In researching contempory artists who focus on domestic interiors, I happened upon an interesting article by Nicola Moorby on the Tate website. It discussed how artists from the Camden Town group often painted women in domestic settings, whilst excluding female artists from membership. It’s also interesting to note that at that time, men were responsible for decorating and furnishing the house.
In the Edwardian era things changed, the campaign for women’s suffrage grew and more women worked out of the home. Traditional roles were challenged, as husbands commuted to work so the decoration of homes fell into a woman’s domain. In spite of exclusion from various groups, female artists began painting domestic life from their point of view, finally able to display their own tastes. They painted their tastefully decorated rooms ( see The Chintz Couch), places where they were comfortable, whereas the male artist depicted them engaged in domestic activity, such as Douglas Fox Pitt.
How times have changed, but what I liked about women artists from this time, such as Ethel Sands and Vanessa Bell, they began to include themselves in the domestic interiors in a different way. In Vanessa Bell’s Conversation Piece at Asheham, 1912, the only thing that is missing here is the artist herself, she is very much a part of this social interaction, making a social statement about equality.
Going forward, I discovered some contemporary artists interpreting domestic interiors.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Njideka is a Nigerian-born artist, now living in America, her work combines elements from both countries in a mixed media format. This is a large piece of mixed media which perfectly combines many elements, with multiple layers, representing herself and telling her story.
This is a different way of showing the dining room, the composition has the table almost coming out of the picture, pushing up right into the face of the viewer. The shadows of the chairs are made of other images. The table has many objects, arranged in a casual, non-formal way.
Whilst seemingly an ordinary, everyday scene of a dining room, there is clearly more than meets the eye, there are references to Nigeria and America, making a more global and political. The many layers express her personal journey from her home place to the life of an immigrant. Undoubtedly there are questions of identity, nationality, and gender, woven into a scene, mixed with memories from Africa.
The next image is a very different view of an interior by David Diao which caught my attention for this very reason.
The image on the right shows Andy Warhol, David Whitney, Philip Johnson, John Dalton and Robert Stern in Johnson’s house, a famous modernist building, The Glass House. The left image shows the artist, comfortably reading a newspaper at leisure, in the same interior. His image is smaller and depicts his own artistic connection to the men on the right, famous architects, artists, the trendsetters of the day, and yet he feels apart from it, perhaps diminished. Apparently, all the men on the right are gay so possibly there is a connection there too.
The colour turquoise sets a tone of calmness and creativity. and may be a link to another artist, Barnett Newman, an abstract expressionist and colour field artist who often painted in a different shade of blue, known for his existential tone.
To understand this, Newman’s quote about sense of place seems to express it perfectly “The painting should give man a sense of place: that he knows he’s there, so he’s aware of himself. In that sense he relates to me when I made the painting because in that sense I was there… [Hopefully] you [have] a sense of your own scale [standing in front of the painting]… To me that sense of place has not only a sense of mystery but also has a sense of metaphysical fact. I have come to distrust the episodic, and I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality and the same time of his connection to others, who are also separate.”¹
Rinus Van de Velde is a Belgian artist who, in dealing with the realities and challenges of life, he has created his own fictional characters. His black and white charcoal works are like photographs, documentary style, adding to the effect of someone playing a role.
Van de Velde says that photographs are viewed as being true and factual whilst drawings are not, they are seen as fictional. He is playing with idea of what is reality, by using a character in his work, this allows him to depict different situations with changing points of view, without revealing his personal beliefs. In this way, his themes can be universal and have multiple viewpoints.
At the same time, he often uses references to real life people, here it is Bobby Fischer, making a connection between the chess player and the artist. He has said in an interview² that the caption is clear and specific, adding that we should not trust the drawing. He is testing the possible meanings in an image, and believes that the art work in isolation has no meaning, hence the long captions. He is asking us to question the work, what is real, what is imagined and leaving to us the viewer to decide.
It is an interesting viewpoint from above, reminiscent of a scene from a movie, looking down on the character, trying to get into their mind. The composition cuts diagonally across the paper, the man lies in an awkward, uncomfortable way. The viewer feels the tension which is uncomfortable, looking at this scene.
This effect is similar to that experienced when looking at Philip Pearlstein’s nudes, he uses mirrors to reflect further angles and views. It feels very matter-of-fact, but the complex composition of limbs and cropping the view, adding many folds of fabrics, adds a dynamic quality of movement, direction, form and structure, see Two Seated Models in Kimonos with Mirror 1980. The image seems cramped with so much to take in, it is hard to know where to focus, challenging the viewer. Extremely realistic, yet we don’t have a full view, often we can’t see their faces fully, or their heads are cut off. Almost as if he is deliberately keeping the full story from us. some would say this makes it more abstract, it certainly makes us detached from the subjects.
Even though this is a photograph, by David Hockney, it’s an excellent example of an image taken from multiple viewpoints and a little reminiscent of Anthony Green’s Study for Mrs Madeleine Jocelyne with her Son, 1987. Taking an everyday object and making into something more interesting, more complex, playing with the horizontal lines of the desk drawers and the vertical ones of the floorboards. The factual nature of a photograph is embellished with a narrative of the multiple views, as if we were actually walking through the room and past the furniture and able to see everything.
Hockney believed that photography was flawed because it only showed one single perspective, by using this method it allowed for more and yet these works were inspired by photography. He called these images ‘joiners’ and believed he could add movement, space and time by using this technique, better than the effect of wide-angled lenses.
- Sylvester, David (1998). The Grove Book of Art Writing. New York, NY: Grove Press. p. 537. ISBN 0802137202.
Vitamin P3, New Perspectives in Painting, Phaidon