The Yellow Wallpaper
Throughout the process of creating my thesis I’ve come to understand that the overall body of works reflects more than just an idea of patterns, gridding and domestic space but it looks into how I fit into the society I live in and the issues of pattern that reside in my life. I find that by creating an engulfing experience for the viewer through my installation I have found that I, myself, am engulfed in this experience in a larger way and have no exit. By looking at a multitude of different artists architects and designers I’ve been influenced by, I’ve created a work that references many different subjects in one all encompassing piece. There is a certain tension I want to express between the various elements of the piece that demonstrate the interaction between the patterns in our internal and external words. This is clearly seen by the layout itself interacting with the overwhelming quality of the pattern, acting as a foyer-like space which typically depicts the desired appearance of a home without knowing what is in the rest of the house. But in this space you cannot move forward to the rest of the house, there is no visual exit out of the pattern. These patterns in domestic spaces and patterns in the overall design and architecture of these spaces have led me to research different aspects of society’s relationship with their home and what is popular visually. Through this investigation and my desire to understand what my use of gridding means to me I find myself using both personal and academic influences to understand the reasoning behind my work and its relationship to art, architecture, design, space and my own life.
My thesis creates an emersion. While creating the wallpaper for my thesis I experienced a kind of optical illusion during the monotonous and repetitive screen-printing I had to undergo; I began seeing the pattern everywhere I looked. This afterimage or ghost image of my pattern had an odd and overwhelming effect on me because I couldn’t stop seeing the pattern. Immersed in the experience and the constant flow of people coming into the studio to give their two cents on what the pattern reminded them of, the wallpaper became more of an experience of the imagination instead of an observation from a distance.
Kees Dorst, the design theorist, once explained the difference between an artist and designer. He wrote, “An artist determines his or her own goals. Artists have this freedom because with their creation they do not aim for any practical application but strive to influence the feeling or thinking of an audience.” My intended goal for this piece was to use the wallpaper, furniture and framed patterns to create an overwhelming and engulfing effect much like the afterimage experience while creating it. But I do not want this engulfing effect to be only visual; the observer should feel as if there is no exit from the pattern. The strong repetition of a single pattern creates a captive environment. There is no exiting from its influence covering all surfaces likewise to the difficulty escaping patterns we exist in. Unlike camouflage, there is no object intended to blend in amongst this setting. All components are separate but together as a whole in the particular layout of the scene.
I chose a pattern that reflects observations I have made throughout my life in the living environments I’ve occupied. I focus on how these influences from art, architecture and design have coexisted in my life. Like patterns in the formation of nature, such as Pythagoras’ Golden Ratio, and the functions of the Universe, this project fits into my life through my work patterns as an art student. I develop assignments for myself that revolve loosely around principles of gridding, patterns and texture and my reaction to these principles. With this and past works I have never come to a solid conclusion for the reasoning behind my use of gridded systems. My art has functioned as material observations and research into my own fascination with gridded systems and textures. It seems that my art is in a constant state of exploration and testing. I am moved in the general direction of understanding to what gridded systems actually mean with each project that I complete. I am constantly testing ideas and completing self-assignments.
I move quickly with processes and mediums that are physical and easily changed. The mediums of screen-printing and photography appeal to this desire to move on to the next project. I work quickly in these mediums correcting as I go and not turning back. For this particular project I used solely the process of screen-printing. The more industrial quality of screen-printing benefited my intended goal. There is an intense amount of physical labor involved. The finished product resembles machine made wallpaper from afar but at a closer range you can see the flaws and the hand made quality of it.
The basic design concept used in many contemporary homes is to use simple patterns and neutral color shades to portray a large sense of space and evoking a more serene mood. My pattern works against the space visually working against this basic design concept. The pattern conveys an overall feeling of busyness and creates a more crowded space. Nothing about this pattern and its application assist in the architectural balance of the space. The pattern visually works against the space, making the stark whiteness and minimal qualities of the gallery busy and crowded with the bright colors and a repetitive modular shape.
I choose the suggestion of an entryway or foyer to evoke the entrance to a private world. An entryway is also an entrée. This architectural element serves society’s obsession with “first appearances.” We consciously project an image of our family or ourselves that we desire the newcomer to see before experiencing the actual reality. As in design where you create a plan for a specific object for a particular function, the entranceway calculates to make a certain impression. The entrance into the environment of this pattern provides no exit. The furniture and the wallpaper enter into the rest of the gallery space, not constrained just to the wall. The organization and layout of my work draws on architectural patterns from familiar houses in my life. The frames on the wall represent the walls of family photos and sentimental art people hang in their entrance halls using found frames. This typical scene repeats itself in many houses I’ve seen.
I created wallpaper and upholstered pieces of furniture to stay within the blurred area between the realms of design and art. Wallpaper, once old fashioned and forgotten, has in the last few decades become a way that artists can create limited edition pieces of art that revive a historical and irregular type of canvas. These “limited edition” wallpapers have given artists the opportunity to explore and reinvent a tradition that has been overlooked for many years. Wallpaper has been a staple in the interiors of homes for centuries and has fluctuated in popularity and interest throughout those centuries. Members of society decorate their home interiors to reflect the style, fads and architectural trends of the era, throughout this process one material in which they decorate with hasn’t changed much: with wallpaper. House decorating trends draw attention to the fact that wallpaper can be removed and changed. Giving it a sense of impermanence to an interior, unlike tiling or painting. Wallpaper is more unattached and acts as a more passive and impermanent material. It’s passivity and lack of permanence relates to my investigation of different trends in domestic dwelling styles. I’ve become interested in wallpaper because it is so easily unnoticeable, yet it is constantly being reformatted, redesigned and reapplied according to trend and style. Wallpaper also has many cultural connotations within the realms of gender and wealth, but I have chosen to focus on its quality as a wall covering for the visual purpose of creating an experience for the viewer instead of insinuating a sociopolitical view.
As I created my thesis the concept of modular systems emerged within the work. Modular systems are reflected in the geometrical, box-like pattern inspired by different artists and movements. These artists reference design and architecture in their work, blurring the boundaries between art, architecture and design while incorporating modular and systematic elements. The artist Jorge Pardo’s works involve the renovation of built structures and his recognition of the interface between art, architecture and design. For example in his work, Project, at the Dia Art Foundation in New York City, he completely redesigned the museum lobby using rectangular colored ceramic tiles and custom made furniture. This design, among others, utilizes the existing architecture of a space and adds to it through design and art techniques that interact with the totality of the space.
I have also found influence through the architects/designers Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Ray Eames. I grew up amongst artists and architects and there has always been a constant focus in aesthetics and style. I’ve come to understand that architectural spaces and designs produce a certain totality about them. Frank Lloyd Wright was known to design all the interior elements of his houses creating a sense of totality and lifestyle. He accomplished this in innovative and extraordinary ways that set trends in architecture and interior design ever since. The Eames’ design and architecture, contributed to modern design by merging simple and timeless designs in new experimental ways. They used simple and timeless designs and had a way of experimentation that was new too the field.
Another very important interest and influence on my work are the ideas and the skills taught at the Bauhaus, a unique school in Germany between 1919 and 1933 that combined crafts with art and had a unique view on the relationship between design and art. The Bauhaus teachers focused on the ability to become a well-rounded artist and that, “science provided a template for art in the modern age, and the Bauhaus was imagined as an experimental laboratory, with art the product not of inspiration but of research.” This approach to the creation of art and how it was developed has influenced the way I have grown to look at and approach my own art. I have tried to reflect my interest in how aspects of life are organized, in nature, or in our everyday domestic settings; how objects are modular and can be reconfigured in application to a particular system. Using mediums that are quick and process oriented so they can easily be adjusted, I have created a form of experimentation to drive myself forward. In this project the wallpaper is a component of how I have displayed my research. The wallpaper, furniture and framed patterns are experimentation through my own aesthetics, relating art to design to architecture to everyday life and experience. Through my display of a semi-domestic space I comment on patterns in domestic dwellings.
My pattern is in varying shades of yellow. Any color used in reference to a feeling or object in repetition will no doubt be connected with that feeling or object. The color yellow evokes cultural symbols. It is known as a cheery and warm color, producing optimism and happy feelings. It is also the most fatiguing to the eye and carries many negative connotations such as jaundice, cowardice and racism. My palette of yellow that I chose is not extraordinarily bright or vivid. It has more earthy tones, subtle in small quantities, but en masse reverberate off the eye and create an undeniable ghost image wherever you look. The undeniable power of this color en masse and pattern en masse become part of an environment that stays with the observer mentally and visually even when they look away. The particular color palette was based on two wall hangings made through the Bauhaus by the artists Gunta Stölzl and Otti Berger, who used similar yellow palettes. Their two wall hangings symbolize the Bauhaus qualities that I have found most interesting and inspiring in connection with my own art and aesthetics: the use of grids, studies of texture and form and color fluctuations in spectrums through different mediums. Interior wall hangings depend on the architecture they hang from. The pieces by Stölzl and Berger where created to be independent pieces of art, standing alone to grasp the full attention of the observer. By creating wall hangings as works of art instead of as a background decoration these artists have led me to further my investigation in the balance between design, art and architecture.
I have been exposed to repetition in domestic design in research and experience. I first became interested in patterns in domestic design after visiting a house in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. This house was unique for the area in its use of repetitive patterns. The interior of the house in Mexico was based mostly on culture and climate as well as creativity. The natural patterns and textures of this house derived from the interaction between the plant life and basic elements of the house that where given a creative edge to them; such as the guard rail over a wall or the wrought iron gate over a window. These simple design elements induce a harmonious rhythm throughout the house. The house inspired me to learn more about trends and fads of interior décor. Throughout my research of different eras of interior styles and designs, I discovered that the creation of pattern in houses in the United States, Canada and parts of Europe where driven by fad-obsessed homeowners. More generally an obsession with contemporary trends such as prefab houses and mass produced design lifestyles like Ikea, lead to cookie cutter pattern lifestyle.
Trending is pattern making. Although the wall patterns in my reality are minimal and usually a solid color, there is still a sense of following the influence of trends. This doesn’t lend to creating a harmonious rhythm with the domestic space, city, neighborhood, culture or climate like in Mexico. In our busy lives we overlook this harmony and instead seek out the efficient, compact style of mass-produced design. Styles such as modular living spaces and prefab houses have become extremely popular in architecture and design. The need for smaller, adjustable, moveable living environments reflects the current state of the western world: always on the go, striving for speed and efficiency. I do not deny that I do the same, it is a fact of how I was raised and the world I was raised in. My wallpaper, furniture and objects acknowledge the modular systems that can be broken down and reconfigured. Through this they refer to the desired contemporary lifestyle of the contemporary western world but because of the overwhelming nature of the totality of the piece, my pattern scene transcends this modular world because it doesn’t give the opportunity of way out or the ability to change.
In gridded systems there is perfection in the way that everything is mapped out and displayed that is satisfying and complete in its totality. I find contentment in the organization contained in a grid. This organization feeds my interest in design, patterns and ultimately my approach to art. The organic forms in Erwin Hauer’s architectural screens and walls express the qualities of pattern that I find most important; His screens for interior spaces reflect biomorphic forms that attain continuity in the potential infinity that they create through their configurations. This perfect interaction between art, architecture and design in relation to nature shows the modular quality of the three reflect a modern example in an industrial world in an attempt at a harmonious balance of these fields. These mental and tangible repeating configurations and gridded systems manifest in our domestic spaces. Taking note of current trends in architecture and design, there is a focus on a more minimal, geometric environment filled with organizational cubbies, and drawers where everything has a spot, a modular, prefab lifestyle. The grid has crossed over into the way we live and even the way we attain.
The repetition of gridding and modular systems exists in the society that I live and thrive in. Although one might think they have reached harmony through constructing a minimally architectural house filled with containers, glass windows, open spaces, hard wood floors and an element of green-building, the residents of the 1900’s Victorian Era probably felt that they had reached a harmony through extravagant floral wallpaper in deep, rich hues, excessive wooden furniture and extreme ornamentation. But maybe this harmony isn’t necessarily achieved but worked toward through trends and everyday people searching for much like my search for the meaning of my use of grids. The house in Mexico consciously used simple design qualities to achieve a creative approach to a typically ordinary object. In the way the house was designed and built this creative approach displays and glorifies simple patterns that take form in nature. These simple forms have inspired my research and exposed me to realities in the world of design and architecture. In the teachings of the Bauhaus, “the grid became a structural tool allowing for the creation of spaces that integrated disparate mediums into overarching designs – painting, furniture, and textiles into architecture.” I have worked with grid patterns as structural tools. I have researched patterns that evolve in domestic living and become trends. I’ve gained an understanding of how patterns in art, design and architecture influence the way we live. Patterns are evident in almost every home. In my thesis project I have propelled myself forward in understanding my use of grids. I have done this by questioning the breakdown of spaces through gridding and patterning which displays the, “reduction of fine art to quasifunctional (or nonfunctional) décor,” and has helped me bridge the gap between the design world and the art world.
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