"The word ‘fragmented’, has the suggestion of rupture but it also suggests future and some hope.”
Produced in the midst of the global pandemic and during lockdown at the respective studios of British abstract painter, Frances Aviva Blane, (b. 1954) and ceramicist and author, Claudia Clare (b. 1962), each grappling with working and living in unprecendented times, these new and highly poignant bodies of work are presented together in dialogue for the first time in Fragmented at Zuleika Gallery, London.
Texts for this exhibition are written by Susie Orbach, British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, writer and social critic, and Eddy Frankel, Arts & Cultural Editor, Time Out.
FRANCES AVIVA BLANE
I’ve visited Frances’ studio twice. Once in January to talk about a planned talk at The Freud Museum and once in quasi Lockdown to do some filming and talk with her about some of her pictures. Walking into her studio, one is aware of contrasts. The straight lines of the building, its utilitarian, somewhat dreary feel, and then when the door to her space is opened, the vibrancy of work made inside of it. Colours and shapes enliven canvasses on the floor. Stacked against the wall, pictures, some hung - most not - give us Frances’ view of her world, and latterly, her world through this most disruptive societal event. The studio both radiates and contains this energy. When I leave the work stays with me. It has been a frightening and fragmenting time for many of us. Yes, there has been the discovery of reflection and quietude from those who have been, up until now, busy-busy and that has been interesting. But what an artist can tell us or rather show us, is the disturbance that has permeated us during this time. Frances’ work inevitably speaks to the troubles of today and the troubles we bring personally. The present moment is always inflected with history and as we discover new abilities to cope with adversity resilience turns out to depend on darker thoughts despite what pop psychology may say.
Resilience emerges out of a capacity to acknowledge that we have complex and complicated responses and feelings. They can be messy and bleak. We do not need to be able to articulate them all, even to ourselves (although I believe that helps), but to know the phenomenon: distressing times invoke distressing responses and feelings. Denial mostly doesn’t help. Frances’ lockdown work, from the heavy use of paint to the merest of line drawings made with compressed charcoal, returns to the face – work for which she is much admired. Her Lockdown faces express alarm, dismay, confusions, oh no’s, ouch and refusal. These works allow us to enter into states of being we know from our own experience of lockdown. We resonate to and with her work. We see our own responses and are touched to be met by hers. It breaks our isolation. It does not mitigate the horror. Not at all, but it communalises experience in a time of extreme social isolation. Lockdown work is of a piece with the loudness of Frances’ work. It demands attention, which is to say, once seen, it is not easy to forget. It pulls one back. She is on to something about the human experience that is uncomfortable and yet compelling. Her work reaches into us. It stays with us. And, although I am not sure she would agree, it consoles us.
‘Fragments’ is a loaded word when it comes to pottery. It implies the splintering of a smashed pot, it hints at shards found buried deep in the earth during an architectural dig: it screams of history, of violence, of desperate attempts to piece broken things back together. The pots in Claudia Clare's exhibition are mainly whole - thankfully - but ideas of fragments course through each work, which goes some way towards explaining the show’s title. Produced almost entirely during this extended period of lockdown, the potter’s latest painted ceramics are amongst her most personal, largely thanks to the time and space afforded by a world without pressures or deadlines.
“Lockdown – the first part especially – was a time of peace for me. No interruptions. No demands for this and that. No-one’s expectations to manage or respond to,” she says. “What I found was that I had time to put the love into the pots I was building and painting – time I’ve so often wanted but rarely found. I could seek out the tenderness and intimacy I wanted to achieve with them.”
Tenderness and intimacy are key to the new works. The figure of Hossein, for example, appears in many of the pots. He is her housemate, maybe even her muse, you could say. “My beloved best friend is in Iran with family at the moment. He left in January, got caught in the Covid whirlwind - and will stay there for now until closer to Christmas - but who knows? We talk almost daily.” she says wistfully. Other figures here include friends in faraway places Clare hadn’t spoken to for years, but reconnected with over lockdown and an isolated young family, new to London, that Clare struck up a relationship with. Throughout all these scenarios, these stories, you see that life has been split apart, blown to pieces: fragmented. Her new works, therefore, are a record of fragmented lives, of a disrupted world. But this fragmentation isn’t an end in itself: it’s not a full stop, but an ongoing process.
“Pots break and can be mended in numerous ways. People mostly survive trauma; not always, but mostly we do. Friendships and relationships are under tremendous strain at the moment with Covid, so are society, communities and our shared social lives. Some will break. They may or may not be restored. The word ‘fragmented’, has the suggestion of rupture but it also suggests future and some hope.”
And that’s the important thing to take away from Claudia Clare’s ‘Fragmented’ pots. Though things are cracked and broken, there is always - always - the hope that they will be mended. As life has fragmented around us over the past 6 months or so, Clare is asking you to hold on and hold out, because all that is broken can someday, somehow, be fixed.
Illustrated (home page): Frances Aviva Blane, b. 1954, Edge, 2020, oil on linen, 120 x 120 cm
Illustrated above: detail, Claudia Clare b.1962, Verdant Spring - Together and Apart, 2020 h: 62h x w:33 cm