Research Point: Contemporary artists who make interiors their subject

Trying to research this made me laugh – what on earth is the Google search term for paintings of interiors by contemporary artists that doesn’t lead you to pages and pages of home decoration – it’s a Farrow&Ball minefield!

So I started with what I knew, and it took me on a happy trail of discovery:

I have an old postcard of a watercolour by Elizabeth Blackadder, of a cat and pot plants. If anyone said they had bought me a painting of a cat and pot plants I would shudder and think Hallmark. But Elizabeth Blackadder’s paintings are wonderfully off-kilter. I discovered that her visits to Japan had inspired paintings of interiors and while I didn’t find these works very interesting (and I’m guessing they are no longer ‘contemporary’) she did lead me to the interiors of Jonas Wood, via his ‘Clipping’, 2013.


Alex’s room, 2009, Jonas Wood

I don’t know how I feel about these paintings. As always, it would be nice to see them in the flesh. Online they look like they’ve been done with a painting app – the colours are so solid – I can’t see any brushwork though they he uses oil and acrylic on canvas.


Interior with Fireplace, 2012, Jonas Wood

The perspective can be a bit quirky,  but just about everything I looked at during this research had perspective that was a little off, and its flattening effect is beginning to feel contrived. All in all they feel a bit fashionable, a bit like artwork I might buy in IKEA. They leave me cold.

I’m interested that Jonas Wood has painted some of his works outside – on the facade of a building, on the highline in NY and on a roadside billboard. This makes me think about  houses turned inside out – the awful fascination of a semi-demolished house – where wallpaper is left flapping in the breeze. However he hasn’t really painted interiors on exteriors – these are rows of his pot plants and I can’t help but feel it’s more publicity than art.

I’ve added this Interview with Jonas Wood, Hyperallergic, Sept 2015  for my own reference. In it he discusses his working methods and influences.


Jonas Woods leads me to Carolyn Swisczc who also paints domestic interiors though it is her public spaces I prefer. She caught my attention because of Hallway.


Hallway, Carolyn Swisczc

Living in France means my trips home involve a fair amount of Premier Inn (and Travelodge on a bad day) and I find hotel hallways intensely intriguing. It is all about the carpet! This carpet has a hallucinatory effect. It looks as though it’s moving, as if it’s been painted on water. It could even be alive. And these hallways can have a giddy effect – narrow, low ceilings, endless – you can lose a sense of perspective within them. The endless repetition of door and pattern. Those doors are so subtle – a shadow and a handle – and of course we do try to ignore all those other doors, we blank them out. We blank out the fact that we are sleeping just feet away from strangers. In the morning we step out of those discreet doors and hit the crazy carpet to the breakfast buffet.


Whitney Museum Lobby, 2011, Carolyn Swisczc

In Whitney Museum Lobby the artist focus is again on repetition of pattern, the artificial light, the oppressive dimensions – here a ceiling that descends to meet a rising floor. I would have been much happier if the figures had been left out. They have taken the image from something that could have been quite menacing to something more cutesy – maybe more illustrative? And again there is that lack of perspective to the floor and security ropes – flattening it out – though interestingly she seems to have done this by not altering he texture of the carpet as it recedes. It looks like a cut-out add on, or a computer-generated piece of art.

These two artists remind me of an exhibition I saw a couple of years ago in a St Ives gallery.  Charlotte Keats brings the exterior into her interiors and vice versa. As a result I get a real sense of endless space from them. Space is never enclosed, we can inhabit more than one room, we can be inside and outside at the same time.


Charlotte Keats

Keats really toys with the idea of interiors: stairways and swimming pools enter and exit, you can’t be sure if there is a ceiling over your head or not. Objects have no form – perspective is supplied through strong architectural lines, and good luck trying to find a vanishing point on the horizon.


Charlotte Keats


Charlotte Keats

Keats uses a consistent palette of beige, pinks and turquoise and all her works are punctuated by strong vertical lines – architectural support or tree trunk – again giving the idea of blending in and out. This tree has roots, this one made a house…

These three artists (to my amateur eye) all seem to have a Hockney accent and a 1970s aesthetic. There are pot plants, and quirky angles, furniture with skinny legs, the colours of California. The colours are applied flatly, there is little texture, objects lack form, there are few shadows. This makes me wonder about paintings of interiors – I suppose they will always represent the fashion of interiors of the time, and our love of retro doesn’t seem to be fading any time soon. We will always be able to date a painting by the fashion in it – be that clothes, hairstyle or interiors Perhaps only landscapes can escape this?

They are also about the room and its objects – the decor, the colour, the furniture. I am not left wondering who lives in these spaces. I think about architecture and lifestyle.


Beverly Hills Housewife, 1966-1967, David Hockney


Reading an interview with Charlotte Keats led me to one of her favourite artists, someone I had never heard of, and whom I am so delighted to discover.


Tick Tock, 2011, Mamma Anderson

Mamma Andersson’s work seems to come from a different place – these images are about what has happened in the room, not about the room itself. I have so many questions. Firstly I’d love to know how she went about this one. It looks as if she has worked from a photograph, I’m not sure why. And there seem to be elements of collage? Then there are the mysterious marks – the blurred spots in the foreground (on the lens?) and the smudges to the left. Something strange is behind the pillows, spilling on to the bed. It’s so full of the routine of daily life – a shirt hung up on a makeshift line, two coffee cups, a newspaper, a half-dead pot plant and yet there are these strange shapes – shape-shifters perhaps? Behind the white shirt is a dark coat hanging – but is it actually hanging? I love how she has somehow managed to create this world of the utterly normal it’s almost drab, and infused it with an other-worldliness.


Leftovers, 2006, Mamma Andersson

More questions. Are these different rooms mixed up with each other – kitchen, hallway, bathroom, living room, bedroom? Is the woman the same – living out her daily rituals. Or is this one big studio the night after? Two people are on makeshift beds, still asleep. Are they memories, are they for real? The blackness is striking – the dense night outside the window, the huge black wall, with an office notice board attached. Is this an amalgamation of all the rooms this woman occupies – work, her friend’s flat?  Not everything can be explained, there are unidentifiable items. But there is also a roll of loo paper on the back of the loo, a neat brass lamp and a shampoo bottle with its label showing. It’s as if Mamma Anderson has walked around this scene saying ‘this, you can know what it is, but not this’. The real mystery of course is the figure to the right who has pulled the short straw and is sleeping on the floor. Andersson can clearly draw, so we are left wondering why this poor sod is so contorted.

Pierre Bergian is one of a number of contemporary artists I found that paints empty interiors. He uses a limited palette and gentle light. While we often think of rooms as having ghostly presence, his rooms themselves are ghostly. Doors appear to be part of the walls, furniture is barely there. The occasional coloured wall panel seems to vibrate as if it’s the only piece of the house that is real, the rest is dissolving and soon will be barely there.


Matteo Massagrande

Matteo Massagrande does something quite different with his abandoned interiors. He searches out abandoned houses and paints them quite realistically, though often with a  dose of added romance. His interiors are quite real, but full of the past. They are romantic and they are beautiful. Sneaking in to abandoned houses is part of so many childhoods. We are endlessly fascinated by the blend of nostalgia, secrets and sadness – faded beauty with a sinister overlay.

The work above reminds me of an abandoned building I visited just last week – cloisters that had since become a college and now lies waiting to learn of its future. The image above is another building that has seen changes,  probably municipal use followed a grander past.

With extraordinary attention to detail – to rust, flaking and peeling – he gets across the many layers these old buildings have – the many lives they’ve seen, roles they’ve played.


Matteo Massagrande

Like the work I selected first, these paintings of abandoned interiors also seem to be following a trend. There is a huge appetite for images of abandoned places – from funfairs to tube stops, hospitals to theatres – and of course the extraordinarily moving images of Detroit. So much so that it has earned the term ‘ruin photography’ and even ‘ruin porn’ – as dilapidated buildings become fetishised.

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