Houses and dresses are recurring themes in my work. Both as they relate to ideas of home, family and personal history. Often specifically relating to my grandmothers and great grandmother. Catherine’s dress which she sewed by hand in 1934. Louise’s home with gold-upholstered sofas and the gold-rimmed dishes used on special holidays (which I still have). Catherine’s house with the green linoleum in the hallway and kitchen. Bridget who came from Ireland as a child. They each had their “house dresses” that they would wear while working, cooking or gardening. Louise’s home was the center where extended family would gather for every possible occasion – holidays, first communions, Sunday dinners. Catherine’s house was a quiet refuge where the linoleum was cool on our feet and we could play in the garden and watch tv. Bridget’s house was very much an “old lady’s” house – lots of books and chotchkes and the comfy chair she would always sit in when we went to visit.
As I have searched for my own definition of home, I am drawn to very specific “house” images, the simplified shapes appearing in drawings and also a fixation in photographs. Always appearing as a façade that exists in the landscape as its own entity, open to personal interpretation or private associations. Not so much curious about what lies behind but more so fascinated with what adorns the outside, especially decorative shrubbery or just a plain façade that seems to hover in space.
I only have a few things belonging to my grandmothers and great grandmother and I treasure these connections. Catherine’s dress in particular became a singular point of reference. Many years ago, I began making drawings of this dress. I did many sketches as it hung in the window, sun light shining through so I could see all the layers clearly, until I realized the damage it was causing. The final drawings are life size and began with tracings of the outline of the dress. Some are sewn in order to mimic her original process. I cut out the individual pieces like a pattern and hand sewed them to a larger piece of paper. In one drawing the pieces are sewn on in layers, imitating the layers of fabric. Some of the drawings are simple ink drawings or cyanotypes and echo the lightness and fragility of the dress. The ink changes the texture of the paper – it wrinkles and shrinks a little – making it look like the wrinkled fabric of the old dress or aged skin.