Reviews/Visual Art

McKnight’s tender-hearted house tour

22 April 2022

West Australian artist Justine McKnight invites us into her home, to celebrate both the cosy familiarity and the complexity of domestic life.

To experience Justine McKnight’s latest exhibition “Where am II am here” is to accept her symbolic invitation into the warmth of her home.

Curated by Ted Snell and presented at There-Is Gallery, McKnight’s exhibition weaves physical and emotional threads in order to visually and spiritually map her living spaces, conjuring a light, airy and comfortable domesticity. Through inherited remnants of tablecloths and tea towels, and a playful, open sense of experimentation, “Where am II am here” is an insightful study of personal spaces, memories, lives and processes, which in turn creates room for the viewer’s own reflections.

McKnight spent the COVID lockdown in 2020 as many did, in the spirit of creativity and contemplation. This extended period with proximity to the self, her home, and a suitcase full of 1980s-era domestic textiles sparked the beginning of “Where am II am here”, as she began to combine the fabric and stencils to map her tender-hearted house tour.

McKnight’s stencilled shapes in in Permaset textile ink pastel colours, overlaying the bold print of the tea towels and tablecloth, hint at and demarcate different areas, objects, significances and artistic methods within her home; where they overlap and where they stand apart. This merging of concepts and spaces interweaves the notion of the self and the home, fostering a sense of complexity as well as cosy familiarity.

Dancing gently on the breeze: Where am II am here’ (2020 – 2021) by Justine McKnight, Cotton tea towels, cotton tablecloth, calico, print ink, silk and cotton thread.

The titular piece, Where am II am here (2020 – 2021), greets you as you enter There Is Gallery. Spanning a significant portion of the wall, it dances gently in the breeze, held up by only two pins in each of the topmost corners.

Against the graphic patterns and bright colours of tea towels – which have been assembled with care, like a misshapen quilt – McKnight has used the simplest of shapes to depict the items in her kitchen. Five pastel yellow circles form dining chairs and a table, with a green bouquet at its centre. Doorknobs to other rooms, and bottles and glasses line the work’s periphery. The layout is precise enough to be McKnight’s kitchen specifically, but also ubiquitous enough in its simplicity to be anyone else’s.

A pile of stencils of various objects. Some are colourful. The most noticeable are of cats.
Like a spirit, the white shape of McKnight’s cat Stevie appears throughout the exhibition: ‘Stevie 1 stencils’ (2021) by Justine McKnight Cartridge paper stencils, print ink

Like a spirit, the white shape of her cat Stevie, who passed away in 2020, also appears if you look closely enough. Don’t worry, he’ll be back.

Press (2020 – 2021) is just as much process as it is artwork. Two tea towels are held up against each other, a patch of blue paint and a patch of red paint at each of their edges. These marks are evidence of transfer from other pieces in the exhibition; Shelf (2020 – 2021) and Doorway (2020 – 2021.) McKnight says that she did not intend for the transfer to happen but included its evidence nonetheless as testament to the free flow of ideas, methods and objects that runs through her exhibition. Life – like artwork – is messy, but it can also be fun.

Another inspired project-cum-process is Stevie Stencils (2020 – 2021); a collection of the colourful bodies of McKnight’s stencils that have been collated on top of one another according to size, with large stencil of Stevie at the bottom.

Though the images that McKnight has created using these stencils appear separately on other works (for instance, the bottles and glasses in Where am II am here ), the tools in Stevie Stencils form an implosion of domestic objects and ideas. The sense of waste-not-want-not in this piece also has a beautiful inclusivity to it: no matter where you fit, you will always have a place at McKnight’s table.

By sharing her home with viewers through atmospheric textile installations, “Where am II am here” encourages an earnest and affectionate perspective for the domestic spaces we hold close to our hearts.

“Where am II am here” continues at There-Is Gallery until 30 April 2022.

Pictured top is Justine McKnight’s ‘Light and shapes’ (2021) Cotton tea towel, print ink

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Author —
Jaimi Wright

Jaimi Wright is your friendly neighbourhood art historian. She has just completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) at UWA and dabbles in curating, local arts writing, and 19th century French history. Her favourite piece of play equipment is the roundabout even though her stomach should know better.

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