Emma Geliot's picture

Blue, Claire Curneen. Photo, Dewi Tannatt Lloyd Mission Gallery, Gloucester Place, Swansea

A new body of work by Claire Curneen. To This I Put My Name, an assured and direct invitation to see the embodiment of Curneen s reflections revealed. Expectations were high and Mission Gallery fizzed with conversation and exclamation at the exhibition s opening. Squeezing through the throng to the gallery space, the clamour was immediately silenced for me when I spied Curneen s collection. It was as if the infinite human condition had been condensed into time and space and now enfolded us. Familiar, repressed, unacknowledged, conscious and observed emotions seemed to unfurl in waves as I glimpsed Curneen s figures through the crowd. Time was held in abeyance as the profound humanity instilled in these ceramic entities emotionally overran me.

A precious pause.

Then I m contributing to the celebratory chatter and we all share in the vitality of To This I Put My Name. The work in the exhibition has been developed over two years by means of an Arts Council of Wales Creative Wales Ambassador Award. It consolidates support for Curneen by Mission Gallery and Ruthin Craft Centre, as well as collaboration with the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, where Curneen scrutinised specific pieces among the Decorative Arts and History Collection.

From her studio loft whilst artist-in-residence at Mission Gallery, Curneen could overlook the expectant gallery space. I wonder whether the communion between her figures will shift as they are transposed to Ruthin Craft Centre, and elsewhere, or whether the essential interrelation and poignant interplay between them will resonate with the same emotional score. Curneen reminds us through the scale of her figures that these are sculptural embodiments. So it is with fascination that a meticulously crafted, life-sized bird of prey oversees her collection of figures. The bird is detached but not disinterested. It observes, not impartially, the silently empathetic figures beneath its perch. As I wove a path around St. Sebastian, Mary Magdalene, Builders, I kept looking to the bird, uncertain as to whether it was for higher reference or in deference. Then a porcelain figure, wearing a bird head, fixed a discerning gaze at eye level. Only Curneen could have unmasked the figure and, as she did so, it revealed an expression of unadorned equanimity, exposed from the brilliant gold interior of the bird mask.

For me, here was a tangible illustration of the paradoxical human states for which Curneen seems so effortlessly to conjure form. It is quite natural to appear to be other than we are, to hide, to put on a face, to feel quite naked when the pretence is unveiled and to be accepting of this dual state. It is quite natural to inhabit many states at once. What is so captivating about Curneen s figures is that they do so with such ease, with such assuredness.

Stretched out in the apse of the gallery, on a plinth readily perceived as an altar, is a figure of extraordinary tensions, Portent.When encircling the black stoneware figure, which sprouts pruned branches from neck to ankles, differing states evolve as the viewer s perspective shifts. I am at once struck by the muscular straining and the fluidity of posture, by the expression of angst and that of acceptance, by the dense clay body that could readily return to the dust and by the richly glazed cut branches which bare bold new possibilities.

To This I Put My Name comprises figurative gestures and expressions with which we have become familiar in Curneen s work. The fine manipulation of different clay bodies, the accomplished brushwork in applying glazes, the detailed layering of adornment and the juxtaposition of the fragility of ceramic with the tenacity of process, are all qualities that Curneen has finely honed in this exhibition. The essence of this new body of work is the almost intangible depth of expression that Curneen now embodies in her figures. Hidden in a recess off the apse is a bound porcelain figure that has been reverentially suspended. I look up at the motionless form and marvel at the quiet eloquence that Curneen infuses in her work.She is a master, of the ceramic medium and of distilling human experience. Ceri Jones Fieldwork


Portent, Claire Curneen, at Mission Gallery, Photo, Matthew Otten

To This I Put My Name is a Mission Gallery and Ruthin Craft Centre touring exhibition. It is open at Mission Gallery until 16 March, before touring to Ruthin Craft Centre from 12 April until 29 June 2014. There is a publication to accompany the exhibition.


Mission Gallery, Gloucester Place, Maritime Quarter, Swansea SA1 1TY


Blue, Claire Curneen. Photo credit, Dewi Tannatt Lloyd

Portent, Claire Curneen, at Mission Gallery. Photo credit, Matthew Otten