire. I am enjoying Ottolenghi’s cooking so much at the moment and look forward to sharing some new recipes this holiday season. 

Photo by Tom McCorkle for Getty Images.

Photo by Tom McCorkle for Getty Images.

Do you have any decorating tips for holiday parties or gatherings?

Lighting an Advent candle every Sunday before Christmas is a lovely tradition, and also a special object for the home. It’s a way of being more conscious of time and this particular time in the year that offers a moment for reflection.

What about tips for keeping conversations interesting?

Drink a lot, of course! 

Claudia Comte at Castello di Rivoli Contemporary Arts Museum in Rivoli, Italy. Photo by Filippo Alfero/Getty Images for Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea.

Claudia Comte at Castello di Rivoli Contemporary Arts Museum in Rivoli, Italy. Photo by Filippo Alfero/Getty Images for Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea.

What does this time of year look like for you as an artist? What are you looking forward to?

It looks like a real break, a much-needed reprieve. But it seems with each year there are more and more worries about the future of our planet, too. At the same time, there is also excitement and anticipation for the year to come.


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