Growing up, my father insisted on having our straggly front yard dug up and replaced with a beautiful carpet of emerald green sod, despite the sizeable cost. For him, like so many people, an unkempt lawn has little to do with water, leaves, or grass. Instead, a front lawn sends a signal about quality, standards, and pride in one’s self and in one’s personal corner of the world. Sad lawns are for sad people, just like haunted houses are for crazy or dead people.
Later, living in New York City, I noticed that the impulse to cultivate and beautify exterior space corresponds less to actual grass than I imagined, and extends beyond suburbia into high-density metropolitan space. High-rise apartment dwellers will pot plants, hang flags, and hoist lawn chairs onto balconies and fire escapes to stake their claim and broadcast their presence, revealing a piece of themselves to passers-by. In Brooklyn (specifically Greenpoint), row houses touch one another but almost never share a color palette with their adjacent neighbors. As the size of a person or family’s space decreases, individuality among dwellings remains important. Our homes and gardens speak for us; and they stand in for us as we carry on our lives inside them.
The concept of the weekend warrior (the homeowner who rises early on Saturday to fix, patch, renew and renovate at home) arose from devotion to the American Dream of working hard to own and successfully maintain property. Defining and personalizing private space affects how we see ourselves and our neighbors. The chaos of life in this country constantly reminds us that the reassuring repetition of vinyl siding cannot match the force of a tornado or hurricane, that a flood or drought can undo gallons of Miracle-Gro, and that twenty years of mortgage payments will not save a carefully-decorated home from foreclosure. Disavowing the truth, we continue to plant poesies, fix our shutters, and paint our fences.
My paintings and installations use pictorial and exhibition space to reflect on my experiences with cultural and geographical space associated with the United States. Gilles Deleuze compares the construction of a house to the construction of an artwork in that both involve the act of positioning oneself in the world. This is the kernel that connects my recent works. I paint house exteriors because it draws me closer to neighbors who I will never meet, and allows me to lose myself in their mysterious lives and in the impossibly hopeful, motivational fiction of their American dreams. In making these paintings, and snapping together the fence segments around their yards, I relocate myself and try on the brands of sadness, desperation, grandeur, yearning and significance that I will never know, but that may exist down the street. I try on a variety of styles and colors with my work (only to flip them for a profit later on). I cover each wooden panel with a skin of acrylic candy-coating and move from ranch house to high rise like a modern-day Goldilocks.
My country is embroiled in an economic crisis that has claimed the vinyl siding and carports of millions, and turned the charismatic South Beach pastels of so many real estate brochures into a bitter joke. For me, these paintings are both the medicine and the spoonful of sugar, the hard facts of the Wall Street Journal and the sublime oblivion behind the walled up mist of a Rothko.
Filled with my recent work, the gallery becomes a cheery retail space filled with an evenly-spaced rainbow of panels and their corresponding Astroturf plots (each complete with a white picket fence and relaxing Adirondack chair, both plastic). In this environment, the viewer becomes an inadvertent window-shopper. An art space shifts into a show room where both anxiety and aspiration blossom from the synthetic simulation of an eerily bright and bizarrely attractive range of options, each one available for purchase.
These paintings hang on the ‘party wall’ that representation and abstraction share. Sit out front of each one in the chair provided and try to see yourself reflected back. Depending on what suits your needs, these homes can convert into a rendition of the American residential landscape, or serious modernist paintings, or even ironic post-modern appropriations of serious modernist paintings. Each painting in this series is an autonomous, moveable unit in a de-populated neighborhood of vacant windows and clockwork orange skies punctuated by the satellite dishes and air conditioning vents that connect and comfort us, but cannot keep us safe. What do you think, does it suit you? If you lived here, you would be home right now.
Honor Bowman is an MFA painting candidate at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She has been awarded the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts studio space in NYC for Summer 2012. In conjunction she will complete internships with artist Elizabeth Neel and Cleopatra’s. Her work has been shown in Richmond, VA, Savannah, GA and Lacoste, France. She currently lives and works in Savannah, GA and New York. http://honorbowman.com/home.html