In conversation with acclaimed sculptor, Clare Burnett.

By Clare Burnett
September 09, 2021 02:37pm

After becoming an ‘inner circle’ supplier for the Royal Society of Sculptors earlier this year, we sat down with their President and Sculptor, Clare Burnett, for the latest edition of our spotlight series.

Now based in London,¬†Clare is a British artist, raised in France and Belgium. Clare’s process-led work explores the¬†issues, objects and spaces around her to make coloured abstract sculptures with a conceptual underpinning and reoccurring themes over time, often exploring 21st-century dilemmas (surveillance, consumption, technology) and how colour sits within complicated visual environments. Eager to find out more, we asked Clare a few questions. First up:

What first inspired you to get into sculpting?

I first studied Architecture and Social and Political Studies at Cambridge University and then Fine Art at the Byam Shaw School of Art where I began my career as a painter. Then, through a rather arduous process, my practice slowly developed from paintings into sculptures.

Looking back, I’ve always been interested in materials and, in the early days, I made paints from pigments before I started painting abstract shapes that sat in blank spaces on walls, which slowly started to become 3D as the materials I used developed. Fundamentally, I think this stems from my desire to think about the materials that we use and the value that we attribute to them. Recently, for example, I have been making bronzes out of discarded copper pipes to question our assumptions about what things are worth.

How have the last 18 months influenced your work, especially given much of your work is inspired in response to the issues and spaces around you?

In the first lockdown, I stayed at home as did most of the UK. I was lucky as I did manage to work from home, which I haven’t been able to do before. I normally only find that I’m productive in my studio. Like many of us, I was forced to adapt. I produced smaller works and ended up casting pewter in a shed at the bottom of my garden, which I never thought I’d be doing before lockdown. I also had to quickly adapt to show my works, participating in a new wave of virtual shows.

The last 18 months also allowed me time to connect with more artists and ensure that the Royal Society of Sculptors was well placed to support our members where possible. The last 18 months have directly influenced the work that I’ve produced, and I’ve found that I now want to produce works that generate an element of fun within my practice. Like many, I feel a little allergic to the idea of ‘Covid’ artwork. I am sure that the experience of the last two years will be visible in all artists work but time will tell how this manifests itself. Currently, I find that I am combining colour far more boldly than before.

Has the increasing focus on the environment impacted which materials you use and why?

We’re all now thinking more about the materials that we are using, which is great. I used recycled materials a lot for my latest exhibition but it would be dishonest to say that this was ‘green’ as I also had to use a lot of new materials to make it work, which was clearly less ecologically sound. I’m in no doubt that we should all be aware of the materials that we are using but I find it frustrating that it’s so difficult to source discarded building materials.

Most recently, I’ve trialed different bioadhesives but some work and some don’t and that’s all part of the learning curve we are on as an industry right now. If I’m honest, I prefer to challenge the viewer of my work’s perceptions through using different materials and questioning the way we live and transport items around the world, rather than claiming to solve any problems through my work specifically. Clearly, it’s easy to get swept up in the headlines of what’s right when it comes to the environment but do we ever really question the difference between materials that we use? In relation to sculpture specifically, what questions should we ask about the use of stone, wood, and metal? How sustainable is the quarrying of stone or the mining of iron ore? Additionally, since the price of steel and wood has soared recently, what are the alternatives that we can consider? It’s these questions that I like to provoke through my work, whilst doing what I can to challenge myself in the process.

What can we expect from you in the coming months?

Well, there’s so much going on at the moment as we, hopefully, return to some level of normality. Whilst I’m still in the summer show for the Royal Society of Sculptors, I’ll soon be participating in a show called Eutopia in Park Royal as part of Design Week. I’ll then be taking part in an auction for Art UK which is very exciting. After that’s all done, I’ll be retreating into my studio to experiment with 3D printing, looking more specifically at ways to develop my passion for using colour outside in both smaller and larger formats.

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