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Maxine Coleman's Quiet Refuge
photography, photograph, photographing images of place, foreground, background, lighting, landscapes, coloured photography, suburban yards, suburban garden, imagination, representation of experience, complexity, memory, reconstructing experience, remembered places,unique individual histories, mythologies, obsessions, consumer culture, street face, Cibachrome process, 1992, Saskatoon, nighttime view, wooded grotto, sacred,windmill, trees, yard decoration, garden ornaments, topiary, shadows, light
description

Maxine Coleman’s Quiet Refuge is one of a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of 19  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  photographs that Pelkey presented in her 1992 exhibition, The great effect of the imagination on the world.  The show focused on suburban yards and gardens around Saskatoon where the homeowners have landscaped their yards with  ceramicPottery or hollow clay sculpture fired at high temperatures in a kiln or oven to make them harder and stronger. Types include earthenware, porcelain, stoneware, and terra cotta. (Artlex.com)  objects, planters and topiary, figurines, whirligigs,  statuary"Statuary" is a collective term for statues; a group of statues. It can refer to the art of making statues, and is also a term for a sculptor. (Artlex.com)  and miniature buildings.

Whirligig

"The chosen sites represent some aspect of the individual’s experience in the world,” Pelkey wrote in her  artist statementA commentary by an artist on an artwork, and exhibition, belief system, or any other topic.  for the show. “The objects incorporated in the decoration of their yards are related to past events, places lived, or places traveled. The scenes are reworked and integrated into their yards much in the same way we integrate our past experiences and find aspects of out ‘past selves’ manifesting in the ‘present’.”

When she began the project, Pelkey continues, she considered the idea that the subjects whose yards she photographed exhibited such an exuberant imagination that they were unable to make their yards like everyone else’s. As she spent time setting up lights, posing her subjects and talking with them, a more complex picture emerged.

What Pelkey discovered was that her subjects had reconstructed fragments of remembered places that were once significant to them, or that expressed something intensely personal beyond what our homogeneous consumer culture could provide. While an individual’s home might display a socially acceptable “street face,” a fanciful yard offered free reign as a place to create scenes speaking about the individual's unique histories, mythologies, obsessions and manias.

In Maxine Coleman’s Quiet Refuge, from the MacKenzie Art Gallery collection, Pelkey presents us with a nighttime view of a wooded  grottoA natural covered opening in the earth; a cave; also, an artificial recess, cave, or cavernlike apartment. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  belonging to, we presume, Maxine Coleman. At the centre of the image a  statueA "statue" is a three-dimensional form of a person or animal sculpted, carved, modeled, or cast in any material, usually an entire figure, and especially when done in the round rather than in relief. (Artlex.com)  of the Sacred Heart of Jesus stands in an artificial grotto. Surrounding the  grottoA natural covered opening in the earth; a cave; also, an artificial recess, cave, or cavernlike apartment. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  and on both sides of the path leading to it are all manner of objects, looking to the viewer as something like the results of a shopping spree through every gardening centre in Saskatoon, gone berserk. The outlines of a windmill and the trunks of aspen or birch trees fill out the image.

Pelkey shot all of the images at night for this 1992 show, including Maxine Coleman’s Quiet Refuge. She used powerful movie lights that produced harsh lighting on the objects in the foreground, but a quick drop-off to shadows and darkness in the background. The  CibachromeCibachrome (now known as Ilfachrome) is “is a dye destruction positive-to-positive photographic process used for the reproduction of slides on photographic paper.” (Wikipedia) For information on cibachrome, go to: Ilfochrome (cibachrome) at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilfochrome Cibachrome, The Colour Print: http://www.horvath.ca/final/cibachrome.html    process Pelkey uses produces images with intense colours, powerful whites and great detail, accentuating the oddness of the scenes she photographs.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Pelkey has titled the work presented here Maxine Coleman’s Quiet Refuge. How would you react to being in such a place at night? Do you think you would find it a quiet refuge?
  • Take a look at the photo features in magazines like Canadian House and Home, Western Living or Better Homes and Gardens. Count how many garden or exterior shots in those magazines were made at night. How is Pelkey’s image different from those in these consumer magazines?

House

  • Take a walk around your neighbourhood. Look for clues in the front yards of the houses you pass.  Guess which houses might have unusual backyards. If possible, without trespassing, have a look into the backyards to see if your guesses were right.
  • Sometime communities have garden tours that are open to the public. Watch for one in your community and take a walkabout with others. Or work with others to arrange a neighbourhood walking tour of interesting or beautiful (or both) gardens and yards nearby.
  • Look for opportunities to meet and talk with someone who has created an unusual ‘personalized’ backyard. If the person is willing, let him or her tell you how objects in the yard relate to personal memories or ideas.
  • Visit a gardening store (or go online and find gardening store websites) and look at the various statuary, fountains, figurines and other objects on display there. Make a list of the items you think would best fit in your personal garden.  Think about why you made the choices you did.
Advanced Activity

In nearly every community in Saskatchewan, you can find gardens such as the one featured in Pelkey’s photograph. Besides flowers and trees or vegetables, man-made objects are added, including anything from miniature train sets, to wishing-wells, plaster gnomes, whirligigs, religious icons and woodland creatures. These gardens are sometimes regarded as “eccentric” or quaint. They sometimes spark a debate in the community. Some would say that these personal spaces are a form of  folk artThe production of art by untrained amateurs for their own enjoyment. Style in folk art is influenced by a combination of the artist’s culture and art history.  - where one creates a private fantasy, while others might say that the gardens change the  toneA quality of a colour, arising from its saturation (purity and impurity), intensity (brilliance and dimness), luminosity (brightness and dullness), and temperature (warm and cool); or to create such a quality in a colour. To tone down is to make a colour less vivid, harsh, or violent; moderate. To tone up is to make one become brighter or more vigorous. Tonality can refer to the general effect in painting of light, colour, and shade, or the relative range of these qualities in colour schemes. (Artlex.com)  of the neighbourhood, and don’t belong there.

house

If you were a city planner:

In some urban communities or suburbs, it is required that all homes be painted the same  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  and that gardens conform to a formula so that none will stand out in the way that Maxine Coleman’s yard might. Set up a role-play situation with friends or classmates:

Advanced Activity

The ways in which we approach the layout of our own gardens, and our preferences, the kinds of garden spaces we like or dislike, tell some things about us. At this site, take a garden quiz to see what  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  of garden would suit your personality:

Online Activity
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Choose objects to decorate the yards of some houses.  To do this:

Studio Activity

Creating an imaginary miniature ”world”

Using photography, Brenda Pelkey documented a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of gardens in Saskatoon through photography.  She chose gardens in which owners transformed outdoor spaces into individual fantasies.  Pelkey photographed the gardens at night, enhancing their fairytale, theatrical-like quality.

  • Using the zoom tool, carefully study the details of this garden. Make a list of the objects you see.
  • The Saskatchewan Arts Board’s website discusses Pelkey’s Maxine Coleman’s Quiet Refuge, September 1989, and in the discussion about the garden, raises issues about labels that people use when trying to decide what is art. The labels listed are “artist”, “ordinary”, “real art”, “kitsch”, “bad art”.  Read the article at the website (see below) and think about the following questions:
  • Do you regard this garden as “art”?
  • To what category of art do you think it belongs? For example, is it sculpture, or an installation, or is it something else? Or perhaps is it a combination of categories?
  • Pelkey is regarded as a fine artist. Why do you think she chose to document spaces such as this one (and other similar gardens)?

Christmas lights on house Investigate dramatic lighting effects

Photograph an outdoor night scene of your yard or home or apartment space. Do you decorate your home and surrounding  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  or garden for Christmas and Halloween? Where people do this, what gives the decorations a magical effect? What makes night pictures look more dramatic? In painting, use of extreme lighting effects is termed chiaroscuro. For more information about chiaroscuro, go to:

Christmas lights in front of house

Create a  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  using a  chiaroscuroUsing contrast of light and dark to create the illusion of three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface.  approach.

 

References

Author unknown.  Brenda Pelkey.  Leo Kamen Gallery, Retrieved from the Internet on May 14, 2008 from:  http://www.leokamengallery.com/artists/pelkeyBrenda/pelkeyBrenda.html.

Author unknown.  ‘Brenda Pelkey: About the artist.’  in Saskatchewan Portraits.  Saskatchewan Arts Board.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 14, 2008 from:  http://www.artsboard.sk.ca/showcase/ex_relation_05.shtml

Author unknown.  ‘Brenda Pelkey: About the works.’  in Saskatchewan Portraits.  Saskatchewan Arts Board.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 14, 2008 from:  http://www.artsboard.sk.ca/showcase/showcase_v_portraits_08.shtml

Dault, Gary Michael.  ‘On the Solemn Geographies of Certain Extreme Sites.’  in Spaces of Transformation, exhibition catalogue.  Thames Art Gallery, Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery, Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery, 2004. http://www.chatham-kent.ca/cityBundle_services/downloadsService/downloadfiles/b67ecd8a-54f5-4040-bed5-9b0081299b66_pelkey 01.pdf

Pelkey, Brenda Francis.  The great effect of the imagination on the world.  Artist Statement, 1992.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 14, 2008 from:  http://www.berlintoronto.com/brokenground/images/sixcontemp/brend/brendaintro.htm

---.  Spaces of Transformation.  Artist Statement, 2004. Retrieved from the Internet on May 14, 2008 from:  http://www.chatham-kent.ca/cityBundle_services/downloadsService/downloadfiles/b67ecd8a-54f5-4040-bed5-9b0081299b66_pelkey 01.pdf

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning