Claire Partington is a London-based sculptor who creates ceramic figures that simultaneously reference historical characters, myths, and folklore. Her pieces blend seemingly disparate time periods to comment on topical yet timeless issues of appropriation, cultural status, and gender.
Partington’s working days normally begin on the walk from her NW London home to her nearby studio, where the passing city life sometimes becomes a guiding influence for her compositions. Without sketching out her ideas, Partington uses already existent icons of art history and printouts of other reference material as a grounding inspiration for her figures, although she works out the central theme and arrangement of a piece in her head.
The gradual process of her sculpting begins with the base, which slowly forms into a hollow clay vessel. After completing the legs of a sculpture, Partington lets the clay set and dry, allowing her the opportunity to thoughtfully consider the rest of the figure’s posture and positioning. Each additional section of a piece must sufficiently dry before the next is added, making the process an unhurried study in figural composition. Oftentimes plinths or pets are added to the pieces to help the structural integrity of the work.
“I approach my work like an illustration to a story and I’ll include imagery— both decorative transfers or modeled components— to build up the narrative.” — Claire Partington
After completing the modeling stages, Partington repeatedly fires the pieces in a kiln. The first is a bisque firing that turns the clay into ceramic, which then undergoes glazing, followed by a series of surface decorations.
“Some pieces require more firings than others, and I really only know when the process is complete when I open the kiln door and see a finished piece. It is an alchemical process, and one which can sometimes surprise and frustrate me!” — Claire Partington
Partington’s finished works retain a classical poise that evokes portraiture of the old masters, delivered with a sly re-examination of traditional values. Her mixed use of contemporary emblems— iPhones and gold chains— and gaudy Rococo garments accents the ever-changing meaning of materials as symbols of self-identification. Her figures engage in a long lineage of status-bearing, reappropriating items as empowering tools to break beyond historical social dynamics and gender motifs.
En Plein Air, Claire Partington’s exhibition of new work, will be on display at Winston Wächter Fine Art Seattle from February 2 through March 19, 2022.