The subjects of Claire Partington’s work come from varied sources: contemporary culture, traditional children’s rhymes and folk tales. Transformation tales and their imagery, from the traditional, up to The Power Rangers and contemporary kids cartoons all inform her work. Claire draws her aesthetic from various European applied art and design styles from the 17th Century onwards. Underpinning this long European tradition of appropriation is the reinterpretation (and misinterpretation) of ‘exotic’ styles that can be seen in National Collections across Europe. Partington embraces the idea of getting it slightly wrong and the bluffing and cobbling together of styles that has produced some fantastic historical objects and continues most notably in the tradition of Outsider Art. Partington’s work has a familiar feel to it due to the historical and literary references, even though it has its own, very definite, aesthetic. Her pieces are all meticulously hand-built using traditional ceramic techniques.
Partington studied ceramics at Kensington & Chelsea College and Sculpture at Central Saint Martins. Her wok has been shown at James Freeman Gallery and Contemporary Applied Arts. Partington won the ceramics category of the 2007 Inspired by… project at the V&A. She was also shortlisted for the Young Masters Art Prize 2012.
What is it about the Young Masters project that you are most interested in?
Since the start of Young Masters, the diversity of work selected has been really surprising. I think it shows that we all have this shared cultural baggage and art historical vocabulary, but are using it in very different ways.
Can you explain to us what your work is about?
Narrative, and the retelling and misinterpretation of stories, is at the centre of my work. Initially, I concentrated on reimagining and retelling Folk and fairy stories with particularly strong imagery and have most recently shifted to imagined back stories for iconic images of historical figures and “types” and their social constraints, both and historical and contemporary. My aesthetic inspiration comes from European Applied Art and Design styles from the 1600’s onwards and again, the tradition of appropriation and reinterpretation or misinterpretation of “exotic” styles. I like the idea of getting it slightly wrong in the eyes of the Academic and the bluffing and “cobbling together” of styles and stories.
Which artist/s are you most inspired by?
It’s hard to narrow down and it changes day to day. I’m drawn to humor in art, be it obvious or subtle, but I also appreciate technical skill and unique aesthetic. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a conceptual artist’s work realised by a commissioned maker, it’s the finished effect and cultural connection that is important to me. For the retelling and the fantastic reinterpretation of film props I like Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s recent work and the Jake and Dinos Chapman Family Collection room at Tate Britain is great. For historical work and the stuff I’m interested at the moment like elaborate costumes and exquisite detail, I would say Nicolas Hilliard. Obviously as an artist working in ceramics, I’m inspired by traditional ceramic techniques and historical ceramic artists and it’s hard not to admire Grayson Perry’s ingenious and prolific output.
Can you tell us something about your background?
I think my background is fairy typical of the type of person who ends up at Art School. I had a fairly stable, well supported life. Not really anything meaty I would want to use as a subject for my work. I wasn’t surrounded by art at home but would regularly visit Museums and Galleries. After Art School I ended up working with Collections in one way or another. My first proper job was for the British Library Sound Archive, where I got to record and archive sound in an attic in Kensington. I subsequently worked on the technical side of exhibitions, most notably at the V&A and the Wellcome Trust and came full circle when I got a job at the Mute Record Label archiving sound!
What inspired you to become an artist?
It was really an automatic progression from school to Art College. In my naivety I hadn’t even considered anything else. The reality of the conceptual-heavy Art School of the day beat my interest in being an artist out of me and it was only later in life, with a change of perspective and priorities, that I decided to make work for myself and if it appeals to other people that’s a bonus.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
I’d like to think I would do something socially useful like a probation worker, but in reality I would most probably gravitate back to working in Museums and Galleries, (not that that can’t be socially useful).
What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
My technical ability is improving all the time and I think each new piece of work can be viewed as my greatest achievement until the next one is complete. In reality, it’s the fact that my work is now starting to gain momentum and I can justify doing this for a living.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to get my work to a wider audience. I know from the emails I receive that my work is known to a lot of people worldwide, but I would like to physically show work outside of the UK and Europe.