Claire Partington is an artist who revels in her historical influences. Golden age Spanish portraiture, 18th century salt glaze bears, Renaissance madonnas and medieval pilgrim badges: Claire dips in and out of each like a magpie, mixing them together with 21st century references to create exquisite ceramic sculptures. With striking presence, Claire’s works embody an enthusiasm for aesthetic objects and movements that sweeps across the centuries.
Folklore and fairytales are also an important influence in her work, both for their vivid imagery and also for how their narratives mutate over the years and in different contexts. Some works make direct references to specific tales re-imagined for the 21st century; other sculptures are zoomorphic, much like many fairytale characters: 18th century courtiers change from Goldilocks into a bear or Red Riding Hood into a wolf through the use of interchangeable heads reminiscent of eathenware vessel stoppers. Alongside these are figures that seem to have emerged from an unknown history, characters surrounded by animal friends that could have been drawn from a medieval master’s symbolic lexicon. A dandy with his hart, a matron with her squirrel monkey: these are sculptures in the visual tradition of Holbein or Campin but with a contemporary sense of humour and the surreal.
Underpinning all Claire’s work is a social commentary, particularly about women, and particularly about power. All Claire’s women have attitude: these are women who use their aesthetic presence to project strength more so than to attract, in contrast to her dandified male figures counterparts who seem beholden to their whimsies. In part, this is a conscious redressing of the gender motifs that have carried on unquestioned for centuries in folklore and aesthetics. But it is also a means of re-evaluating the beautiful object: that beauty is often far more complex and far more mischievous than it may seem.
Claire Partington graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1995 with a 1st in Fine Art Sculpture and gained a Post Graduate qualification in Museum Studies in 2000. Her work features in notable international collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London; the Museum of London; the Seattle Art Museum; and the Reyden Weiss Collection in Germany. She was the recipient of the Virginia A Groot award in 2018, and the same year exhibited an important large-scale commission ‘Taking Tea’ at Seattle Art Museum. Most recently, her work was exhibited in ‘Cranach: Artist and Innovator’ at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, organised in association with the National Gallery in London.