This week, I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about the nature and direction of my work – whether I am painting portraits for the right reasons and if I’m actually answering questions I want to answer. The group crit on Monday gave me quite a bit of direction and helped me to process these thoughts. I want my work to question the context of painting, but I hadn’t really processed the ideas behind this. Painting, for me is one of the more difficult parts of fine art practice, not necessarily in a technical way; but because there, for me, is this constant contradiction between painting as an art object and painting as a decorative ‘thing’ to own. One of the things I think that has drawn me to this conclusion is the attitude of my family towards my work and their use of it. Work that I have made in the studio is ultimately a reflection of my practice; it is exhibited in a white space, and becomes a very central communication of my thoughts and ideas – a tool, if you will. Then the work is bought home where I am forced to store it, and consequently takes on an entirely different use – to fill walls in a domestic environment. To act as a talking point for my mum and dad. In one way, I’m glad that my parents like the work that I make, and that they are proud of it, but in another way I hate it. I hate eating dinner under a painting of my housemate asleep, and being greeted by the image of a mouldy grapefruit I painted during A-level every time I walk down the stairs. I intensely dislike the fact that for them, this artwork, made to be shown to an audience and has quite a lot of meaning is something that is then utilised as a sort of trophy – ‘look at what Leah’s made, it’s really good isn’t it?’
This thought process has led me to start thinking about the importance of context to the meaning and purpose of an artwork. Is the work still ‘art’ if it is in my lounge rather than in the white cube gallery space? Is the work I’ve written about and discussed with my peers and tutors still the same piece of work when it is hung in a home and becomes the start of a conversation between my mum and her friend about how I’m doing at uni?
I’m still in the very early phases of exploring this, and haven’t really got an idea in mind for any sort of physical work yet, but I definitely want to look at photographing the situations my work is in at home and compare this to images of the same work in the neutral gallery space it was first exhibited in.
In conjunction with this, I also want to look at the opposite effect – what happens to artwork that was designed to hang in a home when it is put in a gallery space? Does it gain status? As a sort of experiment, I bought a few old prints, photographs and canvases from charity shops. In the charity shop context, they looked like typical, ugly objects purchased to fill a space on a wall/to decorate. Some of them were prints of actual artwork – One of Cezanne’s Dish of Peaches and 2 small prints of details from Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, which I think relates quite a lot to the idea of production and reproduction – that printing had allowed me to purchase an image of a painting worth millions for less than £2.
I think these photos really highlight the importance of context – the space almost creates the work, the whiteness and position of the pictures on the wall becomes a part of the viewing experience and gives something to the image. I also found that arrangement of the the pictures gave another dimension – the conversation created by the arrangement and contrast between 2 or more pieces was interesting, and again the photos almost feel like a painting within a painting – the wall adds to the composition. In the case of this photo I feel like the pictures arranged together could be seen as a piece in their own right.