‘Threshold’, 2014, Charcoal on paper, 222 X 300cm, installation image at National Art School. Private collection.
A notion of home: Using drawing to explore the relationships between the 1960s architecture of Western Sydney’s housing estates and the utopian ideals and principles of European modernism.
Statement from Catherine O’Donnell:
“Green Valley and other public housing estates built around the middle of the 20th Century are a physical embodiment of the utopian ideals and principles of European modernism. As a child I lived in Green Valley and these utilitarian dwellings are still able to powerfully evoke in me the idea of home. An exersise in idealistic social enginering, and now a cultural signifier of lower socioeconomic communities across Western Sydney, these estates are ultimately often judged to be an urban planning disaster. Ironically, while these estates may be problematic on many social levels, the modernist aesthetic of what is now commonplace housing, embodies abstract geometric qualities that relate intimately to so called ‘high art’ concerns of modernist and minimalist abstraction.
My aim in producing this suite of drawings is to distil and make explicit the modernist roots of the iconic 1960s housing commission architecture. My intention is to extract and illuminate both the sense of humanity that comes with the fact that people live in these buildings and the more formal aesthetics of these places. Whilst also highlighting the power of this vernacular architecture in terms of order, abstraction, and geometry. I aim to belie the apparent ‘ordinariness’ of these structures and to enable audiences to connect with their own diverse physical experiences, memories and emotions connected to these iconic suburban buildings which evoke notions of home to me.
Applying the phenomenologist idea that the world enters the individual via the senses, and that all inhabited space bears a ‘notion of home’, I have produced a series of large-scale hyperrealist charcoal drawings. Ranging from a 1:1 scale to slightly scaled down versions of actual dwellings, I facilitate a direct proportional encounter with these drawings, making it both a visceral and visual experience. This is done through a subtle dialogue between the formal languages of modernist architecture and the tools of hyper-reality; tromp L’oeil and linear perspective. The gap between the real and the metaphorical become a springboard for the imagination and shared experiences. My drawings offer the observer both a physical and physiological encounter, disrupting cultural prejudices which prevent people from seeing the underlying elegance of these simple dwellings.”
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