do they relate? Greenwood’s Open Mouth.
Greenwood: Personal Effects
George Arts Project, Courthouse Gallery, through June 12
The artist Mary Kelly broke ground in the 1970’s with her
piece titled Post-Partum Document. This seminal work
was a complex reinterpretation of the traditional mother-child
portrait. Not only did it include notes, data, and diagrams
from the first years of her son’s life, but in one section
she even displayed his dirty diapers. By analyzing the minutiae
of these early years of motherhood, Kelly was asserting her
identity as both mother and artist.
Like Kelly, Kathryn Greenwood incorporates the trappings of
motherhood into many of her paintings. In one there is a diaper;
in others a binky, a bulb syringe, or a breast pump intermingle
with various objects such as antique utensils, rusty tools,
figurines, and toys. Just as the title of the exhibition suggests,
Greenwood’s personal effects figure prominently in her art.
Greenwood explains that she often associates events in her
life with particular objects. These objects enter her painting
repertoire and become part of a narrative that is both personal
and universal. Each item is realistically portrayed and her
attention to detail elevates the object from its ordinariness
and in some cases highlights its uniqueness. While Greenwood
uses traditional still-life technique to render the objects,
she alters the typical configuration. Rather than a classic
tableau, each item is set apart from the others and appears
flat against the picture plane. While this allows the viewer
to look at each item individually, it also allows the objects
to interact in ways that create interesting relationships.
The paintings become studies in memory and nostalgia as well
as in form and function. Even the cloth onto which Greenwood
paints acts as an individual object with personal associations.
These vintage textiles, often given to her by family or friends,
serve as the ground for her paintings. The decorative aspect
of each adds a further level of complexity to the overall
composition, as does the fact that these are actual objects
and not representations.
As individual characters in a narrative, Greenwood’s personal
effects join into a conversation with one another. At times
her combinations include items similar to one another, while
at other times the arrangements are made up of items that
are quite unalike. For Things that Pinch the similarity
between the tweezers, vices, and pliers depicted is fairly
straightforward. In Open Mouth, however, the items
relate only visually and not functionally. Here the open mouth
of a toy dinosaur mimics the open blades of a scissors, an
open wrench, and a fork.
Little plastic toy animals crop up in other pieces as well.
The Serpent conjures associations to the story of Eve
with a little antique doll at the center surrounded by plastic
toy farm animals and one rather menacing rubbery snake. But
that is not the only possible reading. The piece could also
be a rumination on motherhood. The doll, framed on either
side by a set of silverware, becomes a symbol of sacrifice
to one’s progeny.
Greenwood uses a similar humor in three small works based
on recipe cards. These vintage cards, from the Betty Crocker
Recipe Card Library, look as if they might have been used
during her own childhood. With headings like Recipes Children
Can Make and Foods that Go Places, they reveal a stereotype
of domesticity. In Family Reunion Greenwood paints
a pliers over the casseroles, watermelon and ham in the background.
Similar to The Serpent it is suggestive of the joys
and woes of familial obligation. Love, Mother is also
indicative of family bonds.
Greenwood is well aware of the powerful connection people
have to objects. Her own “tattered and treasured” personal
effects bear the traces of memories. They were used to fix,
to build, to feed, to clothe, and to entertain; and they each
carry a history. By combining them into a type of pictograph
she imbues them with new meaning. Sometimes funny, sometimes
melancholy, the work in the exhibition becomes a portrait
of Greenwood as both mother and artist.