The tendency to decadence is an enduring human trait. We might define our moral frameworks against it, but while times may change, our basic behaviour doesn’t – it remains the state towards which we naturally lapse. This perennial truth is the theme of “Pipe Dreams”, an exhibition featuring James Mortimer and Claire Partington who both probe the relationship between libertinism and the antique.
James Mortimer is a young British artist who paints with a louche, fin-de-siecle flair. Fey drunken sailor boys, naked pipe smokers in fields, and innocently vicious animals all act as his muses. He depicts them as if through the haze of an opium den, fruit of a wanton, carefree wanderlust that is threaded through with canonical Art references and a flanneur’s sense of the absurd. In turns surreal and bawdy, James’ work has lithe sexual undercurrents that pulsate beneath the surface. For an artist who is only 24, James has an uncommon distinctiveness and coherency, and is most certainly a young artist to pay attention to.
Claire Partington is a British sculptor gathering an avid following for her exquisite earthenware figures. Made in much the same way as old English delftware, Claire’s figures create contemporary interpretations of old myths and archetypes, adapted to the 21st century with subcultural references, cynicism and humour. For Pipe Dreams, Claire presents a new King and Queen pair: the Queen a traditional mantua figure, as if drawn straight from Las Meninas but set up for a night out clubbing; and the King a young hoodie dressed in burberry and a crown, protected by his beautiful mastiff. Immensely detailed and intricate, Claire Partington’s work bring hedonisms past and present together with unusual imagination and skill.