Claire Barclay works mainly in sculpture and printmaking. Although the forms she produces are abstract, they are informed by a deep interest in the material world we live in. Her prints typically feature strongly defined two-dimensional forms that overlap or interrelate. They can suggest the physical processes involved in printing itself. Her sculptural installations often combine small machine-tooled elements or pieces made using craft techniques with larger structures.
Barclay usually composes her installations within the gallery itself, improvising with materials as well as using pieces created in the studio. She has suggested that they could be thought of as ‘pauses’ between their making and dismantling. This is a useful way to understand the sense in which these artworks are at once full of life and poised or stilled. Her way of working also means that they are carefully related to the spaces they occupy. Like the people who visit the gallery, her works can inhabit space with different degrees of comfortableness or belonging.
The artist notes that a crucial moment in her early artistic development came when she realised that using readymade elements, like found objects, brought too many clear-cut meanings into her work. She began to use objects she made or commissioned for herself. But in making this shift, Barclay has not abandoned the real world. The works often suggest tactile relationships to the things that surround us. They remind us of what it’s like to touch the substances we use to construct or furnish the places we live in. They use materials that clothe and adorn our bodies. Sometimes they look almost like familiar objects, or like the tools that we use in various kinds of crafting or making.
We know – or think we do – what wood, clay, brick or straw look and feel like. We know how fabric or leather drapes or folds over another material. But in Barclay’s art, we never get the sense that we are dealing simply with the domestic, the familiar or the useful. The works suggest instead that we often relate to our material world in ways that are strange, psychological, and perhaps dysfunctional. Claire Barclay’s art invites us to think about what places and objects feel like, and to ask how well we really know them.