When she was growing up, Jane Guthleben’s family farmhouse had a ‘good room’, a special room at the front of the house for entertaining guests. It contained a china cabinet, elegant armchairs and heavy wooden furniture. And here and there, on small tables, the mantelpiece, bookshelf and the hearth, sat decorative arrangements of ornaments such as china plates, pottery birds, specially chosen books, and flowers from the garden, arranged by her mum. While the rest of the house was more functional and practical, the good room sat like a mini family museum, holding many items too precious and full of meaning for everyday use.
ORNAMENT is a tribute to such ‘good room’ collections, and the memory and nostalgia contained within the objects we hold dear. If our objects could talk, what would they say? Who has held them or given them to us? What have they heard, or witnessed? Where were they at certain events or moments of history? How could anyone bear to part with them when they have so many stories to tell? Why do we project our feelings onto them in the first place?
Guthleben paints from her own collection of pottery, kitsch and ornaments, and native flowers and foliage, to recreate the good room assemblages from her Australian bush childhood. Some works contain a seemingly endless assemblage of objects, while others feature a small group or single item. Most items and flowers are repeated throughout the series. Sometimes tacky and often sentimental, Guthleben’s subject matter gives a nod to cliché and questionable taste. Colours are based around the dusty pinks, minty greens and mustard yellows of the1950s, before modernist architecture did away with the good room and Marie Kondo told us to get rid of our stuff. Textured and impasto paint reminds us of the tactile nature of objects and the grittiness of memory.
In the Still Life tradition, objects are selected to impart meaning, and to remind us of the brevity of life. In ORNAMENT it is no different. Each object appearing tells a story. Either that or the viewer may find the objects a trigger for their own memories.