Daily Serving: “Carrie Marill: Domesticated at Lisa Sette Gallery”
By Jennifer McCabe Morales May 1, 2014
Perhaps the best-known artist to explore the realm of motherhood in conjunction with art making is Mary Kelly. Her 1976 Post Partum Document was a six-year exploration of the mother-child relationship that included relics, observations, and charts. While there are many contemporary artists who are also mothers, motherhood as a subject remains relatively off-limits. This is the very terrain that Carrie Marill navigates in her current show at Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale. She takes the messy, chaotic, even mundane aspects of domesticity as her subject matter and turns them into quietly sublime landscapes and still lifes.
Dishberg (2014), for example, is a formally beautiful array of pattern and color. The title alludes to that mountainous pile of dirty dishes that accumulates daily, and here the iceberg shape is composed of alternating blue and white stripes that rest atop a pink-bricked surface with a neutral, gray-bricked wall in the background. This is the kind of mess one could look at for a very long time. In a home with babies, the only things that amass faster than dishes are diapers and laundry; Pile (2014) could be either or neither of these. Here the pink bricks seem to reference building blocks, the sort that children play with as they help create the structure on which the paint rests. This pile is ambiguous—is it accumulating or deteriorating?
A more introspective work, Calder Crowd (2014) consists of three nesting figures with their backs to the viewer, engaged in some unseen activity with an audience of igloo-like masses. Silhouettes of Calder mobiles punctuate the composition and lend a sense of serenity to an otherwise turbulent scene. The large canvas (38 x 44 inches) is nearly all gray, blue, and taupe, while the heads of the three female figures are made of frenetic bands of multicolored hair. Borrowing a technique seen in Futurist painter Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912), Marill represents movement through repetition of the women’s heads.
Marill’s previous works have explored patterning—as in Native American weavings, Persian miniatures, Japanese scrolls, and American quilts—and often appropriated aspects from the art-historical canon. Elements typical of artists such as Alexander Calder, Constantin Brancusi, Agnes Martin, and Philip Guston surface in unexpected places in Marill’s work. More than half of the canvases are small (14-by-11-inch) still lifes and studies of pattern and color that resurface in the larger canvases. The subjects are hands, eyes, patterned vessels, cigarette butts, and a curiously familiar lightbulb. When I spoke with the artist, she mentioned the influence of Philip Guston and his paintings of lightbulbs; the subject of Marill’s Closet(2014) is a lone, fluorescent spiral lightbulb hanging in front of the corner of a pink-bricked wall. Similar to Guston’s paintings, it evokes a sense of isolation and desperation.
Another small work, Mundane (2014), highlights the medium of paint itself in a kaleidoscope of acrylic colors on the artist’s signature raw-linen canvas. An unstable pile of oozing, cracked paint reveals the particular qualities of the paint that is used to give furniture a distressed look. When a thick coat is applied, it cracks and wrinkles, in this case revealing vulnerability. Most of the works on display hold a duality of strength and weakness. They pile up paint or blocks that fall down or go nowhere. Here, domesticity and motherhood are approached as a series of Sisyphean tasks.
Women have fought long and hard (and continue to fight) to be considered equals to men in the art world. In the 19th century, when a few talented artists broke through the patriarchal art world, they painted what they knew and what they had access to: the interior of houses and children. Since then, women have stayed far away from a subject matter that would label them as anything less than professional in their field. The works of Carrie Marill are by no means representations of the traditional mother and child, but the title of the show and the individual works relate to the complicated realm of motherhood and artistic production. Although the artist sees this as a sloppy, disordered place, her works read as beautiful ruminations on the interior, domestic sphere.