Claire Norrington is one of the most talented young artists that I have come across in a number of years. Both her two and three dimensional work exude a powerful quality of strength and dynamism which I rarely see. At 32, Claire is dedicated to reaching the top levels of her profession. Great talent and drive are the qualities required to reach the top in any walk of life and Claire has them in abundance.
Until her teens Claire thought she was going to be a vet, spent much of her free time doing voluntary work at the local veterinary practice and had enlisted for A-level sciences. It was purely an anomaly of he school syllabus that included art among her classes. She grew up on the farmlands of east Essex and had drawn the animals around her from a very early age, as well as constructing shelters and pens for her pets.
"I loved handling materials and I used the tools of my father, a very good woodworker, to build my rabbit hutches and guinea pig pens. But I was always mesmerised by horses and, from the age of seven, spent hours drawing them. By the time I was fourteen they were beginning to look like the real thing!"
So Claire's two fascinations were fused and she embarked upon an art foundation course and then went on to Winchester School of Art. In 1991 she left Winchester with a BA Honours in Fine Art Sculpture. During her first year at Winchester, she experimented with clay, steel, lead and plaster but was never totally satisfied with the results. She then concentrated on forging steel, bending, shaping and welding it continuously until she finally achieved work with which she was happy. By the end of a year working this way, she had pieces taken by the Hampshire Trust and the Queen Mary's Art Centre in Basingstoke and had graduated.
"Working with the steel in an abstract way had sharpened my sense of line, shape, form and gravity - and suddenly my animals were more vital. Somewhere along the line they had evolved."
Claire's sculptures always follow a series of drawings in mixed media. She spends a great deal of time studying her subjects in varying locations such as the New Forest Show or at the local Hawk Conservancy.
"Drawing from life is intensely frustrating as the sketch never seems to convey enough about the subject. I am always striving to capture more about an animal or bird, and by executing multiple sketches of the same creature I try to build up a 'library' of knowledge in my head which can be recalled later in the studio".
"I might go to the New Forest Show and draw for three whole days, sometimes for eight hours at a time, hoping to catch something crucial. I may return with 50 to 100 sketches before I begin to work on a sculpture".
"It's the same with the Hawk Conservancy near Andover. I'll go there and sketch for hours like a mad thing. If you don't constantly look at your subject and sketch from life the work could lose its vitality and sense of movement. My sculptures and drawings are about my reactions to the creatures I am looking at. I see different things every time I look at an owl, hare or horse even though I may have been studying them for 10 years. The combinations of shape, light, colour and texture seem infinite".
Norrington now models her sculptures using materials such as slats of wood, string, cardboard and foam.
A continuous process of construction, de-construction, shaping and re-shaping takes place before the model is ready to move on to the foundry for casting, itself a complex process at the best of times, but even more so because of the nature of the materials and textures she uses and achieves.
Although the end results are not realistic - and I probably wouldn't be interested in them if they were - they convey with subtlety all the movement and spirit of their subject and the texture of fur, feathers or hide.
In 1998 Claire Norrington became the youngest artist ever to be elected to the Royal Society of British Sculptors. She has already been awarded two public commissions in Andover, as well as numerous private commissions that include Marks and Spencer plc and The General Trading Company. I am sure there are many more to come for this young artist who has exceptional skills and internal drive. She is continually re-examining her work, always seeking the unachievable perfection.
"I am always questioning myself and trying to find out more about the subjects I study. How do they move ? How do they feel ? How does a particular muscle work against another or how do feathers slide over each other ? What is it about them that makes them alive ?"
"In a sense, I am also asking about my own understanding and feelings and it is a way of learning about who I am and of trying to understand life".
A truly exciting young artist.