Victoria Miro’s gallery entrance is uncommon. Upon ringing the bell and pushing one of the two narrow doors, a panel slides from right to left to let us in. The exhibition is entitled “House Work” and is a compiled series of paintings depicting homes of all kinds. From one painting to the other, we get to travel from small rural villages to urban cosmopolitan cities, discovering new horizons, and inviting ourselves into the properties of strangers.
The artists on show span from the 1920’s to the present, but are not easily identifiable in this exhibition. Perhaps this is because of the nature of the subject, or because of the curator’s selection. The representation of the houses, whether modern or classic, or painted 20 years from now, unveil in this space, a harmony in the tonality of colours. Brown is used for the outline of the house, green for the grass, and blue for the sky. It’s as if houses had ‘uniforms’, colours and shapes which the painters had to stay close to, as these perspectives guarantee an instantly recognisable structure.
The first room (gallery I) gathers in frames, one more beautiful than the other, typical houses from villages, or small towns. The eyes travel through the suburbs of America, France, London, and various European locations, away from the big cities. The detail which gives off this impression is the solitary element in each of them. The majority depict one or two dwellers wandering near the house, but sometimes none at all. Marc Chagall’s “Couple sous la pluie” evokes the underlying presence of the home as a prominent feature in one’s life. Unpretentious in its architecture, as in LS Lowry’s painting, and modest in its details, as in Adrian Ghenie’s piece, the presence of a house is a synonym of reality and protection.
The paintings are smaller and bolder in their content in the second room. The colors are brighter and give a freshness over the previously darker atmosphere. Cy Twombly is present in abstraction, and Grayson Perry in hand drawings. The art works in this room are reminiscent of a child’s first attempts to scribble a house. Boundaries are expected to overlap, as in Peter Doig’s representation of a birdhouse nestled in the branches of a tree, or in Perry’s multi-level house mounted on stilts.
Tall city buildings can also inspire warmth and intimacy. In Jules de Balincourt’s painting, the multitude of illuminated windows in the night brings to mind the simplicity of heartbeats and the primary need to be cared for. Indirectly that’s what the roof over one’s head does, after all. In David Harrison’s painting, three lit windows and a street lamp bring to the fore the idea of a home. In David Rayons’ “Patio”, white plastic garden furniture is folded, waiting for brighter days to come. The border of green bushes and the wooden panels that delimit the garden translate the presence of a family home nearby. The owners of each house, or inhabitants of each apartment, can almost be identified from the details given by the painter, from the structure, the location, and the lighting.
The layout of the paintings gathers the same type of colours together, and as we progress into the galleries, narrows the view of the houses to one single window. The effect is multiplied when the homes are enlightened, as it invites the viewers in. In search of warmth during these cold January winter days, one would almost be tempted to step in, attracted by the security and tranquillity.