Wednesday, October 27, 2010
By Tom Wachunas
“Home is the sacred refuge of our life.” - John Dryden –
“The sober comfort, all the peace which springs from the large aggregate of little things.” - Hannah More –
“The only fountain in the wilderness of life, where man drinks of water totally unmixed with bitterness, is that which gushes for him in the calm and shady recess of domestic life.” - William Penn –
“Femininity appears to be one of those pivotal qualities that is so important no one can define it.” - Caroline Bird –
“Really, I don’t know anything about femininity. Apparently men do. I know only that I very much like being a woman.” - June Godwit –
When originality evades me in backing into a commentary, it’s always fun to let someone else take the wheel. Clever, witty, or otherwise apropos quotations from others can go a long way toward setting a mood and building an ideological foundation. So here you have it – domesticity and femininity.
Both subjects are intertwined in a recently opened show (“Domestic Observances: Experiencing the Everyday Sacred”) at Anderson Creative in downtown Canton. While the terms are not synonymous in the strictest sense, they tend to commonly appear in the same sentence if not context. The works in this show happen to be by two young women – Liz DeBellis and Brittany Steigert. They embrace the practices, accessories and ideas we often associate with “domestic life” and womanhood with a tantalizing and intimate pictorial honesty that’s appealing both visually and cerebrally. Decorative, yes, but never vapid.
The small oil paintings by Brittany Steigert, at once raw and tender, are mostly monotoned close-ups of household glassware and utensils. Their compositional simplicity and bias toward brown and sienna hues are reminiscent of antique sepia-tinted photographs. Mounted as closely together as they are here, I’m reminded of the lovingly-assembled collections of mementos and cherished, shelved knick-knacks one encounters in many “country kitchens.” What’s most remarkable about these paintings, though, is their fascinating technique and Steigert’s keenly observed renderings of reflective surfaces. While there is clear enough evidence of very deft brush work, the overall look of her glassy or metallic subjects is that they’ve been rubbed, buffed, or stained into existence. Like polishing tarnished silverware, or shining up dusty glass. Risen from the mists of memory? Perhaps. In any case, you can almost smell the tender, even bittersweet nostalgia.
The fiber works here by Liz DeBellis take the form of hanging quilts. I’ve seen lots of quilts in the past with more pattern variety, complex geometric symmetries, textures, and masterful stitching. Comparatively, DeBellis offers more basic and visceral ‘pictures’ that are nonetheless compelling in their uncluttered simplicity, compositional directness, and lyrical content. There is a certain wow factor to the metallic shimmer of “The Glow of a Full Moon,” with its aura of subtle color change around the hypnotic orb shining through bare tree branches. But for even more intriguing content, there’s “Dancing Roots,” an asymmetrical landscape comprised of plant forms with wonderfully strange fruit and blossoms, and a procession of tiny silhouetted figures prancing across the bottom border.
And on a more ‘monumental’ scale, there’s “Intentionality in the Modern Age.” This may be a coming-of-age testimony of sorts, or a meditation on identity. The dominating paper dress pattern, sewn onto a printed field of tightly clustered organic shapes in red, includes a somewhat clinical rendering of the human heart organ. It’s a motif loosely repeated in that field of clustered shapes (codified eternity?), along with floral configurations. And doves – those iconic symbols of the Holy Spirit. Maybe the finished garment is intended to be a destination, cut from the background fabric, as if donning sacred eternity itself, and declaring that home is indeed where the heart is.
Photo: “Intentionality in the Modern Age,” by Liz DeBellis, on view in “Domestic Observances: Experiencing the Everyday Sacred,” through December 4 at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Ave. NW, downtown Canton.