Welcome to the uncanny world of Emily Hartley-Skudder. Her small paintings and some of the even smaller objects within them may have started in the dolls house, but their strange artifice and squeaky clean light are distinctly contemporary. So too is their palette, which is both sweet with nostalgia and current in a cosmetic sort of way.
Hartley-Skudder is an utterly convincing painter. Highlights, shadow, contours, and the volume of every form - everything is wondrously in its place.
What surprises in this new project however, is the installed context for the paintings which allows Hartley-Skudder to toy with the tropes of the bathroom showroom: life-size front-on presentation, careful colour coding, high shine and immaculate grout. The artist's research has been meticulous and her show very generous. It is a joy to behold.
Tiled splash-backs and hand-basins, sometimes with pedestals all the way to the ground; treasures from the powder rooms of the past have been lovingly re-presented with paintings placed as part of them. The paintings mimic their surrounds, reproducing details of form and finish but with other objects added - plastic flowers, bottles and swizzle sticks for example. They riff on notions of still life but with body memory and the bathroom evocatively foregrounded. Hartley-Skudder's basins become painted stages for a playful and surreal selection of plastic things.
Titles such as Buxom Blue, Sure & Natural Flesh Blush and Lemon-Lime Sweetheart personify expectations of both feminine beauty and a woman's work in the home. Might Mrs Powder Fresh refer as much to the cleaning of the bathroom as it does the careful application of (a powder) foundation? And yes, that is indeed a biggish bottle of cleaning detergent painted into Miss Apricot & Lilac Glow.
This in part answers the question as to why an increasingly celebrated young artist would show her paintings in such carefully tiled surrounds. It is a fascinating extension of painting. And she has done it before - tailoring paintings to particular rooms in Showhome, an exhibition in a furnished showhome in the new Wigram Skies development, Christchurch, in 2013.
So, here we really do have paintings for the bathroom. Who'd have thought? In Hartley-Skudder world, form stares down function in increasingly witty and novel ways.
Press release courtesy Jonathan Smart Gallery.