Piling Up: Paintings by Bethany Hays
January 14 – May 15, 2013
Roger W. Rogers Gallery
Anyone who has ever watched in despair as their home fills with a mountain of laundry waiting to be washed can relate to the recent series of watercolor paintings by Bethany Hays. As a single mother Hays is intimately familiar with the feeling of being swamped by the mundane domestic tasks that are necessary for the everyday maintenance of family life. Her paintings offer a glimpse into the endless daily battle between entropy and order that characterizes the struggle to tame domestic chaos.
While her works are grounded in the reality of daily experience, they also refer to the history and traditions of art. The first and most obvious reference is to the history of painting. Hays’ paintings call to mind 17th century European still life paintings in general, the work of early women painters like Maria van Oosterwijck and Geertgen Wyntges in particular, because they similarly present lush, detailed and inviting studies of domestic objects. These paintings remind us that during the 17th century the home was still considered a sacred space. At the time still life paintings were considered a lower status genre than portraits and landscapes, and so became out of necessity the domain of early women painters whose gender confined them to the home, whereas male painters were free to explore the world and even paint dramatic mountainous landscapes. Hays comments on this double standard by piling up laundry to create, paradoxically, a dramatic domestic version of the sublime landscape paintings women were not at liberty to paint.
The other element that connects these paintings to the history of painting is their relationship to the tradition of drapery studies. Historically, the painting of sumptuous and luxurious folds of drapery is a marker of skill and craft. Hays cleverly subverts this convention by painting drapery in watercolor, a medium that lacks the credibility and grandeur of oil paintings because of its craft and hobby associations.
Hays’ paintings also relate closely to the Feminist movement in Art’s focus on domestic routine and maintenance as ritual and performance. The intention of her work is to raise the profile of undervalued and overlooked domestic subjects while at the same time recording the ebb and flow of the energy that moves through the “ecosystem” inside a home. She speaks of the act of painting these works as being, in a sense, meditative, and sees the works as a kind of record of accidental domestic sculptures as well as being both metaphorical landscapes and self-portraits.
Bethany Hays grew up in Washington State, and received her MFA in Contemporary Art practices from Portland State University in 2009. She is currently a visiting Assistant professor of Art at Willamette. More of her work can be seen on her website: www.bethanyhays.com.
-Andries Fourie, Curator, Roger W. Rogers Gallery