Before I get into why I made this piece I will give my definition of a McMansion. A McMansion is an excessively large home on a lot that is way too small and contains an over abundance of architectural features that often compete with one another. I do not know anyone who lives in this type of housing but there seems to be a great deal of it being built in “up and coming” areas; therefore, I am bound to meet someone sooner or later who lives in one and piss them off if they ever read this.
Though I have long been aware of the McMansion (see this early post), it was not until I lived in a suburban area where there is a serious shortage of affordable housing and I could witness first hand the destruction of important habitat, that the McMansion really made a serious impact on my thinking. So the McMansion became a scapegoat as my way of raising concern on the issues of over development and the shortage of affordable housing.
I choose the format and the medium very deliberately. First and foremost is the house shape, something I use often in my work. But the look of the house could not be the standard few windows and door that I often depict. The features had to be exaggerated so I made several sketches based on things I had seen. Then there was the number of houses, which I decided to be 25 for no reason except it seems like enough to create the “sprawling” I felt was necessary to convey the loss of land (and I knew I could reasonably make 25 houses without pulling my hair out). I connected the houses to emphasize the lack of a suitable plot of land for such a large house.
Lastly, I choose to use blind embossing to emphasize the absence of any personal
ornamentation, interesting garden or yard features. Ironically, blind embossing is often a medium I equate with elegance and simplicity but it seems to work more in this case within the context of banality. A blind embossing is made with a cardboard plate. Paper is places on top of the plate and hand scored along the relief shapes. It is an underused medium and I do intend to write up a bit more about the medium itself in the very near future.
So I “feature”, or more accurately poke fun at, the McMansion as my newest piece relating to home, housing, and community.
I began the Cookie Cutter House Project early in 2018. Though I have long been obsessed with the image of houses and buildings in my work, the act of relocating added another aspect to my thoughts on the topic of housing and community. I started to make paintings and artist books on the topic. I also wrote several blog posts on topics related to housing and local culture. Then it dawned on me that it might be fun and useful to learn what other people consider to be the idea of Home
I invited many art enthusiasts to participate in an on-line exhibition. Each participant was sent a set of identical house shapes measuring approximately 9″ x 6″. Using at least one of those house shapes, the artist depicted her/his idea of What Is Home and wrote a few lines about their thoughts on the topic. Each participant’s entry was then featured on this blog. All together, 18 artists from different parts of the US and Canada participated. Links to the individual artist’s posts are below.
This first painting, Little Pink Houses, was the first piece I finished for this project. I have posted the image before but never wrote anything about the work and there is a good reason for that. Often, it takes time before I realize why I made something. When I first finished this painting, I thought it stood for suburbia, something I was not really familiar with until recently. Well it does stand for suburbia, but not the suburbia of today where the HOA oversees your life (you can read my thoughts on this topic in my post No Pink Flamingos). This is the suburbia of the past, when you could enjoy your yard, hang you clothes out to dry, and do the other types of activities that make home ownership a pleasure.
The work above, Ghosts of Neighborhoods Past, is about neighborhoods that have seen better days. Unfortunately, this is my old neighborhood.
So here is the finished work. Thank you all for your comments on the last post of this as it was in progress. I decided on a horizontal format and it is currently hanging on a dowel which I have come to realize is a quick answer to hanging most artwork that is not framed. An earlier version of this piece can be seen by clicking here.
There are a few things I would like to talk about. On the detailed image below, I want to bring attention to the house on the bottom row in the middle. My goal with this house was to try to get a very old world structure with a fountain out front. This may seem a bit of a stretch on a row house but many people take great pride in making their small row homes seem grand by mimicking old world style architectural features. I am not making fun of this, I find it very charming. This can also apply to the house in the upper right with the two large planters flanking the door and the several houses throughout the installation piece with the faux stone fronts. More traditional for row homes are bicycles out front as in the house in the upper left, fire escapes (see Detail 2, upper right) and small trees, climbing vines and lawn ornaments (flamingos). You get the idea. Though row homes, like town homes, are traditionally attached, that was where I took some artistic license with this. My hope is that the closeness and the quirky nature of each home speaks to the culture of row house living.
Early in the winter of 2018, I set out to make 60 small houses to fit in a particular box. I did not know what the end product would be like but I set a goal to finish them before April of this year and here they are. Now they are not “complete, complete” yet, it is still a work in progress, meaning, the houses still have to be strung together and I have not yet decided whether that will be a more vertical format or a more horizontal format. And this is a poor photograph to top it all off. (John if you are reading this, I will eventually get that camera!) In any case, I had decided originally that the piece would be called suburban sprawl but the more I worked on it, the more they reminded me of the urban row homes I lived in most of my life so felt that the use of the word suburban seemed wrong. I am still going to make a piece called suburban sprawl but it will be different from this. I plan to complete this piece very soon and will post the final project then. You can read the original post related to this entry here.
Walking around my neighborhood last summer, I regularly noticed many strangely flattened shapes along the road. Upon closer inspection, these shapes turned out to be toads that were run over by cars. One day, while standing in one spot, I counted four toads that had been run over within a small radius of where I stood.
When I describe my “neighborhood”, it is important to know that I do not live along a highway or even a regular street but an apartment complex. My apartment complex, and the surrounding four shopping centers and medical complex, were not here as little as ten years ago. Behind my apartments are a creek and greenway where it is typical to see many birds, groundhogs, deer, raccoons, and (very recently) an otter. Not very long ago, where I live was a very rural area that has turned into a massive suburban sprawl.
I found myself needing to record the demise of these creatures. Art is not always a comfortable, beautiful subject. It is also meant to shake people up a bit. Though I photographed many toads, I decided that less is more so I am presenting just two images in tribute to these fine creatures we have displaced.
Nikki Hansen was born in Elmer, NJ (when dinosaurs roamed the earth, or at least before the tiny local hospital splurged on air conditioning). She currently lives in Glassboro, NJ.
For me, “home” isn’t necessarily anchored in a single dwelling but is more the mental embodiment of comfort, beauty, joy, safety, memory, stimulation and entertainment that makes one feel fulfilled and in tune with one’s place in time and space. A personal universe, in a nutshell, that is never left behind or lost because it travels with you in your head and can be accessed at all times and all surroundings.
In another universe there are an infinite number of rooms to contain all the beautiful, wonderful, curious, fascinating objects, creatures and emotional stimuli that I find make life worth living but these few are a start.
When Nikki is not at home, she spends most of her non-working hours cruising the tri-state area (NJ, PA, and Delaware) playing & singing with various music groups including two fantastic bands– Just Roses and Smoke and Mirrors. She spent most of her working career as a props person for live theatre and firmly believe that books, music in particular, the Arts in general and beasties are what makes life worth living.
*A note about Nikki’s house. In error, I sent Nikki three house cut outs and she employed all three. Being a props person for the theater, this made perfect sense to me that she designed a set!
Diane was born in Philadelphia, PA and currently resides in North Carolina.
Home for me is a connection to my physical surroundings which not only encompasses visual stimuli but smells, sounds, etc. But since we are dealing with images for this project, I will talk about visual stimuli. My favorite story about how sensory stimuli live deep in our subconscious was when a student asked me what all those “funny cross things” were in my artwork. The student was not familiar with TV antennae. From riding the El (elevated train) on a daily basis with a rooftop view of the world, these shapes etched themselves deep in my subconscious and made regular appearances in my artwork along with street lights, hanging laundry, church steeples, fire escapes and row houses. Then my landscape changed. My new landscape is a strange mix of rural, suburban, and small towns. The air and the light in the sky are different. My new landscape has left its mark on me enough to say it is familiar enough to feel somewhat comfortable and will be added to the images my subconscious has stock piled. So my house that I completed shows the landscape I have known most of my life faded out in the background and replaced by the new.
Diane is the curator of the Cookie Cutter House Project, has enjoyed a long and varied career in the visual arts, and currently works on a vegetable farm in North Carolina. She plans to start printing again in the near future.
Amy Danford was born in Cleveland, Ohio and currently resides in Havertown, Pennsylvania
When I think of the word “home”, I am unable to pinpoint one location or thing. Home has been the Midwest, New York City, New Jersey, and now Pennsylvania. However, home doesn’t necessarily mean a brick and mortar building to me. It’s both physical and emotional – the world I live in, the cities I’ve lived, my body, community, and so much more. Home has sometimes meant living amongst millions of people or living quietly and on my own. At times, it has felt chaotic, confusing or unknown. Mostly, home has helped me understand my place in this world, where I explore and feel inspired, and where I rest my head at night. Home is being at peace, which leaves me feeling whole.
About Amy: I took my first art class at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1980. I was five years old and remember thinking what a wonderful, safe place the museum was. I think I knew then I would someday work in museums. For the past 18 years, I have worked as an art therapist and museum educator in New York City, Cincinnati and now Philadelphia…dabbling in my own art whenever possible. I’m inspired every day by my students, my husband and two boys (ages 11 and 7), and the world around me.