Thursday, 14 August 2014

5 Questions With... Peter & Susan O'Doherty

Susan O'Doherty, Earlwood Kitchen, mixed media assemblage, 120 x 130 x 20cm. Courtesy of the artists.

You worked in the same studio for more than 20 years and yet this is your first show exhibiting together, why do you think it's taken so long?

Susan: We have been involved in group shows together in the past but have never thought about having a dual exhibition. It's always seemed better for us to be as autonomous as possible. Our work is very different in style and medium, but with Peter's figurative paintings of houses, interiors, landscapes etc and with my assemblages dealing with domestic themes, female identity and gender issues, we saw there was a common thread in that we were dealing with the two sides of the domestic coin personified in the house, depicted in our respective work with the male 'external' and female 'internal'.

You were both moved around a lot as children, do you feel that Moving House is a chance to rebuild an identity and a sense of place that perhaps wasn't there growing up? 

Moving continually as a child can be difficult in respect to forming long term relationships with people and places. You learn to adjust quickly to fit in in a superficial way but if you are on the move again you don't tend to invest in long term friendships. The constant upheaval of changing schools, settling into new neighbourhoods and towns can be exhausting and daunting to a child. I don't know if we're trying to rebuild an identity with our work in Moving House but you could say we're engaging with childhood memories, positive and negative.

On first glance there is something quite idealistic about both of your works. A very '1950s suburbia' feel but with a sinister edge. In particular Susan your work has an almost clinical feel - like a persons life is being put under the microscope. Why did you choose to portray the domestic space in this way?

Susan: My assemblages are set out with a deliberate sense of composition, colour and structure. I've tried to convey the sense of order, discipline and routine in the houses I lived in. When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's the family home for so many mothers was a full time domestic job. The showcasing of a shiny, clean, ordered facade often masked a dissatisfied, depressed and frustrated woman. 
Peter O'Doherty, Corner House Curl Curl, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 136cm.

Peter, a lot of your images are muted and unclear, almost like a memory of home more than the reality. The exteriors are devoid of life and fairly uninviting - what influenced you to portray 'the home' in this way?

Peter: Even though my paintings are representational, with the blurred edges and reduction of detail I've tried to distill the images to an almost abstract rendition of reality. You're right in saying they are something like a memory though they are not meant to be purely nostalgic or sentimental in any way. These houses may have been built in the 40's, 50's and 60's but are still contemporary in that people live in them today. Whilst the houses are built by and for humans, I'm trying to convey a feeling, a sense that these dwellings exist apart from the transitory movements in and out of their guardian occupants.

While collaboratively you present the internal and external there is still a degree of anonymity with the work. There is no human element and while steeped in nostalgia, there is something eerie in the compositions. What message are you trying to convey to an audience? What do you want them to see?

In both of our works, though they may appear to have a sense of distance conveyed by their stillness and order, there is a very human component to them - from the well used kitchen utensils or the toilet roll holder in the bathroom to the cotton thread and lace in the sewing room and to the familiar external facades of the houses. What is interesting is that while so many of the objects in the assemblages are familiar and beautifully designed, many of these items are now obsolete so there is a sadness in response to the ephemeral nature of things.

Moving House is on until the 24 August at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.
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