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Claire Pestaille carefully manipulates art historical portraits. Though rather than immersing herself in the history of painting, the artist is interested in the materiality of paint and the painting process which she combines with a personal and sensitive response to the art of the past.
Creating plots around historical painting's often familiar protagonists Claire Pestaille unearths veiled allegories and secret histories. Exchanging lace fans for morning stars or a broach at the breast for an inching Stag beetle, the artist offers alternative destinies for her female characters. Freeing them from the confines of history the artist allows each character a more comprehensive and complete existence for a contemporary audience.
Claire Pestaille takes on the role of story teller and envelops herself in the lives of each of her painted subjects, changing their fate, revising their past and offering alternative narrative histories which read like a horror film or romantic gothic fiction. Accompanying the work are narratives that add to the fantastical and unsettling presence of each character, who, staring out from the canvas, engage the viewer inviting them to collaborate, be a part of their past and accompany them in their future.
Exhibited alongside the paintings and stories at Necromancy were small sculptures and drawings. As with the stories which often use an existing narrative as their starting point, the artist alters and adds to found objects. Sourcing dolls the artist then binds them with materials such as hair and nylon, adding appendages to create weird and often sinister arrangements. Similarly the artist takes pages from auction catalogues and art history books adding her own drawings alongside other trimmings and embellishments. Insects are delicately drawn across a female characters face obliterating her features, or seemless doodles cloak and veil ruddy faced captains and dukes of bygone eras.
To coincide with her first solo exhibition at Rokeby the gallery published Necromancy, a book which includes the artist's narratives for the first time. The book is available from Rokeby in the shop pages of the site.