Watercolor on paper
22"h x 30"w
framed 28"h x 35"w
The politics of motherhood, feminism, and art history fuel Bethany Hay's work and her search for common ground between her roles as a parent and an artist. For some time Hays has painted domestic landscapes in which the stuff of everyday life takes center stage. While piles of laundry or clutter are commonplace in many homes, often the impulse is to hide them. Instead, she strives to elevate the mundane through skillfully executed paintings in order to command appreciation for the work behind the scenes that makes greater achievements possible.
Early still life painting and the similarities between its strategies and those of early feminist art inspire Hay's work, whereby a focus on the routine and ritual of the everyday becomes a way to collapse expectations about high and low art. In an effort to subvert high-art ideals, she regularly conflates high and low art conventions. For example, her recent paintings are a maze of folds and fabric reminiscent of the drapery studies associated with mastery during the renaissance, yet they are rendered in watercolor rather than oil paint. Watercolor has strong craft and hobby associations and the piles of laundry would be an inconceivable subject for a serious painter of the Renaissance or other time periods when studies of drapery were the marker of one's skill and accomplishment as a painter.
Hays sees the piles of laundry as incidental, transitory sculptures and mountainous landscapes simultaneously, which blur the boundary between the domestic realm and the majestic landscape. At first, Hays painted the piles as she found them without interference, as if she was an explorer in her own home that had stumbled upon a natural wonder. As the series continued, she emphasized the connection with sublime landscapes by creating dramatic piles of laundry that could never exist naturally. These mimic mountainous landscapes, emitting a romantic quality typical of the Hudson River School tradition of American landscape painting. By juxtaposing the markers of this romantic, masculine tradition alongside the domestic subject of laundry, Hays strives to inspire awe in the face of the mundane and seduce and overwhelm the viewer simultaneously. Likewise, in a more recent project titled, Main Course, Hays tracks the evolving landscape of objects on her kitchen table over an extended period of time. The work becomes a time-based still life, creating the illusion of movement through still images, which acts as a record of the constant flux of belongings that animate a home and a metaphor for the inevitable change that characterizes life.
In our culture there is an expectation that our dirty laundry should be hidden and our clean laundry should be folded and put away. In both cases laundry is relegated to the private realm and airing it is taboo. By exposing laundry in her artwork Hays aims to challenge our cultural norms and let slip the boundary between private and public realms. After all, the exploration of the world and scholarly studies are only possible when one's basic human needs are met, making the mundane and worldly endeavors inseparable.
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