painting the home

Inflight Gallery, North Hobart
6 – 26 September 2003

Following the closure of Foyer installation space earlier this year, Inflight opened its doors as one of Tasmania’s few artist-run galleries. Operated by the artists of Letitia Street studios, Inflight’s early spring exhibition was Painting the Home. Curated by Amanda Davies and Colin Langridge, Painting the Home focused on figurative and abstract painters who had utilised aspects of the domestic interior as primary source material.

Using as a thematic springboard points raised by Hannah Fink in the 1995 ‘Home’ edition of Art and Australia, Davies and Langridge explored the role of the domestic interior in contemporary Australian painting, drawing inspiration from the current popularity of home renovation television programs. The result was an ambitious leap into an overwhelmingly broad field.

The potential of colour and pattern provided a loose connection between some of the works included in Painting the Home. Representing the decorative formalities of the domestic space was the work of Neil Haddon and David Hawley. Painted on aluminium with household enamel, the multi-coloured vertical stripes of Haddon’s Slip No. 3, 2003, shimmered mutely in obsessive exactness and recalled the dull shine of institutional décor. In contrast, Hawley’s analogous configuration on hessain prickled with the kind of design one might find on a seventies-inspired tablecloth. A work of stocky proportions, Hawley’s jigsaw-like Constellation, 2000, offset the cool slickness of Haddon’s candied abstraction with earthy tones and rough texture.

Celeste Chandler’s Sweetmeat, 2003, also cited the decorative pattern of cloth. A painterly depiction of a nude woman, hand resting on the creamy suppleness of her belly and leaning against embellished fabric, Sweetmeat was the only piece in the exhibition to include the human figure. Best known for her confronting self-portraiture, in Painting the Home Chandler’s work went beyond the decorative and alluded to the intimacy of the private, domestic realm.

When one thinks of domestic interiors, the trinkets of everyday life usually come to mind—pillows, curtains, teacups, a purring cat. None of the work in Painting the Home succumbed to this ideal. Once disregarded by the modernists, the domestic interior has moved beyond representations of kitsch and become a significant force in the expression of cultural and personal identity. Television programs like ‘The Block’, exemplify the current fascination with how we can construct our homes to fit a desired image. Even the smallest detail can evoke the whole and in a similar way, the fragments and details of mundane surfaces and vacant patterns were recreated in Painting the Home as macrocosmic moments of simple grandeur.

In Glister 1, 2003, Neil Haddon gave the viewer a glimpse of his family home in England. Employing the same definitive media as in his Slip No. 3, Glister 1 threw off the shackles of the vertical line with imagery which moved in organic fluidity across the shiny surface. Spreading greasily up from the lower corner of Glister 1, jewelled foliage spilled over a mosaic or stained glass pattern pressed into a red brown wall. Much less impersonal than Slip No. 3, in this work the presence of the artist was clearly evident in the swirling brush marks and freedom of line. A superb partner to the stark Slip No. 3, Glister 1 embodied an emotional depth that successfully captured a sense of personal identity through the remembrance of a small element of domesticity.

Alone in implicating the spatial characteristics of the interior, Dorothy Maniero and Andrew Dewhurst conjured up memories of Hitchcock films and eerie tales of ‘Twilight Zone’ suspense. In Untitled, 2003, Dewhurst cross-sectioned a narrow, labyrinthine room and created the illusion of depth through expert use of shadow and muted lighting. Arched hallways guided the eye deep into the centre of the work, where a blackened doorway led to an unknown recess far beyond the painting itself. Stairs to the right rose to another level and a hallway on the far left wound into uncertainty, leaving the visible space filled with an anxious stillness and nervous anticipation. Had someone just left or were they still there, lurking in the shadows?

The curators acknowledged the possibility of over-simplifying a complex theme in the accompanying catalogue, and in Painting the Home presented a collection of work that, although masterly, was in places thematically patchy. Regardless of this, the exhibition was a welcome break in the recent trend towards installations and conceptually-based work. The emerging artists included in the exhibition were some of Tasmania’s best and it was satisfying to see their work finally get a well-deserved airing.