Reception: Tuesday, February 26, 2019, 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
The second show in the Circulus Retro(Circle Back) exhibition series presents Evelyn Davis-Walker'sassisted readymades installation, House + Wife Revisitedwhich converts the Thompson Gallery into a home of the past, replete with period objects littered with collages that critically explore period advertisement imagery. The artist describes the work as “predicated on images that were created for the people of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.” In the context of the second decade of the 2000s, Davis-Walker'swork provides contemporary viewers with a unique opportunity to look back upon that timeframe with heightened scrutiny.
Using various industrial decaling techniques—each separate sculpture surface requires a different decal process—Davis-Walkercreated collages on top of consumer goods that literally reunite message with object. Trained in the graphic arts, Davis-Walkerrefocused her area of expertise, turning it upon itself to examine the impact of the message in the medium. In her House + Wife Revisitedseries, Davis-Walkercollected and combined household objects and advertisements between the decades of the 1940s -1960s. Through her retrospection, she amassed a collection of distinctly American ephemera that targeted women in the home over half a century ago. Davis-Walkernotes, “It feels as if I am able to speak through the artwork with information and aspects of today’s society that really wasn’t talked about so many years ago. Though visually shown, it wasn’t acceptable as a society to address, and so for me, I feel as if I am 60+ years late, if you will, with bringing these up to have a conversation.”
For the artist, it was not enough to make a body of collages and collage-adorned sculptures. Davis-Walkerdevised and orchestrated the ensemble of works into an installation that sets her sculptures and collages into a period-specific architectural setting. A 1940s House-of-the-Month architectural plan from the Monthly Small House Club is taped out onto the floor of the gallery, and visitors literally walk from room to room to encounter objects associated with each living space, placing themselves into the world of yesteryear through the critical lens of Davis-Walker’sjuxtapositions.
Evelyn Davis-Walker’swork is inspired by but also responds to her career in graphic design. Davis-Walkerstudied Visual Communication and Computer Art at Otterbein University, earning a B.A. in 2000 and an M.F.A in Advertising Design at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2007. She began her teaching career as a graphic design professor at Virginia State University before coming back to Otterbein to teach Communication Design and Art Foundations for eight years. In 2016, Davis-Walkermoved to South Georgia, where she currently oversees the Graphic Design area of Valdosta State University’s Art & Design department. She has received numerous awards and has been exhibited widely in solo, group, and juried exhibitions in Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North and South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. Davis-Walker’swork is part of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and private collections around the U.S.
Davis-Walkerdescribes her approach to artmaking as having “a strong affinity for all things paper—from collage to creating typographical prints on a letterpress machine.” She uses retro-advertising design and popular culture of the past to create intriguing mixed media pieces that prompt a second look. As a graphic designer and fine artist, Davis-Walkeruses the language of advertising copy in her artwork to construct new contexts and instigate conversations. The sculptures on display in House + Wife Revisitedbelong to a particular category of assemblage, located in the lineage of conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. A readymade is a quotidian object not generally considered art, such as a sink or an iron, that the artist did not create themselves but rather conceptually transformed into a work of art through applying a title that provides a new association for the object. More precisely, Davis-Walker’spieces are assisted-readymades, because she alters the original object with the addition of collage elements – specifically, contemporaneous advertising imagery. Davis-Walkerpoints out that she is “trying to remind the current generation of issues and solutions that have been addressed and achieved but that have also been lost. Sometimes it is helpful to look back and say, ‘Okay, how far have we come and how far do we still need to go?’”
During her residency at The Cambridge School of Weston in late February, Davis-Walkerwill work with students at the school to complete three works for the exhibition. A 1950s stove (Amy’s Stove), sink (Abby’s Sink), and refrigerator (Libba’s Fridge) will be transformed specifically for this exhibition. As these titles indicate, Davis-Walker’ssculptures include women’s first names; that choice calls attention to the impersonal ads she responded to, which tend to deny the individuality of their original audience. As a way of personalizing her sculptures and the relationship between the ads that adorn the objects and the would-be people who own and use them, she gives them titles named after specific people she either knows or is inspired by. In this way, House + Wife Revisitedis a sobering reminder about the general intended audience of the ads of yesteryear, the actual individuals living day to day in their home, and our contemporary consumerist culture that reconsiders such messages and scenarios in the present.
Television ads, radio ads, internet ads and the ubiquitous app ads that invade handheld devices all flood our senses with images of happy people doing joyful things promoting just about every mass-produced item for sale. Davis-Walker’swork turns a mirror toward a particular moment in recent commercial history. House + Wife Revisited provides audiences with opportunities to raise questions like: How does consumerist imagery affect the psyche of an individual or a particular group of people? Can we recognize, in our current culture of consumerism, attitudes that may fall out of favor in the following decades? What do today’s advertisements say about present-day culture? Can we see, in today’s ads, ideas or depictions that might look unfavorable to us in the future? Which portrayed object, service or attitude might devolve over time to eventually be seen as malevolent regarding gender, race, class, or the environment? House + Wife Revisitedprompts visitors to raise such questions among many others.
Todd Bartel, Curator, Gallery Director
The role of the housewife in society has evolved drastically over the last 60 years. Many contributing factors have forced us to rethink the identity of the housewife. As an artist, I enjoy exploring the role of the 1930-1950s housewife in ways that can help me forge my identity as a modern housewife and mother.
What makes a house a home? Is it the wife charged with its upkeep, or the objects that embody the space? This exhibition is the identity of both the “HOUSE+WIFE”. To achieve this, I needed to address, “who, what, and where.”
Let’s begin with who. Advertising gave a voice to the wife’s social identity—avoice, not hervoice. In a male-driven business, advertisements were primarily written and created with a male undertone. As a graphic designer and professor of design, I use the language ofadvertising copyin my artwork to manipulate social messages that once bombarded women, reversing their intended meanings. To do so, I began researching thousands of advertisements from the 1930-1950s targeting the American housewife. As a result, I accumulated a large selection of ads to use as visual collage. My next step involved deciding what surface media to use them on.
Initially this series was intended to exist solely as traditional two-dimensional paper collages. As my research continued, it became obvious to me to incorporate actual household objects of the era as primary surfaces. My creative process of applying the collages to various surfaces had mirrored that of old fashioned “home remedy” solutions. From cotton fabrics, to glass, to metal and plastics, each object had its own set of identities and complications when applying my culture-jammed imagery.
Finally, I needed to determine where these domestic collages would be displayed. Rather than displaying the items as art pieces in a gallery space, I chose to convert the gallery space into a traditional American home to reinforce the object’s natural environment. A floor plan is displayed on the gallery floor depicting one of the most popular family-style homes of the first half of the 20thcentury. The dimensions of the gallery space are virtually identical (minus four feet) to those of “The Durham,” a signature 1940s home. By converting the gallery space into a life-sized model, I was able to give an accurate representation of home life in the 1940s and 50s.
With theHouse Next To… series, I wanted to investigate the point at which one would first arrive at a house: the house’s furthest boundary, its picket fence. An epitome of Americana 60 years ago was the white picket fence. I use encaustic wax to bind layers of wax to retro-collaged advertisements in the shape of individual picket fence planks. The wax’s materialistic qualities provide a nostalgic feel of a simpler time.
My intent is for viewers to look at the household objects on display and look past their obvious function, to ultimately see an extension of the housewife’s identity on the items that once socially defined her.
Evelyn Davis-Walker, December 2018
Artist’s Statements Per Room of a Typical 1930’s-1950s Home.
An exhibition examining the identity of housewives, and the homes they cared
for, as depicted through advertisements from 1930-1959 through the objects of each room in the house.
I walk through the house in the early morning hours. The stillness of the pre-sunrise sky is overshadowed as I find my house and my to-do list full, full of responsibilities—cleaning, mending, cooking, well before my husband and daughter begin their days.
The Kitchen is a sanctuary of sorts, or for some housewives, a prison. Stealing a moment or two for oneself during a hectic day is a welcomed opportunity for the average wife and mother—just as long as no one knows that is the real reason for the escapism. Conversely, only she is allowed to operate in the kitchen’s space, unless another matriarch is visiting. Under this social pretext, the room is filled with helpers—not children or husbands, but metal boxes that keep food either hot or cold or a tool that mixes up a bit of a mess, or a tool that cleans one up. Whether for “solitude” or for “sentencing,” the kitchen is a vital hub of every housewife’s home, both past and present.
The Dining Room represents the finish line for the housewife’s tireless work. The communal act of eating among family, friends and neighbors has been part of cultural interaction since prehistoric times. Judgement is bestowed upon the housewife based on characteristics including time, taste and quality of conversation and entertainment. To provide her guests with a seemingly effortless evening is equivalent to a master demonstrating his craft.
The Living Room allows for unwinding. With vices such as whisky and cigarettes, the stresses of the day are pushed back to the furthest corners of the mind. The husband expects certain indulgences upon returning home from a day at the office—so much so that alcohol and tobacco advertisements targeted housewives to ensure these items would be waiting in hand as their man strolled through the front door. Ads rarely depicted the housewife engaging in smoking or drinking liquor in the privacy of her home. Instead, these objects were accessories for her at social gatherings with her husband. With respect to social occasions, the woman would leave the title of “housewife” at home and would transform into an alluring goddess of sophistication, whose drink and cigarette gave her the ability to shed her expectations of motherhood, even if it was only for a brief evening.
The Master Bedroom, with its implied name, belongs to the head of the household and then his wife. A level of mystery and promiscuity fills the space. Any level of intimacy and affection between a husband and wife would be shown here; however, a sense of decorum is always present so as to not air the couple’s personal “laundry.”
The Bathroom, like the Dining Room, is where the family congregates. As seen at the bottom of the sink’s reflection, young children laugh, play and enjoy their time with their mother. Companies selling bathroom fixtures promoted of children in their advertisements as a way to show order within the household. A happy, clean child alleviates stress for the mother, whose main focus is to portray perfect offspring to the outside world. On the rare occasion a bathroom ad would portray a father interacting with his child, it was to demonstrate grooming techniques to his young son.
The Kid’s Room is one of concentrated chaos. The children play, sleep and live in this space. The housewife ensures anything that transpires in the kid’s bedroom does not leech beyond the confines of the doorway. The wife must strike a tricky balance between her nuclear family and her home; each is dependent on the other. All in all, the children must not eclipse the identity of the perfect household.
The House Next Door, explores exterior pressures to those found inside the home.