Ecstasy is something of a rare emotion nowadays. I don’t mean the quick fix, but the deep, glowing rapture that comes when one being is won over by some greater, higher power. Yet ecstasy is one of the words Claire Curneen uses to describe the feelings of her Saint Sebastian figures. They look so much at ease, so relaxed, with their classical contrapposto undisturbed, that they seem far removed from any extremes of psychological tension. This surface calm is only a part of their character, however, for it conceals great reserves of inner strength. As Curneen is quick to point out, Sebastian does not die from his ordeal; he lives through it, he revives from the trance to resume his saintly life. Just look at the arrows; where they pierce the flesh, it is not blood that flows, but gold.
For Curneen, the mental and the physical are so tightly enmeshed there is no telling where the object ends and the metaphor begins. The flowers that bloom across the torso of one have appeared unawares, a blush of inner contentment. The hands, so expressively modelled, are the organs of touch; magnified, out of scale on their bodies, they accentuate the importance of physical contact. In the same moment, we understand that the sensations they are intended to evoke are much more than the merely tactile. The sharp prickles attached to the palm are an embodiment of hyper-sensitivity. Are they sticking into the hand, or emerging from it? It is impossible to say. The spiky surface dominates in the piece which marks a departure for Curneen, the still-life. The bristling tools, saw, chisel and scissors, have lost their functional sharpness – they are made of clay after all – only to substitute it with a layer of spikes. Within this armoured coating, they seem defiantly self-sufficient. Or perhaps they are just protecting themselves, because they know, like the figures whose inner life they share, that the important thing is to survive.
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