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Clementine Keith-Roach Mines the Ancient Past to Create Striking, Surrealist Sculptures

The life-altering experience of being pregnant led to an artistic breakthrough for Clementine Keith-Roach. Noticing the changes in her body, Keith-Roach began to take plaster casts of herself as a way of documenting her new form. Living in Athens, Greece, at the time, the British talent had the idea to meld these body casts onto preexisting, terra-cotta amphorae, finishing them with a meticulous trompe l’oeil painting technique that makes their seams indiscernible. The outcome is beguiling, anthropomorphic, Surrealist-looking objects that seem to come from a mythical time and place. “It was a profound feeling, becoming a mother and becoming another at the same time,” says the artist from her studio in Dorset, England. “It was as though I was being broken apart; I felt the process very psychologically as well as physically.”

That theme of deconstruction continued into postpartum and early motherhood, when her body “felt as though it was fragmented into useful parts: breasts for nutrition, hands for touch and care, and so on.”

Keith-Roach has since expanded her oeuvre to include fountains, benches, and large libation bowls—filled with what appears to be milk—one of which is currently on view at the Wellcome Collection in London through September 10. Pushing herself into daring new territory, she will be creating an installation inspired by ruins, both ancient and modern, with her partner, artist Christopher Page, for a joint exhibition at Ben Hunter gallery in London in October. Building on the vessel concept, she is now looking at Roman sarcophagi and exploring themes of spolia, the ancient practice of reusing old architectural fragments to build new monuments.

Considering herself a sculptor who creates assemblages, Keith-Roach developed a technique that is unique and laborious. “There is an impossibility to my work,” says the artist, a former set designer who worked under legendary creative director Shona Heath. “It’s a Frankenstein-like process, where I take the plaster casts of my body and employ methods of sanding, angle grinding, sculpting with resin and clay, and then bolting. All that physical work is then shrouded and masked in the final piece—the labor lurking beneath the surface.”