Domestically Speaking: Motivations

I hope everyone remembers that we have a pretty sweet (literally) contest going on, in honor of our new line of vintage-inspired aprons, Boysenberry Pie. So don't forget to post your favorite pie recipe! You could win a whole lot of great stuff from this week's guest blogger, domestic artist Leslie Graff. Speaking of which, here she is!

People always comment on how the women are dressed. Most people say, "I never look like that when I am at home!" I chose to make the figures dressed up as a way of giving significance to the tasks. It's unusual and kind of striking, so it commands attention. I like the contrast of something elegant with something ordinary and mundane. I always get asked about the figures, as they are deliberately cropped and shot low angle. Choosing not to paint the faces creates universality, while also removing the personal element of the portrait. I want the viewer to be able to picture various heads on the figure, say that of a stranger versus that of a family member, and explore how that impacts the meaning of the image. It is part of the ironic push and pull betweeen personal and impersonal treatment of initimate family spaces and domestic behaviors that I like to play with.

What I love is that when people see the paintings they make comments (much more so than with my other styles of painting). They share their own feelings, philosophies or experiences in family life. Everyone seems to take something different from them. It kind of feels like I get to play the part of a qualitative researcher, having small scale discussion interviews with people. So this blending of my academic loves with art is really delicious for me.

All the pieces have phrases as titles, and each piece explores a sub-theme. For example, the "who's there?" piece is about communication and physical and emotional presence. The imagery of the corded phone is so loaded. In the days of my childhood, you had to be present to get a call. We didn't have voicemail. If you missed a call, you missed it. The phone cord tethered you, forced you to give a certain focus, connection. The "piece of cake" painting explores the allocation of parts in a finite whole. As a mother I constantly feel the tension of balancing the spending of hours in a day, money, energy and all the commodities we trade in daily, that we try to apportion and balance as we negotiate home, work, relationships, and personal pursuits. The serving imagery is about passing on our domestic heritage and knowledge.

I felt very driven to paint this group as a series. I haven't released the original pieces for sale yet (some are already on reserve), because I really want to show the entire series as a whole before breaking it up. There is just something in seeing them all lined up, something in the magnitude of more than a dozen of these large paintings that commands attention. So far, I have spent about 10 feverish months working on them, yielding 15 finished pieces and about 10 more in various stages.

I always consider myself a "woman painter." All my series explore relationships and influence. In other collections I employ more abstract and organic symbols, but the domestic series is overt in its portrayal and discussion of what has historially been a woman's sphere. My home life and painting have a very symbolic relationship. So it's fun to take it another step and pay homage to it as a subject matter.

Tasty tidbits: The cake in the "A Piece of Cake" study shot is actually the same recipe I used to make my wedding cake 11 years ago. The skirt in "who's there?" was actually the skirt I wore 14 years ago when I landed my first teaching job. Inspiration for "have a slice" was an Arabic music video, "Mashy Haddy."


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