on interiors

Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse… famous for their paintings of the domestic life that surrounded them—lush fabric patterns and intimate spaces, celebrations of domesticated spaces, of the curved line and sensuous color.  Appreciation for what is distinctly not male, by distinctive men.  They are interiors, but are they interior?

I'm thinking about these things because I recently saw an exhibition of Squeak Carnwath at the Oakland Museum.  These are personal pictographic compositions.  Journal-like.  Interior mind spaces granting permission to find “guilt free zones” within herself and for her friend who died of cancer, and for her viewers who are reminded of the way we torture ourselves.  These paintings are coded narratives that the artist generously shares with her public in a video playing in another room.  They are large, textured surfaces that are sometimes layered and buttery, sometimes abrasive, wound-like and raw.  In her vocabulary, there is both random chaotic space and an ordered, grid-like, numerical, structured space.  Sometimes one takes over the other.  Sometimes they are relegated to their own side of the canvas, sometimes one exists only as a small reminder, a patch of order in the midst of disorder, a small swatch of rectangular color samples, or the countdown of days lived.  A woman in the battleground of her evolving self… I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…. she says a thousand times in black paint.

Squeak Carnwath ©, Private Life, 2008, oil and alkyd on canvas over panel,
55” x 50”,  photo credit: Vaga

I'm thinking about these things because I recently saw an exhibition of TL Solien at the Haggerty Museum in Milwaukee.  These are also private stories inhabited by cartoon-like figures, knickknacks, clothing scattered about and distorted home furnishings.  They are distinctly contemporary in the flat color spaces that fill the frame with a pattern-like movement.  These paintings are immediately attractive, a visual candy store of enticing color and shapes, familiar, but not quite knowable.  A narrative, yet the story is incomprehensible.  We don't mind.  They don't insist on revealing their private tale, nor do they suggest a cultural story.  They remind me that things just happen, simultaneously, leaving a trail of objects stacked on top of one another, remnants of experience that seem to animate each other as if in a secret dialogue.  I heard him talk about these paintings, for two hours, about the problems in his marriage, his snoring, his having to sleep in the basement bedroom.  In the space of these paintings, in these private conversations with things that seem to transform into “not-things”, he isn't really talking to you, the viewer, but you can listen in if you want.

T.L. Solien    Small Room, oil and enamel on canvas   60” x 72”


And I'm thinking about these things because of the inner necessity that always drives an artist.  It is what is interior that makes the work unique; what makes Bonnard, Bonnard and Matisse, Matisse.  It is the eloquence of that expression seen from the distance of time that makes a work of art really great. Who is your audience? Who is listening?  Is this a question the artist has to answer?  The artist is inside looking in, even when they are looking out.


Pacia Sallomi
June, 2009