Visions at Dusk

Annenberg Centre, Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire, RG45 7PU.  

12th November – 14th December 2018

Visions at Dusk, is a collection of new paintings reflecting Clapham’s engagement with the people she has met at Wellington and the surrounding countryside of the estate including the lakes and woodland. She says: ‘I wanted to capture the ethereal landscape as well as friends I have made; I see Wellington as a fascinating backdrop to explore continuing themes in my practice, such as mythology, nature, historical portraiture, fashion and costume. As a longstanding institution Wellington College is steeped in human history, its art and architecture are reflections of the tastes and values of those that have passed through and left a permanent impression. I wanted to use my portraits to elevate and celebrate the sitters, showing them in their gardens or around the grounds in an attempt to rework the British Swagger Portrait tradition, with subjects appearing in the ‘Grand Manner’ wearing either military uniform or historical costume, set against classical architecture or the pastoral idyllic of a surrounding estate. Such works intended to imply the virtuous character and unpretentiousness of the sitter, as well as emphasizing their social status and aspirations; I often refer to this genre in my work and such paintings are present around the school common areas such as the Dining Hall and Waterloo Hall.’ 

Reworking tradition is omnipresent in here, Clapham combines contemporary fashion elements such as Gucci’s ‘Flashtrek’ trainers with a Velázquez painting and Prada ballet pumps are set to the backdrop of Wellington’s Swan Lake, a nod to the whimsical world of fancy dress balls and masquerade, a staple of country estate existence for decades, giving opportunities for gender and identity to be explored through fancy dress. In this ilk Clapham has depicted her friend, non-binary London designer William Dill-Russell, who reconstructs Renaissance tailoring to cater for a more gender fluid market. 

The illusory atmosphere created through careful depiction of jewellery and fabrics is a skill that is hard won, Clapham shifts between naturalism, artifice and heightened drama, echoing tropes of sixteenth and seventeenth century European portraitists from Giovanni Battista Mornoni to Thomas Gainsborough. Notably, some of Clapham’s pictures extend beyond the canvas with the introduction of fabrics both as three-dimensional objects and within the paintings themselves. Of this she says: ‘I see my work as partly a comment on the delight of painting and an exploration of materiality. I have employed techniques that refer directly to the history of oil painting such as the support, building up fine layers of paint but there are things I have set aside; I use fabrics and glitter, juxtaposing traditional pigments with synthetic ones and iridescent paints, making textural objects. As long as the different languages lend themselves to the conceptual intentions of the work I have embraced them.’

During her time here, Clapham has worked closely with the Art Department and pupils giving talks on her practice and professional life as an artist as well as assisting in running one to one tutorials, workshops and lessons giving an insight into specific methodologies in both drawing and painting practices. These include colour mixing and painting and drawing the head focusing on things like, observation, line, tone and form. Applying her knowledge of fashion and costume in the Early Modern European Period she has also been involved in the fashion department, working with pupils learning about Renaissance garments and redesigning them from historical paintings. She has also run a series of life drawing classes on ‘The Body Clothed,’ inspired by areas of interest in her own practice, for example ‘Renaissance Recreations, from drapery to jewellery.’ Of her experience she says: ‘I have been overwhelmed by the response from pupils who have been both talented and keen to learn new skills, in the short time I have known them I have seen great progress in their acknowledgement and development of their own artist languages. I have had some very productive critical discussions of work with students who I have also invited to critique my own work as it has progressed.’