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131
Monday Afternoon
Downstairs
etching, aquatint, relief print, pop, commonplace, icon, everyday object, line, shape, implication, domestic, routine, daily labour, fashion, void, minimal, simplistic, implied line, line and space, still life object, household object
description

William Laing’s etchings Monday Afternoon and Downstairs push a characteristic of  pop artAn art movement and style that had its origins in England in the 1950s and made its way to the United States during the 1960s. Pop artists have focused attention upon familiar images of the popular culture such as billboards, comic strips, magazine advertisements, and supermarket products. Leading exponents are Richard Hamilton (British, 1922-), Andy Warhol (American, 1928?1930?-1987), Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997), Claes Oldenburg (American, 1929-), Jasper Johns (American, 1930-), and Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-). (Artlex.com)  to its extreme:  the use of the ordinary. There is little more ordinary or commonplace than a coat hanger, but Laing’s use of this practical object manages to inject it with qualities of poetry, beauty, and significance.

Laing has turned the familiar coat hanger into an  iconLoosely, a picture; a sculpture, or even a building, when regarded as an object of veneration. (Artlex.com)  - a thing (or person) representative of something else. The coat hangers in these two works are treated graphically, which is to say that they are simplified in their  formIn its widest sense, total structure; a synthesis of all the visible aspects of that structure and of the manner in which they are united to create its distinctive character. The form of a work is what enables us to perceive it. Form also refers to an element of art that is three-dimensional (height, width, and depth) and encloses volume. For example, a triangle, which is two-dimensional, is a shape, but a pyramid, which is three-dimensional, is a form. Cubes, spheres, ovoids, pyramids, cone, and cylinders are examples of various forms. Also, all of the elements of a work of art independent of their meaning. Formal elements are primary features which are not a matter of semantic significance — including colour, dimensions, line, mass, medium, scale, shape, space, texture, value; and the principles of design under which they are placed — including balance, contrast, dominance, harmony, movement, proportion, proximity, rhythm, similarity, unity, and variety. (Artlex.com)  and  textureThe quality of surface in a finished artwork; note that this can apply to painting in describing the way that the paint is applied to the canvas or other support; to sculpture in describing the way that the material used is made smooth or rough; or to video in describing the way that the light-based image is either smooth or visibly broken up into pixels.  into basic lines and shapes. Because these objects are so familiar, they come to represent their usual places and contexts, even though these places and contexts don’t appear in the works themselves. Such places include homes, closets, laundromats and clothing, which in turn suggest the contexts of the domestic, the routine, daily labour, and fashion.

start quoteYou can't be sloppy with printmaking or photography. Those disciplines require that you pay attention to the
details.end quote -- William Laing

These seemingly straightforward images are actually quite complex, and can be read in a number of ways. Looking at these works from the  perspectiveA method used to create the illusion of space on a two-dimensional surface. It can be created by overlapping, placement, detail, colour, converging lines and size. See HandPrint.com (http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/perspect3.html and http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/perspect4.html) for some examples.  of fashion and clothing, they represent an emptiness or void. The hangers are empty and, especially in Downstairs where we see several hangers, without clothing, suggesting that the clothing is not worth hanging up, or there is no clothing to hang. From a perspective of labour, however, they begin to imply an absence of the human in labour; the hangers are no longer in the  domesticRemaining much at home; devoted to home duties or pleasures; as, a domestic man or woman.  Living in or near human habitations; domesticated; tame as distinguished from wild; as, domestic animals.  Made in one's own house, nation, or country; as, domestic manufactures, wines, etc.  One who lives in the family of an other, as hired household assistant; a house servant. Articles of home manufacture, especially cotton goods.  (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)   contextThe varied circumstances in which a work of art is (or was) produced and interpreted. There are three arenas to these circumstances, each of them highly complex. The first pertains to the artist: attitudes, beliefs, interests, values, intentions and purposes, education and training, and biography (including psychology). The second is the setting in which the work was produced: the apparent function of the work (to adorn, beautify, express, illustrate, mediate, persuade, record, redefine reality, or redefine art), religious and philosophical convictions, sociopolitical and economic structures, and even climate and geography. Third is the field of the work's reception and interpretation: the traditions it is intended to serve, the mind-set it adheres to (ritualistic, perceptual, rational, and emotive), and, perhaps most importantly, the colour of the lenses through which the work is being scrutinized — i.e., the interpretive mode (artistic biography, psychological approaches, political criticism, feminism, cultural history, intellectual history, formalism, structuralism, semiotics, hermeneutics, post-structuralism and deconstruction, reception theory, concepts of periodicity [stylistic pendulum swinging], and other chronological and contextual considerations. Context is much more than the matter of the artist's circumstances alone. (Artlex.com)  (or rather are pictured outside of it, in a kind of non-space) and are disconnected from the home, because machinery has consumed the daily ritual of clothes washing and hanging. This is especially suggested by Monday Afternoon, where we are also shown the clothing line itself from which the hanger is suspended.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Are there other household items that Laing could have chosen instead of hangers for Monday Afternoon and Downstairs? How might these have changed the possible meanings of his artwork?
  • Are you aware of or can you imagine a culture in which people would be totally unaware of coat hangers? How might these people interpret the images, or what might they think that coat hangers are actually for? Base your responses to these questions on the works Monday Afternoon and Downstairs, and on the specific characteristics of the coat hangers pictured.
Studio Activity

Art criticism of Monday Afternoon and Downstairs

Write an art criticism review of Laing’s Monday Afternoon and Downstairs.

  • Your review should include at least one interpretation of the works, but can contain multiple possibilities for viewers of the works.
  • Start your review by writing about what you see and what is definitely present in each work - lines, colours, shapes, etc.
  • Then write about what these colours or shapes represent, and how these possible meanings can be combined to form a reading of the works, or to establish the works’ possible meanings.

An object in non-space

  • Draw or paint a picture of an object around your home, as you see it.
  • Think about what this non-space begins to suggest about your subject.
References

Author unknown.  William Laing, RCA.  Artist writeup.  Herrigner Kiss Gallery.  Retrieved from the Internet March 5, 2009 from:  http://www.herringerkissgallery.com/artists/laing/laing.html

Author unknown.  ‘William Laing: A Journey.’  News release.  Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1998.

 

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