Threads by Robert Fitzmaurice
Artist Robert Fitzmaurice has written an excellent review of the show which is on the Contemporary British Painting website, to view click on the link below then select critical Texts- Threads
A Souvenir for Millais
'This drew me in through its plaintive note in the 'Made in Arts, London' of recent graduate work, so I wasn't surprised that the folk costume of Slovakia is used 'as a metaphor to represent the communist ideal of utopia', emphasising the artificiality of nostalgia for the surface of a time which glossed over the underlying dystopic. And the layers go back further, as the pose of the artists daughter is taken from John Everett Millais's 'A Souvenir of Velazquez' 1868, itself inspired by Velazquez's mid 17th century portraits of the infanta Maria Margarita in line with Millais general tendency to use children to trigger thoughts of transience'
Paul Carey-Kent. Sept 2019 (Former editor of Art World magazine and now writes for Art Monthly, Frieze among others)
Oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm
Two Solo Exhibitions: Two Ways of Seeing
Hidden Ancestors: A Solo Exhibition by Caroline Streatfield Curated by Heather McAteer and written by Heather McAteer
571 Oxford Road Gallery 24 - 27 June 2021
Hidden Ancestors’ is Caroline Streatfield’s first solo exhibition. It comprises of selected works completed since her graduation from MA Painting at University of the Arts, London in 2019. While studying for her MA, Caroline first started incorporating her family history, and in particular her maternal Eastern European heritage, into her work. This was particularly influenced by her travels to her mother’s homeland in 1991, when she encountered an extended family who had remained virtually unknown to her until that time. The hidden narratives and stories handed down through the generations, and how they contribute to a sense of identity, are the focus of this exhibition.
We are introduced to these stories through a cast of characters, including members of the artists’s family. The women are adorned in the national dress from the region of Slovakia in which Caroline’s mother was born. An interesting part of Caroline’s discovery of her heritage includes her difficulties in acquiring a dress as reference material for this collection of work. On attempting to buy a dress, she could only find one on Ebay. Furthermore, while visiting Slovakia in the early 1990’s she discovered that the majority of people did not own this item and had to hire it instead. The hidden, illusive quality of the garment parallels the search for identity and belonging which pervades the work. As Caroline suggests, the use of this motif is “a way of trying to imagine the lived experience of my past relatives, as a way of an imagined bonding with them”.
Hidden Daughter, 2021, oil on canvas, 130 x 130 cm Portal, 2020, oil on distemper canvas, 190 x 165 cm
Caroline’s work can be easily placed within a lineage of portrait painting which deals with issues of identity, memory and history. The women in her works have a powerful presence, akin to the electrifying self-portraits of Frida Kahlo. Kahlo expressed her Mexican heritage through depictions of herself in a mix of indigenous clothing and region specific dress. However, unlike Kahlo, whose identity is firmly rooted within the Mexican
landscape, the women in Caroline’s works have no fixed abode. The figures exist in a liminal space slipping between the past and the present. Bold layers of colour signify emotional states: from the contemplative blue of ‘The Longing’ to the tumultuous yellow of ‘Hidden Daughter’ to the black void of ‘The Night Longing’. In the latter work, the figure looks into an abyss, possibly standing on the threshold of knowledge and understanding. This composition echoes Gerhard Richter’s ‘Betty’ where the artist’s daughter looks over her shoulder back into the past.
The Longing, 2020, oil on canvas, 160 x 80cm. The Night Longing, oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm
Experiencing this vivid body of work, the viewer is implicated in the mise-en-scene. We are immersed in a cast of characters and our own search for belonging and identity is reflected back at us. The narrative of our identity is fragmented and unreliable. This exhibition highlights how we piece ourselves together through various channels: memories, histories, both written and as told by our parents and extended families, and our own perception of how we exist within this complicated space.
Touching from a Distance: Heather McAteer
Written and curated by Caroline Streatfield 2021
Heather McAteer has described her own work as being “informed by two intertwining narrative threads.” Firstly, her childhood experiences of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and her subsequent relocation to England; and, secondly, the historical narrative of loss, trauma and diaspora imbedded in the Northern Ireland landscape. As the curator of her exhibition, I wanted to communicate my direct response to the work as if I was seeing it for the first time. This series of graphite melancholic drawings can be seen as a visual diary, both personal and universal, which gives a voice to the political narrative of the painful recent history of Northern Ireland. They also capture aspects of more recent global lockdown experiences experienced through the English landscape.
It now feels poignant that Heather held her first post Reading MFA exhibition at this gallery (which is housed in a Keep and includes a former detention cell) in 1994 with fellow Northern Ireland artist and curator Donna Lynas. The exhibition, entitled ‘Stronghold’ was the first to be presented in the space which until that time was lying derelict.
In the first room of the exhibition the viewer is confronted by landscapes inspired by rural areas where McAteer lives near Twyford. These were partly informed by the pandemic and the silence that typified the first lockdown. In these works she “experienced every walk as a partial return to the past, blemished landscapes” and the fields divided by fencing “evoked memories of the ‘out of bounds’ wooded areas growing up in Northern Ireland.” The drawing ’Signs of Life’ is a view from McAteer’s bedroom window of her childhood home, but it is not a view that exists now outside her memory, This site is revisited many times in McAteer’s work in order to give a voice to her own experience of growing up in Northern Ireland. Like another voluntary exile from Ireland, Samuel Beckett, who acknowledged that images of his childhood were ‘obsessional’, Heather’s work shows Becketts dual sense of “Belonging and Longing” in relation to her homeland.
Room1; Signs of Life, 2021, Heather McAteer Room 2 ; Dreams of Leaving, 2020,Heather McAteer
Leading into room 2, the mood lightens, the work is presented in white frames, and I’m taken back to my own childhood, growing up in the 70s with drawings of young girls’ dresses and Sindy furniture, but the drawings are faded and I’m not quite sure if it’s a collective memory, my own or McAteer’s. This dislocation is made more apparent by ‘Dreams of Leaving II’, where McAteer has recollected and drawn a wardrobe from her childhood with the sea behind. I think of ‘The Lion The Witch And the Wardrobe,’ linking my childhood era to hers and creating a surreal sense of a collective memory across the sea.
Going towards the smaller rooms of the gallery, you will enter the punishment cell, where military prisoners were locked up during both world wars and beyond. In this cell I have temporarily imprisoned some of Heather’s self-portraits and, in keeping with their setting, none of the portraits are meeting the viewers gaze. In ‘Restless ( Self Portrait No.10), I feel as though I’m witnessing Heather sleeping and it feels voyeuristic. In this deeply private portrait its seems to me that McAteer is returning to a place she can only access in retrospective and is fearful of forgetting her identity. When I first saw this drawing I couldn’t help recalling Lucian Freud’s ‘Woman with Eyes Closed’ (2002) - this also amuses me now because Freud’s painting has been stolen and I have interred McAteer’s in a cell.
Women with Eyes Closed 2002 Lucian Freud. Restless ( Self Portrait ) 2020, Heather McAteer.
There are 38 works in this exhibition and in the historic space of Brock Keep they give collective agency to McAteer’s vision as the title suggests of ‘Touching from a Distance.’
© Caroline Streatfield 2021
Exhibition on from Thursday 22 July- Sunday 25 July 2021, 10-4pm
571 Gallery ,Brock Keep, 571 Oxford Gallery, Reading. RG30 1HL