Gallery: Claerwen James : 2004 Catalogue, note by Allison Pearson |
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Claerwen James : 2004 Catalogue, note by Allison Pearson

For Claerwen James in her recent work, an apparent simplicity is the way forward to a new intensity. At first glance, these portraits of children and adolescents offer their subjects up in a direct, even vibrant way. A longer look reveals withdrawal; there is a disconcerting watchfulness about the figures as they stare out of the picture into a future they cannot comprehend. However hard we look at them, we cannot hope to match their questioning gaze. They are held between the plain colours of a backdrop and the flatness of their own costume, which sits on them like the cut-out clothes of paper dolls. The photographic source of the image is acknowledged, and only intensifies the sense of distance: the subjects are taken not from life, but, like icons, from the image of a life. The effect is both to make them more particular, even lonely, and also universal: the child in time.

These paintings communicate the profound strangeness of childhood, its unknowingness and its fears, which go unarticulated because the subject has no language in which to express them. Children live in another country, and these remarkable portraits are landscapes of that foreign terrain.

Allison Pearson

(Girl looking straight out)