In conversation with… Claire Partington

So, what’s your story? (a little bit about yourself and your background)

I’m an artist based in North West London. I studied Sculpture at St Martins in the 90s and got a bit deluded and lost the joy and spontaneity of just making stuff. I had various random jobs before I got a job I enjoyed at The British Library Sound Archive. Then I had a number of museum/exhibition jobs and did my post grad in Museum Studies whilst working at the V&A. But I went back to working with sound, this time at Mute Records and I started going to ceramics workshop evening classes across the canal at Kensington & Chelsea College. Fortunately, I contacted my gallery at this stage and he was selling works I made whilst at evening class. This enabled me to slowly grow my practice, set up a studio and make my art my full time career.


How did you develop a love for making art?

I’ve always made things. I grew up in a busy house full of stuff that I could use to make various objects. I really enjoyed plasticine, and would make quite elaborate scenes that would gather dust, so working with clay is very similar. My mum was always making stuff for the house, upholstery and refurbishing furniture, so I used her off-casts too, and she’s always been very encouraging.


What techniques do you use?

Most of my ceramic sculpture is made in earthenware, but I do make stoneware and porcelain now and then. The pieces are all built from the base up as hollow vessels using coils of clay (like sausages). The coils are smoothed together and I shape the figure as I build upwards. The pieces are refined and sculpted and then I add sprigged decoration, which is clay pushed into plaster moulds that I make from things like jewellery or toys – like the raised decoration you get on Wedgwood vases. The pieces are fired, glazed and then I use digital enamel transfers or paint onto the surface with enamels and metal lustres. In total, the process can take up to four months, but I have a number of figures in production at the same time.


Which work are you most proud of, and why?

Of the current work, I’m most proud of ‘Lilith’. She’s not so highly decorated as most of my work as she doesn’t have any clothes, but she’s got great hair! She’s based on Lucas Cranach the Elder’s many paintings of Lucretia committing suicide with her dagger to her chest. My Lilith is the first woman (before Eve) who was cast out of Eden for not being subservient enough. My figure is holding her bronze dagger towards the viewer and isn’t ashamed of her nakedness or fleshy thighs. She’s based on Cranach’s model who has a very particular shape. I’m very interested in the male gaze and the notions of beauty that shift with history and culture.

The figure also has a Staffordshire bull terrier at her side. I thought about making this a dragon in reference to the medieval origins of this piece, but I’ve given her a contemporary fierce protector dog and she wears her hair in a contemporary plaited style in reference to the elaborate Medieval plated styles. I’ve also made enamel pilgrim badges of this figure to give to visitors on the opening night in reference to the medieval pilgrimage sites and the souvenir badges that were available at the time. My souvenir badges are more reminiscent of those available at cathedral shops or railway museums – a modern pilgrimage.


What’s the story behind one or more of the works in this gallery?

My work generally deals with narrative, symbolism, gender and status. I’m interested in symbols and how people use them to identify with certain social groups. I’m also interested in imposed societal restrictions and social types, whether it’s gender stereotypes or repressive social constructs – including historical costume. My work also deals with the long European tradition of appropriation and reinterpretation of design styles, fashions and cultures and that’s very evident in the Lilith figure with the gold Fulani earrings and her plaited hair.


Remember, our 3×3 instagallery is refreshed every month. Catch our latest one hereOr see more of Claire’s work here.