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A Cautionary Tale
Claire Partington’s Solo Show
at the James Freeman Gallery

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A Cautionary Tale is Claire Partington’s first solo exhibition at the James Freeman Gallery. Part fairy tale, part social commentary, part art-historical treasure trove, the show exhibits a wide collection of her ceramic figures together with a series of plaques and smaller precious works.

Claire Partington is an artist who revels in historical influences. After graduating from Central Saint Martins in 1995, she went on to work at a number of museums, most notably the V&A. In A Cautionary Tale we see Golden-age Spanish portraiture, eighteenth-century salt glaze bears, Renaissance madonnas and medieval pilgrim badges. We previewed some of the pieces ahead of the opening on the 7th September.

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Two of the pieces that stand out (pictured above) are the devotional plaques inspired by the works of the fifteenth-century Italian sculptor, Luca Della Robbia. A single mother cradles her infant; she wears her engagement ring around her neck. On the right, a bull terrier, garlanded with fruits, standing guard. The borders have been decorated with apples, lemons, and pears which would feature in Robbia’s work, but in this case they remind us of Eve and the Garden of Eden as well as the apple which is present in pictures of the Madonna and infant Jesus as a sign of redemption, and as a warning against sin and temptation.

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Folklore and fairy tales are an important influence on her work, both for their vivid imagery and for how the narratives mutate over the years and in different contexts. Some works make direct references such as that of a Flemish saint holding a silver nutmeg and a golden pear in allusion to the Tudor nursery rhyme. Other sculptures are zoomorphic reflecting fairy-tale characters. On the above right, a super-gold Goldilocks is seen engaged in a private moment with a towering bear which appears to be dripping in maple syrup. Goldilocks lightly places her palm on top of the bear’s paw, gently pushing away his grizzly advances.

Alongside these are figures that seem to have emerged from an unspecified history; characters surrounded by animal friends drawn from a medieval master’s symbolic lexicon. A dandy king with a white hart standing to attention (above left) – is this Richard II? And in the middle, A matron, making her entrance. Small colourful birds hold up her hair as she holds her squirrel monkey, on a small gold chain. Her outfit – part armour and part tapestry, displaying intricate patterns.

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Underpinning all of Claire’s work is a social commentary, particularly about women, and particularly about power. All Claire’s women have attitude; these are women who use their aesthetic presence to project strength and power more than to attract. Contrast this with her dandified male figure counterparts who seem beholden to whimsy. In part, this is a conscious redressing of the gender motifs that have prevailed unquestioned for centuries in folklore and aesthetics. But it is also a means of re-evaluating the beautiful object – that beauty can be far more complex and far more mischievous than it may at first appear.

A Cautionary Tale is on show at the James Freeman Gallery from the 7th to 30th September, 2017

Read our previous Q&A with Claire Partington.

Elizabeth Price’s A Restoration
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

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As a fresh graduate from The Ruskin School of Art in 1998, Elizabeth Price worked for a year in the Bodleian Library’s underground stacks. She remembers the damp, the haphazard stacking of books, the way the floors got smaller as they went further and further down beneath the cobbles of Broad Street. A book could be declared lost for twenty five years and turn up in a pile a few centimetres away from its original place. In the stacks books were arranged by size rather than subject, and Price would spend most of her shift reading books in unexpected succession.

This sense of the subterranean, along with the archival practices of collecting, collating and cataloguing, are key components of Price’s new video installation A Restoration.

After winning the Contemporary Art Society Award in 2013, Price received a commission to make an artwork in response to the collections and archives of the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean Museums in Oxford. During the course of her research, Price became particularly interested in the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans. After holding the position of Keeper of the Ashmolean, Evans achieved fame for the excavation of the Cretian palace of Knossos at the turn of the 20th century. He set about restoring the site with what Price calls ‘a kind of energy that is unreserved and febrile and exciting’, adding concrete pillars and filling in frescos with an ‘extraodinary’ creative license. Continue reading

Island Hopping
The 2016 Setouchi Triennale

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From this week onwards a small cluster of islands in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea will host its third international art festival. The 2016 Setouchi Triennale will run for a total of 108 days, and is expected to receive upwards of a million visitors, along with over one hundred new artworks joining the permanent installations already dotted across the archipelago.

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Twelve islands in total will be taking part, along with Uno Port on mainland Honshu and the town of Takamatsu (known by fans of Haruki Murakami as the setting of Kafka on the Shore) on nearby Shikoku. This year’s thematic focus looks both inward and outward: paying particular attention to local Setouchi cuisine and traditions alongside ‘cultural exchange among Asian countries that are connected by the sea. Continue reading

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A Case of Postdiluvian Tristesse: The Encounters in Sam Branton’s Deluge
‘Neither culture nor its destruction is erotic; it is the seam between them’ 

There is a strange poem by Andrew Marvell about a nymph and her pet fawn. Written in the mid seventeenth century, ‘A Nymph Complaining to Her Fawn’ is a poem of three parts, revolving around a central act that recounts the intimacies of their relationship. This intimacy is physical in that it is rooted in the senses – glimpsed at through heady descriptions of the nymph suckling the fawn with milk-dipped fingers, and the fawn feeding on roses ‘until its lips e’en seem to bleed’, pressing the bloody pulp onto the nymph’s lips in a bright red kiss. This is the story of an inter-species relationship that is tender and erotic and odd without being straightforwardly sexual or pornographic, suffused with a libido that Matthew Augustine has described as ‘tactile…rather than genital’. In other words, arousal is a creature of many eyes and ears and fingers and holes, and a discussion of the erotic should not be limited to genitalia. Continue reading

‘Into the Night’ by Christopher Gee
On Show At The James Freeman Gallery

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23rd April – 9th May, 2015

Christopher Gee’s paintings draws the viewer in with their intimate scale, dusky colours and naive, painterly charm. In these eerie, spectral landscapes we see eclipses and comets wiz by; abandoned churches and glowing towers left as reminders; lone gaunt figures looking back knowingly; and midnight familiars, appearing and disappearing into the blackness. The viewer has the feeling of rummaging through a collection of old photographs, inspecting the images and trying to piece together what ominous events may have taken place.

‘Into The Night’ is on show at the James Freeman Gallery until the 9th May, 2015 and you can find out more about Christopher Gee in our Q&A.

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Deluge by Sam Branton
An Art Circus Book

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Over the last few months, The Art Circus has been collaborating with artist Sam Branton to produce our first artist portfolio book published under the Art Circus imprint. Artist’s Books deeply involve the artist in the process; from concept to artwork and layout – and in some cases the printing. They are usually published in small editions or created as a one-of-a-kind object and are often seen as a work of art in itself.

The book, titled Deluge, comprises a sequence of 19 miniature drawings which imagine the bizarre, comical and confused moments that could happen during the aftermath of a great downpour. We see newly paired and mystified inhabitants set against idyllic, pastoral landscapes – a whale hanging from a tree, waiting for his weight to break the branch; elsewhere, a horse, awkwardly struggles to escape from an inflated pufferfish; savage peacocks tearing apart an octopus; and a baby elephant struggling to carry a beached whale back to the water.

Deluge is available as a hardback from Blackwells Art Shop and YouCaxton Publications.

Take a look inside

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New Work by Christopher Gee

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Gee’s paintings are rich with midnight creatures, mysterious figures, a melancholic atmosphere and scenes of the cosmos. The works plays with a loose motif of subtle observations, moments and arcane happenings, giving the viewer clues and suggestions to create their own little dark tales. Find our more about the work with our Q&A with the artist.  Continue reading

Artist Show
Ilona Szalay in ‘It’s Just A Short Walk To The Future From Here’ On Show at the Arusha Gallery‏, Edinburgh

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12th November – 5th December 2014

Ilona Szalay paintings will be shown in ‘It’s just a short walk to the future from here’, a group show at the Arusha Gallery in Edinburgh. Ilona’s pictures are permeated with a lonely sense of yearning and a poignant straining towards something infinite. There is an intensely visceral quality to her recent paintings, a sense of abundance and illumination. Ilona also creates video art in which she uses stop motion animation to create free-wheeling narratives of oil paint on glass. These ‘moving paintings’ exist only in recorded form as each drawing is extinguished to allow room for the next. As such the work is ephemeral and spontaneous, the images dissolving into each other and sliding across the surface of the glass. The pictures tell of metamorphosis, desire, dreams and death.

Find out more about Ilona Szalay’s work in our previous Q&A.

‘Replica’
An Art Circus Curated Show
At Blackwell’s Bookshop, Oxford

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The Art Circus is very pleased to announce our second curated group show, ‘Replica’ on show at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford. Featuring a collection of Contemporary Artist’s Giclee prints from the Art Circus’ Print Gallery . Artists on show will include Ryan Humphrey, SuperfutreKid, Fipsi Seilern, Sam Branton, Marta Suuster, Christopher Gee, KEELERTORNERO, Georgia Peskett, Daisy Clark and Phaedra Peer. Continue reading

Claire Partington at the Young Masters Art Prize 2014

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Claire Partington’s elegant and witty ceramics, ‘Goldilocks’ (shown top) and ‘Catfishing’ (lidded vases), will be on show at the Young Masters Art Prize 2014. Claire’s ceramics, inspired by European Applied Art and Design styles from the 1600’s, are meticulously hand crafted and use traditional ceramic techniques. Her figurative pieces, based on the salt glazed “bartmann” figurative bottles and court mantua dresses of the 1700’s, feature charming interchangeable heads to create curious little stories around her characters. Find out more about Claire’s ceramics in our Q&A.

The Young Masters Art Prize was set up In 2009, by gallerist Cynthia Corbett and celebrates artists who pay homage to the skill and traditions of the past and draw inspiration from the Old Masters. Artists are selected for their appropriation of an element of the established art-historical canon; either through technique, imagery or subject, whilst establishing an undeniably contemporary spin.

Young Masters is on show at The Lloyds Club from 16th September 2014 – 5th December 2014 and Sphinx Fine Art 14th October 2014 – 31st October 2014.