Born in 1970 in Birmingham, Clare Thornton moved to Scotland in 1988 to study at the University of Glasgow. We met on our first day in the city at a student halls of residence: I had already unpacked and was returning from a walk around Glasgow’s west end when I found Clare, weighed down with suitcases but smiling, at the front door.
A conversation and a friendship began at that moment: Clare was immediately warm, funny and a joy to be around and I feel privileged to have had her friendship for over 30 years.
Clare studied Theatre Studies and English Literature and I landed in the History of Art department. Although weeks went by when we didn’t see each other, I heard about Clare frequently from other friends and tutors: she had a huge capacity for friendship, never turned down an opportunity to do new things and took full advantage of all that Glasgow offered. She had an endless curiosity and a genuine interest in what her friends were doing, making and producing.
Our paths converged again shortly after graduation when Clare became manager of the Centre for Contemporary Arts Bookshop – a branch of the city’s much-missed independent bookshop John Smith & Sons – and I was a Saturday assistant. This was a defining moment for us both: we met and made friends with a wonderful group of artists, designers, makers, writers and curators during this time, forging connections that shaped our future lives.
Clare thrived in this context and influenced the vibrant atmosphere of the CCA enormously. She also dressed brilliantly, seemingly without effort but always with a real style that was identifiably her own.
Clare’s own career as an artist developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with her first solo show taking place in Norway in 2003 following a residency at Oslo’s Galleri GUN. Her openness, sense of adventure and intelligence defined her practice from the beginning: working in a wide range of media, continually exploring new methods and approaches, and ultimately creating beautiful and engaging sculptures, ceramics, prints and publications with an incisive understanding of the materials she worked with and the processes she employed.
Clare’s early training in dance informed her work, as did her interest in cross-disciplinary collaborations, working on projects with Emma Cocker, Jan Steinum, Paul Hurley and the Performance Re-enactment Society. Her work was included in numerous group exhibitions throughout the UK, including a welcome return to Scotland in 2010 for a public art commission as part of ‘Nine Trades of Dundee’ at the McManus Gallery, Cooper Gallery and Dundee Contemporary Arts.
Two solo shows in 2018, ‘Materials of Resistance’ (Plymouth Arts Centre) and ‘Absent but Present’ (Modern Clay, Grand Union, Birmingham) testify to Clare’s exceptional skill, the clarity of her work and her unfailing commitment to her practice throughout her illness.
I learnt about Clare’s plans for a memorial residency from Caroline Kirsop, a fellow former CCA employee, one of her closest friends and someone who has helped to maintain the close connection between Clare and Glasgow over the past 20 years. This memorial – a residency for a mid–career artist which will take place in Clare’s studio at Karst in Plymouth – encapsulates her character and spirit perfectly.
Residencies provide an invaluable framework for support, peer-to-peer exchange and the development of new work and ideas. Clare thrived in communities of artists and writers, within contexts that were both nurturing and challenging, and she understood the enormous benefits such settings can bring to the development of an individual practice.
The memorial residency is a huge testament to Clare’s vision and generosity, and to the value she placed upon creativity not only in her own life but also in the lives of everyone around her. I am grateful to her partner Dane Watkins and to all her friends at Karst for making this residency possible.
Clare, we will miss you.
For more information about the Clare Thornton Memorial Residency including the Crowdfunder campaign to support the project see clarethornton.com
1. Clare Thornton with paper folds. From ‘Unfurl’, 2011.
2. Clare Thornton falling on cushion. From ‘The Italic I’, with Emma Cocker, 2013. Photo: Emma Cocker and Clare Thornton
3. Clare Thornton, Bangles on arm, from ‘Materials of Resistance’, 2018. Photo: Clare Thornton
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