A diverse and inclusive art world in the making
by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : May 13, 2023
The art exhibition House Sounds by Chicago-based artist Celeste Rapone at the Josh Lilley art gallery in London, United Kingdom is a visual articulation of ‘noise’—a gesture hinted at by the inhabitants of the house. The eleven paintings by Rapone are a walkthrough of scenic family get-togethers and objects of desire, only to let viewers access their memories that border around the private space of the female community. The domesticity populating the paintings breathes life into the house.
Not to be mistaken as a continuation of still-life—a favourite subject among the European masters—the paintings capture scenes in motion as the ‘humdrum of the microwave,’ ‘chink of utensils,’ and ‘creaky springs of the bed,’ nurturing the relationship between the past and the present of the viewer.
For someone who retreats to the domesticity of home to talk about the crucial presence of memory in artistic practice, how does an artist like Rapone differentiate between memory and nostalgia? In an interview with STIR, the American artist mentions, “Memory is something we are tethered to—an imperfect recounting of actual life events. To revisit a memory in a painting might result in feeling beholden to it. For me, nostalgia is about capturing the essence of a time and place, which is something many of my female figures are entangled with. It can exist fluidly within the work, whether playing a large role as an underlying narrative or a lesser one as a small relic—like a pair of old sneakers or a piece of jewellery—tucked away in the composition. I am interested in how nostalgia can manifest as memorabilia in my work, its value always changing.”
Having moved from New Jersey to Chicago with her husband, Rapone’s journey was underpinned with a sense of uprootedness; transforming Chicago into a home after much reconciliation, Rapone navigates a deluge of emotions–anxiety, longing, desire and belonging–turning the canvas into a ‘site of catharsis.’ Her experiments with colour and light reinforce her spirit to explore the possibilities available with the ‘bruised reds, dusty pinks and sombre blues.’ Yet, it is the manipulation of light, leading to engrossing compositions, which pushes the viewers to harbour an unsettling set of sentiments. In other words, the paintings evoke an emotion of amorousness, with decadence not lurking at a distance.
Interestingly, in the works being displayed at the solo exhibition, which lie at the intersection of abstract art and figurative art, the viewer sees individual figures as well as a group of people, yet each one is retrieved to a sense of solitude. In Blue Basement and Weekenders, the viewer sees human figures in the composition, failing to face each other or engage in a conversation. Lost in their moment of thought, Rapone insists on the idea of individualism even while in a community. While elaborating on this she explains, “I am never really certain of the emotional dynamics between my figures, so I try to allow enough ambiguity for those relationships to remain open-ended. One aspect of my work is that in compositions with multiple figures, they tend to all be the same age, which perhaps sets up a kind of competitive or romantic subtext. To me, if their exchanges or expressions are too developed, it can be too leading for both the viewer and for my own process. I need to preserve a sense of mystery for myself.”
What makes her work captivating is the acute attention lent to the surroundings in the paintings, which appear to be in conversation with the occupants. From architecture, interior design, furniture pieces and a myriad of objects to people, everything speaks to one another to suggest how one gradually develops an emotion of affection for everything in a house. It does not remain removed from the mood of withdrawal. In Contender, for instance, the family sits at the dining table, but paraphernalia plays into the making of the identity of the family. The artist books such as Leo Lozano, Joyce Pensato and Carol Rama, suggest the aesthetic inclination of the family. Subsequently, they also reflect upon the visual artist’s interests.
The inner scenes of the house transmute to be an oblique perspective on the time spent in the studio by the artist. The blatant disjunction between private and public life is blurred when Rapone sees a similarity in “whatever you carry with you in your private life remains when sharing space with others.” She continues to add, “I am sure this perspective has something to do with the fact that I spend a lot of time alone in the studio, and whatever’s happening in there stays with me when I leave. That solitary studio time also has an impact on my figures’ sense of solitude in the paintings.”
The raw bodies in their flesh glorify womanhood–an inhibited self who celebrates the comfort of any body size. For feminists, the act of lending a voice to hitherto the unspoken is an extension of reclaiming agency from the hegemony of righteousness to subversive pacts of togetherness. The paintings by Rapone evoke what American writer Audre Lorde once disclosed: “The power of metamorphosing silence into language is an act of self-revelation that is never far from the perils of apprehended bias.” Rapone concludes with a hopeful thought that the viewers “enjoy the experience of looking at the paintings and that they have staying power.”
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