No place like home[made]

Aimee Saywers’ Perspectives of Home experiments with perspective at the Union Gallery’s Home[made] exhibit.
Aimee Saywers’ Perspectives of Home experiments with perspective at the Union Gallery’s Home[made] exhibit.
Photo: 
Home[made] explores a variety of personal takes on the meaning of “home.”
Home[made] explores a variety of personal takes on the meaning of “home.”
Photo: 

Fine Art Review: Home[made] @ The Union Gallery until Feb. 16

“There’s no place like home”: a rather flippant line from a surreal movie, delivered by a young girl who couldn’t have truly understood the many facets of the definition of “home.” Some like the clichéd notion that “home is where the heart is,” while others prefer to think of home as the place where they grew up. What it ultimately comes down to is this: home is whatever you want it to be.

Home[made], on display at Union Gallery until March 7, is a show that focuses on the way each of the three artists featured in the exhibition defines “home.” Artists Aimee Sawyers, Irina Skvortsova and Karine Thibault have differing interpretations. However, there is an underlying sense of unity in the way the images represent home as a place of human interaction.

Thibault’s paintings revolve around the feelings associated with human interaction. While all of her images are made beautiful by sweeping lines, excellent blending, and a limited colour palette, each image evokes a remarkably different emotion in the viewer.

Her brushstrokes in connecting ... even when there’s a gap induce an emotionally-charged feeling in the viewer. The painting is an image of two people who are physically separated by the panels of the painting, but are connected by a shadow box in the center which joins the panels. The box contains a photograph of two people holding hands, a wedding ring visible on the woman’s hand, symbolizing the bond the two figures share is stronger than the isolation felt in the way the people are arranged in the painting.

Only navy blue, white and grey are used in this painting, lending a melancholy edge to the dream-like quality of the painting. The four panels of the painting each contain a different pose for the male and female figures. The woman stands alone on the upper left panel, while the man stands alone on the right, the main difference being that two larger-than-life hands cradle the head of the male figure. In the lower quadrants, the male figure on the right is curled in on himself and has his back to the female figure on the left, who is sitting with her knees bent up to her chest and her arms encircling her legs. There is a frenzied quality to these figures created by faint lines of the body that seem to indicate shifting positions, as well as by the grainy texture of the lower portions.

Thibault’s other works also focus on the way humans are connected. Untitled depicts nine people from different cultures and ethnicities. Each person seems to blend into another, as if to show the interconnectedness of human life in a global context. There is a sense of a global community or a global village in this painting, but this is juxtaposed with this sense of each person being proud and protective of their distinct culture.

Thibault’s thick and sweeping brushstroke infuses her images with a great deal of emotion and power, and her technique is flawless.

Contrasting with Thibault’s work are Skvortsova’s prints, which combine a darker emotional value and surrealist imagery with earth-toned colours, creating a jarring sense of negativity in the viewer. Do you recognize me? depicts two almost faceless people standing in front of a building reminiscent of French Rococo decoration. While the building is well-defined in crisp black lines, the two people are depicted in quick, harsh lines that form a simple outline of body. The two people also have an antique keyhole plate in the centre of each of their chests, as if home is an internalized feeling more than an architectural space.

With “larger than life” people, an unnaturally curving building, and the use of black lines on a muted café-au-lait-coloured ground with hints of plum, the image has a sombre tone indicative of a divide between the people and the landscape that they are living in.

You wonder if you can trust me, another of Skvortsova’s images, deals with the way people can feel isolated within their home. The largely black-and-white image consists of two people sitting cross-legged with their bodies facing the viewer but angled inward and their heads turned toward each other. The lines are similar to the lines in Do you recognize me?, the bodies almost sketch-like, with architectural elements—this time a closed front door on each torso—in fine detail. The surrealist touch is evidenced in the doors that seem to indicate the two people are emotionally separated from one another.

While Thibault and Skvortsova’s works focus on images of people, Sawyers’ works tend to focus on the multiple environments that people experience in a home. While only Generations incorporates a human being, each image focuses on the human experience. Sawyers’ Perspectives of Home is actually three woodcut prints of the same image—one on fabric and two on paper—each printed with a different colour palette. The image is a table set for a meal, complete with large and small plates, cups, wine glasses and cutlery, and the perspective is that of someone sitting at one of the place-settings. This implied relationship to the individual connects the human being to what could have otherwise been a very sterile image, and creates a sense of connection between the viewer and the other “people” who might be sitting at the table in the near future.

What was particularly interesting about this print was the way in which Sawyers presented the image on fabric as a kind of table cloth. By printing the image on a jacquard with a traditional white floral pattern woven on a cobalt turquoise ground, and subsequently laying this print across a square dining table, the image takes on a heightened sense of reality. Saywers’ prints on paper are wonderful in terms of use of colour, vitality, attention to detail and perspective, but by actually setting a table with this image, Sawyers is pushing the boundaries of art and taking her work to a whole new level.

Another work by Sawyers that takes a very different direction is an untitled collection of small circular acrylic paintings, no bigger than four inches in diameter, mounted on squares of wood. The images are objects from everyday life, as if we are viewing the world through a magnifying glass. There is also a small section of a standard clock like the ones you might find in someone’s kitchen. There is a small section of a bamboo plant that might sit on a fireplace mantel or a kitchen counter. A cup of toothbrushes from above, and a light switch that is painted as if Sawyers was looking down on it from above, indicate that Sawyers was already experimenting with alternative modes of perspective in 2003, when this work was completed.

This smattering of images is but a fraction of the numerous images incorporated in this work, and the truly wonderful thing about this piece is that the viewer can’t help but stop and try to figure out exactly what the artist has depicted. There are some that I’m still not sure about, and that just makes me want to go back and take another look.

It is obvious upon walking into the gallery that each artist has a different approach to “home,” so it is useful to read the artists’ statements to really understand the meaning behind the work. Thibault’s definition of home is perhaps the broadest. According to her online statement, home is centered on humanity, focusing on “human connections and interactions.” Thibault also states that her personal experiences factor heavily into the work she creates.

Alternatively, Skvortsova looks at home in terms of “the potential negative aspects of home where one feels disconnected and isolated from others and self as a result of emotional homelessness.” She also examines home in terms of the impact of immigration on one’s sense of home.

Sawyers’ definition of home is less definitive, though extremely complex, and ultimately plays on her own experiences of her childhood home, the homes she has made as a student and the home she will make after graduating this spring. Her work also focuses on “comparing and contrasting stereotypical and personal notions of home and domesticity, community, personal identity and ‘home’ as a gendered environment.”

In this exhibition, “home” has a very personal definition for the artists and the viewers. Each viewer can come to this show with their own ideas and take away a combination of the artists’ impressions and their own.

While the artists’ statements are helpful, they’re not necessary to appreciating the art, and I’d recommend you view the exhibition and form your own impressions before you read any material. You can always re-assess, but part of what makes contemporary art so wonderful is individualized interpretation. How you see art should always—at least in part—be Home[made].

—With files from uniongallery.queensu.ca

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