Charlotte Salvanès at Galerie Mariska Hammoudi

Personal notes, with reference to course themes, on Salvanès’ recent exposition: Everyday Life in a Happy Family

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Exposition postcard. Untitled. Oil and ink on paper.

Recently, I visited a small gallery in my neighbourhood. I had walked by as they were setting up the exposition and felt drawn to the work I saw, which felt distinctly maternal, feminine, familiar to me.

Indeed, the exposition, as the series’ title above indicates, takes the family as its subject, also the individuals and interactions within the family. The artists uses oil paints and ink on paper to explore the minutiae of family life (subtle gestures, small expressions of love, frustration, boredom, fatigue, defeat, self-scrutiny). She also uses dissonant color (beginning with bold surprising washes that inform the tone of each individual work) and omissions of detail (a face, for example) to great effect. One feels the emotion less in the subjects themselves than in the feminine gaze bestowed upon them. It’s a complicated, loving and rather rushed gaze. The scale and presentation of her works to me seems appropriate to the life of a mother with several small children: they are small, on paper, sometimes feel abandoned or unfinished (in a good way), often presented unframed.

The sense of time is particularly strong here: caring for young children is a particular, and ultimately brief moment in a woman’s life. Cliches and the people around us make us painfully aware of the fact that the time goes too fast; ironically, all we want is a 25th hour to do something for ourselves. Place, as a theme, feels more abstract: the intimate space of the home, the specific positioning of the mother, admiring and endlessly circling around the various members of her family.

Certainly, Salvanès’ shameless confession of motherhood and family life as her principal source of inspiration spoke to me: often, women are made to feel like they can create art or create children, but not both, not well. I don’t believe this is true but perhaps there is some truth to it, sometimes; this series of works reflects that possibility, too. Everyday family life is often (sometimes beautifully) mundane, punctuated by moments swollen with joy and immense, indescribable love; also vulnerability, doubt, fear, sacrifice, difficult choices.

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Charlotte Salvanès. Untitled. Oil and ink on paper.

Personally, I’ve never been more inspired and sure of my purpose to create art since becoming pregnant and giving birth. Neither have I had so many nonnegotiable demands on my time, instances of fatigue, and feelings of self-doubt. It’s like I’m embodying both the fullness and impossibility of my femininity, and that was what I saw in Salvanès’ series: the female gaze cast on both Self, Other, and the Self that is Other (the new baby). This is perhaps best captured in the painting (pictured and sketched by me, above) of the artist, bathed in shadow, at her easel with her small baby, happy, at her feet. Salvanès articulates a kind of creative victory.

As a final, perhaps inconclusive meditation on this small exposition, I was interested in the tension between my experience as a spectator, the series’ title (which is in many ways ironic, I think) and the representative “postcard” one could leave with after visiting, which was not at all a highlight of the exposition and for me was not either in harmony with the other works. These details highlight the distance between the viewer and the artist, that the invitation is to glimpse–without knowing–her intimate family life. Salvanès invites us to peek through the cracks of her dimly-lit rooms, but the secrets are for keeping.

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Quick pencil and ink sketch of Salvanès’ painting, pictured above.
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