23 March – 29 April 2023
Josh Lilley presents House Sounds, the second gallery exhibition by Chicago-based artist Celeste Rapone.
House Sounds is the soundtrack of a lifetime. The humdrum of the microwave, the chink of utensils on a meathook, the creaky springs of the bed - the soothing tones of home are here, echoing through the room. With eleven new paintings, Rapone composes a visual symphony; an ode to the cacophony of domestic noise which accompanies our everyday existence, to the clatter of our childhood world which sings playfully in the back of our minds, imbuing itself into all future encounters. In each canvas Rapone searches through an archive of formative experiences: family gatherings and rituals, ephemera and sentimental objects, merging these with symbols of adulthood; household labour, interior design, weekend leisure, lazy intimate rendezvous. Oscillating between deep notes of personal memory and more collective codes of female subjectivity, these references, like Rapone’s subjects, are suspended - stuck somewhere between the past and present, trying to find their way out. Sometimes exposed, sometimes obscured and always to some degree distorted, each citation battles for its place, working to provide clues as to how subjects are formed. The results are tempered yet limber snapshots of existence. They show what got left behind, what stayed, and what moved in and took up residency. These are stories of formation and reformation.
Confronted by the decision to put down roots in Chicago, Rapone harnesses the canvas as site of catharsis, navigating the concept and the ingredients of ‘home’. Exploring themes of familial life, desire, longing and anxiety, the series charts a period of reconciliation - almost split into two halves as if stages of atonement. Manifesting through an increasingly profound experimentation with colour and light, Rapone takes herself to the edges of her comfort zone, exploring new and challenging palettes of bruised reds, dusty pinks and sombre blues. These colours - in part a response to the inherited decor of a new home - serve Rapone as an uncanny, transformative apparatus. Pushing against her own instincts, the absence of familiar processes and techniques affords new and unexpected approaches, and ever-more compelling vignettes. Experiments with light also offer new compositional tactics, with illuminations permeating the canvas without any identifiable source - an unsettling mechanism which displaces the viewer as it did the artist. The result is work which is both romantic and morbid in equal measure, a balance of affection and distaste. Through a rigorous formal process, Rapone interprets the act of ‘homecoming’ in all its antagonistic, paradoxical glory.
In an ongoing development of compositional language, this latest body of work sees Rapone remove the canvas as a framing mechanism for her figures. Here instead she makes way for the dominance of furniture and space, seeing the figure further dissipate into the background. Previously contoured by the edges of the canvas itself, protagonists are now obscured and manipulated by tables, chairs and ironing boards. ‘Things’ crowd the space and commune with the body, a reflection of the artist’s own retreat into the comforts of retail shopping when confronted with a new, less familiar situation. Architecture too plays a part here, with the characteristic features of the Chicago bungalow making their way affectionately into the frame. A woman stares through a large brown aperture in Midwestern Window, prototypical of any early 20th century bungalow facade. In Contenders, the dining room floods the canvas - the epicentre of these archetypal, uniform houses and a hallmark of family life. Occupying varying degrees of control, these fixtures and fittings take on a regulating force, with characters tethered to, contained or supported by them. It is the constant push-pull between the desire to attach or divorce ourselves from those definitive peculiarities that constitute a home.
Through Rapone’s work we are taken on an exploration of nostalgia, melancholia and ultimately, self-fulfilment. In her paintings we can identify those familiar trappings of home which cradle us, but which also bind us, and push us to spend a life-time breaking free. They take us into the claustrophobic space of your mind’s eye and force us to think about the roles we play and why.
Much like your favourite album, House Sounds transports you through time and taps into the rhythm of life. And it stays with you, moving things along.