Clare Stephenson makes highly elaborate objects and installations, which play with ideas of artistic labour. Her cut-out figures might appear at first to be sculptures but they are actually slim wooden panels onto which screen-printed images have been pasted. They are reminiscent of stage props, flat-pack design and shop-front displays. Each figure is created through a playful use of the collage process. Stephenson begins by editing and combining photographs of other sculptures, male figures from Baroque and Gothic religious statuary, until she feels they fit. The images are cut up, repeated and sometimes grossly enlarged so the image breaks up. This culminates in witty aesthetic combinations as the figures are transformed into elaborate drag queens adorned in the wardrobe of art history.
In her solo exhibitions Parole Vaine (2008) and She-who-Presents (2009) Stephenson’s figures have been shown staged in groups, poised as though characters in a tableau or play. The figures themselves strike idle, decadent or camp poses and each has a name which parodies ideas of economy, production and consumption; such as Miss Productively-Focused, Miss Quite-Quite-Abundant! and Our-Lady-of-the-Conscious-Optics (all 2008).
In recent digital collage works, she has incorporated the ultimate symbol of aspiring decadence: the Martini glass. The exhibition Abs Minimum at the Project Room, Glasgow in July 2013 featured the Martini motif in three different fabric designs printed onto bikinis. The bikinis were strewn along the radiators and windowsills, with the redevelopment of Glasgow’s ‘Cultural Quarter’ as a backdrop seen through the gallery windows. Stephenson used her own body as a reference (the bikinis all being her size), implicating herself and relating her own production as an artist to the development outside. This work maintains an active engagement in feminist ideas, but can also be seen as a self-conscious critique of the way that certain feminist references within the art world are reduced to symbols and disengaged from active discussion.