"My whole idea was that the image of nature or decoration of nature actually removes us from an authentic experience with the outdoors. We get a false sense of connection from our surroundings."
Assistant professor of art
What does nature look like in your living room? Are there flowers on the couch, butterflies in the wallpaper or seashells on a lamp? Artist Anna Kell asks us to consider how nature is depicted in our homes and question what that means.
After a more traditional start painting images of nature as she saw it, Kell began to question this idea of "nature." Rather than looking for reflections of herself in the way a rock eroded or a plant grew, she realized that the unnoticed representations of nature in everyday objects might have something to say about society in general. "I am looking at these objects from almost an anthropological point of view," she says. "I am assuming that if I examine them in a certain way, they will tell me something about the culture in which they are made."
In "The Living Room," she constructed a living room inside a gallery. "I was looking for anything that depicted nature in any way -- floral carpets, wallpaper with birds, pictures of nature and couches with floral upholstery," Kell says. She then painted a chain link fence over the collection. "My whole idea was that the image of nature or decoration of nature actually removes us from an authentic experience with the outdoors. We get a false sense of connection from our surroundings."
For another installation, Kell created "Lamp Forest." She searched thrift stores and garage sales for lamps decorated with country geese and happy pigs, with exotic lions, zebras and leopards, with roses and cattails - all priced at ten dollars or less. "It's kind of a snapshot of class, of taste, what somebody values, what is beautiful to somebody," she says.
More recently, Kell has focused on the messages held in floral patterns on mattress fabrics, a little noticed but ubiquitous representation of nature. "To me it was really interesting that these queen-sized mattresses, which usually two people would sleep on, are covered with all this symbolism of fecundity and fertility and beauty," she says. "I think there are things implicit in these decorations that are telling us to behave a certain way."
Kell looks forward to pushing her students to not just master the skills of painting, but also to question and interpret the forms around them. "I look at objects and try to think about what they mean," she says. "I've learned lately that most people don't think that way. They don't have a framework for being critical of what they see."
By highlighting the patterns in everyday objects and altering the context -- by painting a greenhouse over flowers or a birdcage around birds -- Kell asks her audience to pay attention. "I hope that people are able to see the materials I've used in a completely different way, but I hope that carries over into other things they see."
Posted Sept. 27, 2011