Both Beautiful and Surreal - David Hockney & Claire Curneen @ National Museum Cardiff

An impromptu visit to National Museum Cardiff this afternoon gifted me some of the best inspiration I've had in months.

Up until now I've always swerved the Museum in favour of contemporary galleries - assuming it's historical cultural status would see it focus solely on art of the last century. Of course I still appreciate classic art, but it never really inspires me to create work of my own. I find that modern and contemporary art encourages me to think about representation and composition in unusual and innovative ways.

However it soon became clear that I shouldn't have judged the Museum so soon - their collection includes Francis Bacon. Barbara Hepworth and Lucian Freud among many glorious others.

The first piece that really caught my eye was David Hockney's 'The Actor'. The culmination of both figurative and still life in this piece is both mesmerising and confusing - and the genius use of perspective gives the impression that the figure is solemnly gliding about the room, captured mid-movement.

David Hockney, 'The Actor' | 1964 | Acrylic on Canvas

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It's said that Hockney was inspired to create this piece (as part of a series of five) after seeing a statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton during a visit to Egypt. I feel as if this adds even more depth to the painting, through the injections of influence from what is sometimes a mysterious and fascinating culture.

After staring at Hockney for a sufficiently enormous length of time, I moved along the galleries surrounding the staircases. What immediately caught my eye was a haunting, small-eyed porcelain sculpture (below), which I later found out was created by British ceramic artist Claire Curneen. 

  Claire Curneen, 'Cyfres Las' | 2002 | Porcelain

Claire Curneen, 'Cyfres Las' | 2002 | Porcelain

My first thought was that this sculpture looked like a creature from some horrendous nightmare. That or the monster with eyes in its hands off Pan's Labyrinth. Claire's artist statement explains that her work dwells in an atmosphere of tension between the real and the imagined, and you certainly get that sense when viewing this piece.

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What I love the most about 'Cyfres Las' is the calm, almost meditative placement of the hands and fingers, and the uneasy contrast this creates when compared with the figure's eerie, vacant stare. And of course, the stunning floral decoration, which, I think, is reminiscent of traditional far-eastern china plates, and the drippy gold accents that seem to be tacking the figure's fingers together. 

It's pure weirdness has stuck with me, and yet I still can't quite pinpoint why I found it so delightfully creepy. Perhaps it was the uncanny human likeness, or the slightly off, purely Surreal body proportions. All I know is that for better or worse, I'm going to be dreaming of Curneen's work for a long while yet.