The Complication of Clarification
This more intimate connection to art can be found in both my professional and personal life. As I mention incessantly, I live with an artist, which is fun and exciting for all sorts of reasons. When one knows the thought behind a painting and the intricacies that went into its production it takes on meaning a casual viewer couldn't easily see. As someone with an interest in criticism it’s hard to define that difference in a way I can use. For now I’ll focus on the hour and half drive north to the opening of a group exhibition Sarah is in. Common Street Gallery in Waterville, Maine has a show called Imaginary Journeys; the name the only prompt for the artists were given. As such the art displayed is a fascinating compilation of different interpretations of the title. Works range from surrealist collections of shapes on barren backgrounds to intricate map drawings. Sarah’s three contributions (Driving I, II and III) attend a theme of roads; capturing atmospheres in her usual multimedia mishmash of acrylic and magazine clippings.
I watched the creation of one of the paintings from one Sarah’s less comfortable kitchen chairs, so it is an instant favorite. However, the final painting in her series really struck me the night of the opening. Gazing through trees, castles and maps surrounding overgrown pavement I noticed a small snippet of a poem I’d seen scrawled in her sketchbook, graphite buried under paint and matte medium. I intentionally avoid details, suffice to say the quote lent me insight into the painting. It impressed on me the excitement and melancholy of hypothetical journeys - those that could happen but may not, the “what ifs” where so many of us spend so much of our time. It drew on my own tendency toward daydream, releasing the bitter taste of retrospection.
None of this is impossible to find without recognizing the words in the background, but verification is both exciting and disappointing. It involves a concreteness that I’m not sure serves her work well. I find narrative ambiguity to be a compelling element of her domestic scenes and fantasy landscapes. Sarah sets a place and atmosphere, but the viewer gets little clue into the story beside what they bring themselves. This and her privacy (but obviously that’s less important), is why I want to avoid specifics.
I find this quality in Kate Doyle’s work as well, which leads me to a better understanding of what it could mean to me. When Kate was taking photos of me surrounded by spilled objects I attached value and meaning to the toys and clothes as I was posing. I have no trouble accepting these meanings are no more valid than any other viewers could bring. Being part of the process, or personal life, of the artist has complicated my relationship with art. However, it can bring me deeper into a work as long as I retain a willingness to look at if from surface value as well as with the alternative perspective I’ve gained. This wont be easy, and I’m still working on it in Sarah’s case, but I’m excited to see where it brings me.