Anonymous Women

The Claustrophobic World of Domestic Bliss

All artists are formed by a combination of personal experiences and psychological makeup. Specifically, I believe every artist has a moment or time in his or her life that affects the direction of their lives. It is usually an emotional experience. For some people, it is a traumatic experience. For others, it might be the loss of something important. It may have happened very early or even late, but for the rest of one’s life and career, making art based on that experience forms the core of their work. In my case, it was probably the entire daily routine: from fearing the nuns at St. Paul of the Cross school to wondering what mood my mother would be in after school.

The work we artists make is usually a variation on the same theme of life. Like following a thread through the fabric of an artist’s work, it is usually possible to trace the work to the return of that core experience, in spite of its myriad forms and subjects. Everything refers to it or recreates it – possibly better, but maybe not.

It made me think deeply about the meaning of home. It became a subject, an object, a place of contemplation and mystery.

Home is a myth.

Home is comfort, or at least, the most familiar place you can go.

Home is also where personal psycho-dramas get played out.

In English class of my freshman year of high school, we were assigned to write a paper on our homes. I wrote mine as if I were a fish in a fishbowl. I have been hiding ever since.

I have always drifted between the outer world of appearances and the inner world of dreams and nightmares. In my work, I try to combine the two worlds. Many of my projects have used women and home accoutrements as part of a personal (artistic) language.

In many ways, I have gone through my entire life backwards in pictures, since learning photography and how it would become a means of expression in graduate school (at IIT). Photography allows me to time travel, among other things. All of my work is formed by my earliest experiences growing up the suburbs around Chicago (and Florida, being a snowbird in the winter).

“I spent much of my teen/young adult years trying to sew, which was really a symbolic way of piecing together and re-forming my life the way I wanted it.”

This particular project is about making a home, which is an issue that has obsessed me forever, possibly because as a kid, our family life was difficult and unusual, to say the least. I always wanted to have a “perfect” home where everyone got along, was sober, was home for dinner, and had towels from a store, not pilfered from the last motel we stayed in. I spent much of my teenage and young adult years trying to sew, which was really a symbolic way of piecing together and re-forming my life the way I wanted it. Fabric played a big part of that desire and frustration of life. Drapery becomes a symbol in this work for an established, traditional home environment, where the décor is considered seriously: after all, a perfect home does not have mismatched furniture and styles. Drapes also close off the outer world and contain life within, besides being the finishing touch to a proper home.

I attended Catholic schools from first grade through high school, where I wore uniforms, and had teachers who were habit-wearing nuns. This was a great leveler of position and place, but it was also about mystery. The identity of the teacher was completely obfuscated by her clothing and the great swirls of material that seemed to surround each nun. Who knew what she was hiding under those layers of cloth?

The Anonymous Women project began while living in England, where my identity was determined by my domestic position. I found a more traditional culture than that of the United States, where one’s domestic status often eclipses a professional or personal sense of self. Making photographs of vulnerable, stark heads hiding behind various domestic objects was my initial response to this predicament.

Returning home to live in the USA, while re-making a home and identity, home furnishings came to represent personal conflicted realms of laughter and sadness. Home-making, whether through physical renovation or by an internal sense of comfort, remains a constant, universal subject for many women.

Whether external threats to safety and security are real or not, the home remains a place of peace. “Staying home” can be also a response by many women when life seems too overwhelming. The drapery pictures are about becoming the dwelling itself. I am addressing the sharp edges of domesticity: the home as a place of comfort, or a place where decoration becomes an obsession, where the woman is camouflaged by her domestic interior rendering her invisible. Comfort and safety are values that have grown in importance in our society, with claustrophobic or therapeutic consequences!

The drapery work was made when the Iraq War was building. Issues of vulnerability, trust, safety, courage and absurdity weighed heavily on my mind then, and continue to linger daily. I think about the women who encounter real wars, internal conflicts, domestic abuse, and other threats - real or imagined. I also laugh at myself and other women, when we lose perspective and become possessed by our material goods.

In all cases, women need “a room of their own.” These images reference draped statues from the Renaissance, nuns in habits, women wearing the burka, the Virgin Mary, priest’s robes, ancient Greek and Roman dress, as well as judges’ robes.

Patty Carroll

Patty Carroll has been known for her use of highly intense, saturated color photographs since the 1970’s. Her work has been featured in prestigious blogs and international magazines such as the Huffington Post, The Cut, Ain’t Bad Magazine, and BJP in Britain. Her work has been shown internationally in many one-person exhibits in China and Europe, as well as the USA. (White Box Museum, Beijing, Art Institute of Chicago, Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England, among others.) She has participated in over 100 group exhibitions nationally and internationally, and her work is included in many public and private collections. After teaching photography for many years, Carroll has enthusiastically returned to the studio in order to delight viewers with her playful critique of home and excess. She is currently Artist in Residence at Studios Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri.