Three contemporary artists explore the narrative potential of wallpaper

Multimedia husband and wife duo Barrow Parke considers the enveloping quality of wallpaper to serve their installation-based approach to painting. Their recent exhibition, Women, at the JDJ Gallery in Tribeca, as well as at the collective exhibition, Dangerous motive, explores how the wallpaper engages the viewer through movement. “The paintings are demanding on the viewer, done with an emphasis on the smallest repeating elements, like a single thread and a brush stroke following the thread,” says Mark Barrow. “It takes a lot to analyze the different layers of painting construction, and we’ve found that the immersive nature of wallpaper immediately helps shape the way paintings are read. “

The growing popularity of decorative elements in contemporary art has an undeniable impact on the foray of wallpaper into the white cube. As a growing number of artists break the so-called banality of craftsmanship, wallpaper has entered the realm of practices such as weaving, beading or ceramics, long held outside the demands of the home market. ‘art. Today, one can visit any exhibition of MFA graduates or a gallery that represents emerging artists and notice the importance of works inspired by the decorative arts.

Installation of the Barrow Parke exhibition at the JDJ gallery. Courtesy of the JDJ Gallery.

Egan has been working with wallpaper for a decade out of a desire to “build a house through my paintings”, he says, “Wallpaper is a device that I use for this construction”. However, the artist notes the growing popularity of the medium, noting a growing interest in “Matisse-type” paintings today. Egan finds his inspiration in the floral-patterned wallpapers in Édouard Vuillard’s paintings and in his grandparents’ house. His exploration of floral motifs draws on the notion of domestic nostalgia while playing with notions of interiority and everyday life.

As a lens artist who makes still life photograms, Nielsen believes that wallpaper is more related to the photogram than you might think: “From Anna Atkins’ first photogram as a scientific document of a plant with the patterns observed under a magnified microscope, we go from the unique impression made by sunlight to a digital and duplicable impression.

The nostalgic popularity of wallpaper among millennials has prompted many wallpaper manufacturers such as Farrow & Ball or Trove to expand their visual lexicon to include patterns that resemble grandma’s floral walls. After collaborating in 2019 with Google to create backgrounds and screensavers for Google Meet, Nielsen received an invitation to develop a collection for Schumacher. She asked: “how [is] the subconscious affected by images it does not focus on? At the production level, the artist learned that the process would require a certain letting go, “which translates into a release that allows creativity to unfold.” The collection is the result of close collaboration with Schumacher’s graphic design team and wallpaper curators Barrie Benson and Chandra Johnson, who run the Peg Norriss wallpaper company, and helped decide on the colors and of the scale.

Collaboration has long been at the heart of Barrow Parke who has worked together since they met at RISD where Sarah Parke studied textile design and Mark Barrow, painting. The wallpaper works here as the perfect way to merge their backgrounds. “The ‘domestic’ has been important to our work, both as a concept and as a logistical reality – our studio has always been in our apartment,” says Barrow.

They first introduced wallpaper into their practice two years ago for an exhibition at JDJ Gallery’s Ice House in Garrison, New York. “The Icehouse has a history of work, class and domesticity,” Barrow says of the space that has been converted from a mixed-use agro-industrial complex. The wallpaper was born out of a desire to highlight what Parke said to be “the convergence of these spheres in the exhibition and the wallpaper seemed to be the appropriate way to approach this, conceptually”. The multi-layered nature of their paintings, which includes woven and embroidered elements, complements this compilation of narratives through texture. Parke says: “After hanging our paintings for the first time on wallpaper, we realized that the wallpaper was just an extension of this formal structure, just another layer. “

About Bernard Kraft

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