We are pleased to present ‘A Creature Made of Clay’, our first solo exhibition for the Irish artist Claire Curneen.
Claire’s ceramic sculptures explore the uncertain space between the earthly and the ethereal. Working in porcelain, terracotta, and stoneware, her figures are made from the raw earth, formed by hand and brought into a state of being where they hover on the brink of consciousness. A head lies with its lips touching a golden pool; a pair of terracotta figures stand side by side fresh-formed, their lips and fingers tipped in the same gold as if having had their first taste of a greater existence. This sense of magic and mythological animism runs like a golden thread through Claire’s sculptures.
There are also many references to both art history and the history of ceramics. A tall pot wreathed in blue and white vines references an object depicted on a Chinese scroll from the Percival David Collection at the British Museum, but with the addition of a face at its base so that it becomes both human and vessel. A kneeling figure is similarly emblazoned with blue and white butterflies, an echo of Chinoiserie together with a motif symbolic of transformation. A pair of chargers with blue and white linework reference Verrochio’s Tobias and the Angel in the National Gallery, a look of innocence and hands intertwined echoing themes of hope and trust in the divine, while a Mary Magdalen in porcelain stares into the unknown through golden eyes. Claire’s references are broad, yet all are channelled towards the theme of the earthly figure as a spiritual being.
Accompanying Claire’s figures, birds appear like spirit animals mediating between earth and the heavens. They perch on raw branches as if observing the daily theatre of mortality, or loom over smaller beings like their shadow from another realm. The centrepiece of this exhibition is a monumental work in porcelain where the link between the bird and the winged figure is explored as a composition of fallen angels. Reminiscent of both Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and the faceted landscapes of Giotto, Claire’s giant porcelain work depicts a cryptic tree of life where humans, angels and birds all gather. Connecting the depths of the earth to the ether above, the sculpture describes the chaotic interplay between Heaven and Hell, the uncertain space where Claire’s figures exist: formed from the clay, but with higher aspirations.
Claire Curneen is one of the most accomplished ceramicists working in the UK today. Originally from Tralee in the Republic of Ireland, she graduated from Crawford College of Art & Design, Cork in 1990 with a Diploma in Art and Design (Ceramics). She holds a postgraduate diploma in Applied Arts from the University of Ulster, Belfast and an MA Ceramics from the Cardiff Institute of Higher Eduction. Currently based in Cardiff, her work appears in numerous important public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of Ireland; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh; Crafts Council, London; National Museum & Gallery of Wales, Cardiff; Clay Studio, Philadelphia; Taipei Ceramics Museum, Taiwan; Benaki Museum, Athens; and the Arizona State University Art Museum, USA, amongst many others.