A selection of Blauvelt’s pencil illustrations are presented here in the gallery with a new version of Egan’s large scale work, little surface pictures, 2014/2018. Both artists demonstrate an interest and examination of domestic space and the furniture, clothing and architecture of everyday life existent in the early stages of the 20th century: Egan through literary texts and archival research and Blauvelt through lived experience. Through a consideration of everyday objects and an intimacy of thoughts and ideas, Egan and Blauvelt create unique languages of expression and develop narrative threads.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Pearl Blauvelt created more than eight hundred drawings from her home in Northeast Pennsylvania. A self-taught artist working always on lined notebook paper, Blauvelt’s pencil line drawings offer both a literal and psychological document of life in small-town America at a time of rapid industrial change, commercial growth and the advent of consumer society.
Many of Blauvelt’s illustrations appropriated images from Sears and Montgomery Ward department store catalogues. She would faithfully transcribe pages of dresses and stockings, fireworks and jewellery or reels of thread, rugs, and bedroom sets, taking great care to imitate the magazine layouts, colour variations and product descriptions.
These detailed images, heavily worked over, could suggest a longing for possessions and desire for a world beyond her own, but more precisely indicate the artist’s compulsive need for order, classification and categorisation of things. This practice expanded outwards to include the world around her; the local general store, streets and houses, and occasionally, other people, creating both an autobiographical and projected narrative of everyday life for the artist, often inflected with an overtly religious purview.
Illustrations belie the serious methodological approach of the artist, becoming a way of filtering, understanding and responding to the modern world. Blauvelt often depicted multiple perspectives overlaid or collapsed onto each other, and would frequently present exterior walls as if transparent, rendering interior and exterior at once. Her drawings demonstrate a commitment to transcription and observation modulated by interior experience, and as such they have a certain haunted quality as personal fragments of a past life.
Aleana Egan’s sculptural installations often address the archive, personal history, modernist literature and literary figures in indirect and associative ways. Making use of household objects, fabrics, handmade garments, paint and metal, Egan’s compositions bring together everyday materials, layering tangible visual registers and authoring certain moods through her arrangements.
Egan has a particular interest in items of clothing as a way of suggesting lived experience, or of evoking character types, sometimes real, sometimes fictional. The human scale and domestic architecture of much of Egan’s sculpture at times retains the sense of a haunted vignette, inhabited by different temporal modalities. The domestic architecture of these arrangements ushers in both presence and absence, and an awareness of the body and it’s movement, as well as it’s interaction with objects in space.
Occupying the main gallery, little surface pictures takes its form from secondary archival sources and historical accounts centred around a black and white photograph of Jean Prouve’s demountable barrack unit from 1939. Prouve’s temporary, portable living structure, designed around a simple yet distinctive steel frame was never produced due to the occupation of France in WWII but has been recreated by Egan as an open, permeable frame in which to contain and hang other gestures, forms, histories, imaginings. Here, garments are suspended from metal hangars, making reference to specific figures through abstracted gestures: the shape formed by a blouse worn by Ursula K Le Guin in a photograph from The Paris Review whilst she talks about trying on difference existences.
Egan and Blauvelt achieve connections across time, and their work, through a foregrounding of interior experience and authorship, gestures towards a kind of universality. The intimacy expressed through the silent yet evocative images produced by both artists demonstrate the psychic aspects of making and the ongoing process of understanding the world.
With thanks to Kerry Schuss, New York.