This is a very intersesting research point not only from the artistic but also the social aspect. Our domestic space surronds us, is taken for granted, is not special and yet artistically it can yield paintings that are variously philosophic, aesthetic, social comment, narrative, commercial or merely decorative/attractive/interior design. Our living space reflects our personality, age, the present, our history and the ‘modern’ world… and it has social messages that will be lost to future generations.
So.. where to start…
Firstly ‘domestic interior’, which I’m going to take to be somebody’s living space and not their professional space. Not an office or an artists studio, a theatre or a hospital. To this I’m going to add that the painting or drawing doesn’t take us outside through a window and become more a painting about outside or the viewers relationship to outside… such as a woman looking through a window. I’ll allow shafts of light and shadows so the outside can affect the interior, but not the outside itself.
Secondly, I’m going to allow myself both artists who specialise in domestic interiors and those where I happen to find at least one, even if they work across lots of subjects.
Contemporary I’m going to take as active in the 21st century.
Finally, in my criteria box, I’m going to say the ‘canvas’ has to incude at least a section of the room so it can’t be a still life like a vase of flowers on a shelf where the object becomes the subject rather than the interior. In the same vein portraits wouldn’t count – people are fine but the ‘interior’ has to be the main subject.
Lottie Cole; Charles Hardaker; Tony Todd; Martin Decent; Ben McLaughlin; Susan Bower
‘Charleston Drawing Room’ from the ‘Bloomsbury Interiors’ (Couldn’t find a birth date or when painted but she’s shown painting in 2013 so am taking this as contemporary). Couldn’t find medium or size of paintings.
Put in ‘contemporary domestic interior’ into Google and these paintings are everywhere on the internet… and they are domestic interiors. But I really struggled with them because they felt both emotionally dead and lacking in artistic clarity. The nearest I can describe artistic clarity is when you see a Monet or a Manet it leaps out at you… a quality of connectedness between the viewer and the painting that all artists have, to a greater or lesser degree.
But I could find nothing in this painting. It was like an artistic fog.
I didn’t feel any connection between the artist and the interior which I found extremely odd if it was their living space – and (this is a difficult one) they didn’t seem to be painted very well. Not realistic, not emotional, not social, not aesthetic, they didn’t show light like Monet’s Haystacks, no narrative, no social comment, no philosophy… maybe a bit decorative but nothing I could artistically connect with at all.
How could somebody be so unconnected to their domestic interior.
So I did some research.
It turns out they are from a commercial series and heavily marketed. The artist is painting not her own living space but a ‘dead’ living space. A museum space. The house preserved (presumeably redressed by the curators using original objects) from Charleston, the home and country meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group. A group of successful English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists led by Virginia Wolfe.
This is ‘space left behind’ but with no feeling for the people who left it. I can find none of the ideas or personalities of the intellectuals in the painting… in fact no life at all.
The only merit seems to be that as a place of national interest the paintings would have a market due to their context. Like paintings of cats are popular with their owners who commission them.
But try as I might I can find only a ‘snap’ of the room in front of the painter… so shall term this commercial art. It’s value being that it is a famous space people don’t often see in person and want a painting of.
The art of art, as I see it, is to take something potentially banal (the painting equivalent of a snapshot of my mum, a haystack in a field) and by dint of the artistery transform it into something with universal appeal, make it shine like Monet’s Haystacks or James Abbott McNeill Whisler’s painting of his mum: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.
So, I abandoned Google and went to Bridgeman education to find my other interiors.
Interior with Red Jug, 2005, oil on canvas, 50.8×61 cms. Charles Hardaker, (b. 1934)
This is aesthetically very pleasing. I like the way everything has been carefully arranged… the pan in the middle underneath the jug, the jug ‘framed’ in the middle of the alcove, the jug on the table in the foreground mirroring it and then the red jug picking up the black outline and also mirroring the other two jugs. So the three jugs male a triangle and keep your eye moving about the painting.
The restricted palatte works well and the shades of white are relaxing and soothing. A bit like a visual massage.
There is also the cut off window in the door echoed by the cut off ‘window’ in the foreground. And there are squares and rectangles all over the place… the table, the alcove, the window panels, the door frame… and even the plugs. These make a lovely geometric pattern. Complicated and beautifully simple at the same time.
As well as white there are different shades of bronze in the door handle, lute, trolly, ceiling and even coming into the shading on the floor. This takes the edge off the white and stops it being cold and clinically white, makes it more ‘living space’.
So a beautiful and artistically pleasing compostion, which just happens to be an interior, but needn’t have been.
A final (and a very clever touch) is the incluson of a few domestic items – the equivalent of the brown in the white colour scheme. I don’t believe they’re real or accidental considering the skilled composition in the rest of the painting. These stop the interior looking empty, barren and unlived in. The lute (somebody plays this), single letter… we can imagine walking over to pick it up… and jacket… the artist lives here, give it a touch of emotional warmth and humanity (and just a hint of narrative) in the same way the red jug and browns gives the colour palette a touch of life and vibrancy and together they lift the painting from clinical beauty to human warmth.
This is about aesthetics masquerading as a domestic interior… the true subject is the nature of beauty and harmony.
Gradma’s Birthday, 2010, acrylic on board (no size given and no birth date)
This is a really interesting compposition which matches the meaning of the painting perfectly. Like grandma the frame is full of life… it’s bursting with colour and objects… grandpa making matchstick models, jam and bread tea with friends, the cat, piano…
It’s as if someone has gone into her front room with a polaroid and taken 7 pictures from different positions and then stuck them all onto one canvas, like opening a draw full of memories. The canvas is stuffed full of grandma’s life.
The bright colours work too and reflect grandma’s personality. Bright, bubbly and cheerful.
Her ‘age’ and ‘generation’ is captured as well… the small ‘council’ house with 30’s mantlepiece, piano (lots of people her age before TV and internet games made their entertainment and piano playing was much more common), she’s not had the chance of university and reads the Sun newspaper… you can almost smell the house and the hugs, and see the birthday cards to MUM and NANA.
Connected, involved and living life to the full.
This is a lovely lovely painting and if you’ve got a close family and a granny like this then there she is. And if you haven’t you can share her… and feel the love!
Conversation, 2002, oil on canvas (no size given).
Emotionally this reminds me of a Hopper with the colour palette and technique of Hockney… but without the people.
For me, this painting is all about the spaces between people… the sadness of parting. Of memories. Who sat in those chairs? Are they dead or gone elsewhere? Of lonliness?
However, it doesn’t work for me because it is too obviously ‘designed’, the genius of both Hopkins (the connection between people) and Hopper (the distances between people) is in capturing the emotion and humanity without seeming in any way composed. Hopkins uses bright colours and paints in a vivid ‘unrealistic’ way but emotionally it’s very real and you don’t notice the painting style. Here the painting (having a whiff of the way Hockney uses colour) just looks like he can’t paint realistically.
The four objects arranged round the cheese plant like a square (two chairs, window and painting) are obviously composed and therefore distance me from the painting. I’m aware I’m being manipulated. Both Hopper and Hockney paintings appear effortlessly natural and draw you in. The pairings are also annoying: the two chairs, the square window and the square painting, the tree and the plant – because they make me feel like I’m in a primary school maths book rather than a rich human environment…. even the shadows are paired!
On the level of painting skill, the chairs also seem to float on the floor, which is annoying as once you see it it’s hard to unsee, and is a constant visual noise.
So, although I think the idea of two empty chairs showing the distance between people and the spaces left behind is a good one, the rendering is so obviously manipulative that I can’t engage with the painting at all.
This is not a ‘real’ domestic interior – this is an artist trying to say something interesting about people, but in such a forced way that he alienates the viewer.
The Changing Room, 2000, acrylic on canvas (no size given)
A domestic interior but more colourful abstract than living space.
What’s leaping out at me as I go through these paintings is that what people are not painting (apart from in the first painting which is like a museum ‘snap’) is the space in front of them. The interior is merely a vehicle for the real subject of the painting which could be aesthetics, the personality of the occupant, meditation, a feeling/emotion, human connections/connectedness… the art is imbued with the vision and sensitivity of the artist. It has meaning, and connects to me on a deeply human level.
Back to, ‘The Changing Room’.
This doesn’t put me in the room. I’m aware of a room because of the mirror (interestignly the only grey in the painting – and that’s what reflects our image back to us… so maybe a discussion on the vanity of the changing room?) – and the open door with the light flooding in from outside. The red light shade and the group of unidentifiable objects by the door.
But no detail.
It is imbued with the feeling of a changing room but no specifics… at the same time it is a beautiful combination of colours working together and wanting to take me to a warm secure place. There is also an element of narrative as I’m drawn away from the cold blue shadows on the right through the oranges of the room to the bright inviting yellow world through the door. A door flooded with bright light, like I’m going on stage.
This is a place of solitariness but the happiness lies outside. It begs the question… how real is the me I paint (with makeup) in this room. The ‘faces’ we portray of ourselves to the world.
Sadly, and this has to be a personal reaction, all these messages pull me in different directions and don’t let me settle (which may be the intention?). I can’t absent myself from being in the room, nor from the emotions it creates, nor from wanting to leave, nor from thinking what I do in this room, nor from abandoning myself to the colours.
All of which creates noise when I want peace.
I would like this not to be a domestic interior but to abandon itself to abstraction. Where I could lose myself in the colours and float out of conscious thought and into my subconscious.
December 18 2002: Britain and the United States could take military action against Iraq without a further UN resolution, defence secretary Geoff Hoon said today, 2003 (oil on board), 2003, oil on board, 11.4 x 11.4 cm.
When I first looked at this it looked domestic… but looking properly, I now think it looks more like a club? As a home wouldn’t have lots of tables in it.
But as it’s here I’m not going to delete it.
What’s particularly interesting in this painting is that the title is part of the painting – it’s not multi media. It’s not collage… but the text, even though not on the canvas, is as much part of the painting as if it were… the two cannot stand alone. It can’t be ‘interpreted’ without the long title. There is a very definite purpose in the title on the part of the artist, to make the painting into a political comment.
Painting as politics, another category to add to my list!
As a side issue, I think titles are always important in positioning the viewer and always become part of the painting. Be that… Study in Blue No.1 or Leaving or The Daily Grind or The Haystack. Paintings always have a title and the shading is from almost neutral (because it’s got to have an identifier) to this, where the title is almost as important as the painting, and you can’t separate the two.
Is the painting an illustration of the title or a comment on it… either way they are integral.
So, as an interior (even if not a domestic one) we have another example of a painting not being about what is visually in front of the artist. This is not a ‘photograph’ of a dim working mens club.
It’s dark tone reflects both the mood (possible war) and the opaqueness of the discussions. Empty chairs could refer to discussions about the war and now the decision is made they are empty – but not on these chairs… the UN would have much plusher offices. It could be about the emptiness of ideas or that people will die.
Mostly, 14 years after the event, the immediacy is lost and the edge of political comment is gone. I can’t remember the details of negotiations – and for me this wants to be a painting (quite aesthetically pleasing) of an empty club. How it is if you’re the first to walk in… that feeling of anticipation… of people yet to arrive… and of how it was full and bubbling with conversation the night before.
It’s only the title that anchors me to a specific political point.
It is a piece of art because it emotionally engages me, sets me thinking, gives me a feeling and strangely disquiets me. It’s saying something, but I’m not quite sure what… I want to walk away but it keeps pulling me back.
But… I could do without the title.
Tales from a Little Life, 2007, oil on board, (no size given).
I love this painting. It seems only fair to say even though this is a critical analysis of domestic interiors. It is everything the first painting is not.
Firstly, it could be a portrait or a narrative, but I don’t think it’s either. The woman is not painted as an individual, neither are the children or the interior… in that sense it’s generic (a story needs to be specific) but it is still a domestic interior.
But the interior is not the subject.
In fact, it is difficult to read the interior in any meningfully realistic sense: the wall blends into the floor; the cabinet is blotchy brown hurriedly laid down; the people flat like a Japenese print; faces little blotches of colour with a few well placed lines.
Neither is it aesthetic… There is a circular motion with her curved body, the cheese plant and the table which keeps the eye travelling, but this is not about balance, harmony and visual perfection.
No, this painting is about that feeling every parent has when they are being sucked dry by their ego driven emotionally and physically dependant children. We know immediately how this woman is feeling and identify her as ourselves. The feeling is specific, clear and individual – it’s us. It is every parent.
If it was ‘realistically’ painted we would be trapped by the specificity of ‘that woman out there’ but because it’s sketched we can go to that place inside ourselves and… bang!… the emotion is there.
I find it amazing that an artist can paint my feeling when I can’t even speak it.
A nice touch is the two dogs… one ‘well trained’ facing away from the table his attention elsewhere, and the other waiting patiently for food or acknowledgement. These are animals… but they are adult. And they are not demanding in the same way as human children even though they are intellectually about the same age. I’ve read dogs have the intelligence of a three year old.
I’ve really enjoyed this reflection on domestic interiors as it’s shown me that whatever else a domestic interior is about it’s very rarely about the domestic interior!!!!
It’s moved me a step closer to understanding the difference between an artist and somebody who just paints stuff . Art captures something about the nature of being human and is universally appealing, whereas non art is like a canvas version of your neighbours’ holiday snaps.
This reflection has opened my eyes to the wider world of art, for what is true of domestic interiors is true of all paintings… that true art is a dialogue between the artist and the viewer about what is is to be human.