Alexander Kennedy, 'Clare Stephenson' (The List, 03/03/2006)

Clare Stephenson demonstrates that the 20th century progression of ‘isms’ can resemble a pile of dominoes – building blocks emptied of their aesthetic, like damp cigarette packets (‘Unguarded Moment’, 2004). By drawing and painting rather than constructing a collage, Stephenson nods towards the synthetic cubist concern of recording the object as an absence of presence. The ‘real’ object is enveloped in its semblance; both break down creating a sense of illusory immanence rather than temporal permanence. All this is achieved through sophisticated humour rather than easy irony.

Her drawings evoke Escher or Giotto’s impossible architecture in their depiction of folded pictorial reality, and subtly spray painted walls are propped up and framed by cool graphite pillars. There is a productive tension between the decorative quality of the surface of these works and the emergent content, allowing chance abstractions to create absurd scenery for stilted narratives.

In ‘Wigs II’, for example, the architectural forms she arranges in a mock heroic pyramidal construction are garlanded with surrealist strings of popcorn, intestines or gnawed vertebrae. These compositions herald nothing, but record the ruminations and progression of the artist as a subject in process, creating poetic landscapes out of masochistically tortured inspiration and feigned originality.

By making seriously worked expression look kitsch, Stephenson demonstrates that the signs we read as guarantors of originality are only ever stylised curlicues. Her works are clever in that respect; she does not want you merely to snort along with her in phoney agreement, thankfully.