This Life is so Everyday: The Home in British Art 1950-1980 at Graves Gallery takes its name from Patrick Caulfield’s Ah! This life is so everyday. Caulfield’s minimalist print of a rich blue sky scattered with the silhouettes of birds is framed by a window ledge and a plush curtain. It is a familiar “everyday” scene and we are invited to look up through the window at the birds outside, as we have done many times in our own homes. In placing the viewer “inside”, Caulfield draws out the mixed feelings often evoked by memories of home, whether that be comfort and security or oppression and expectation.
As with Ah! This life is so everyday, much of the work in this exhibition leaves space for personal ponderings on the experience of home. Although there is plenty of familiar scenery – crockery, cutlery, breakfast spreads, curtains, family – this show is not interested in depicting what home should look like, but in encapsulating the divergent experiences of the domestic space over the decades. There is even room in the second gallery to write down what home means to you, where one writer observes: “Home is where I kick off my outer life and get comfortable in my skin.”
This sentiment of comfort will be echoed by many today, but the home has not always been a domain of freedom, especially for women. Consequently, the domestic has often become a place for subversion and activism for female artists. Su Richardson’s crocheted Burnt Breakfast sits on a dining table in the centre of gallery one. What first appears to be a standard breakfast spread with bacon, eggs and toast turns into a much more intriguing scene on the realisation that the food is burned, and the toast topping is a baby’s face. This usually cheery display takes on darker undertones, suggesting discomfort and that something has gone array. In using crochet to create the work, Richardson draws on a craft often associated with women at home to remind us of the role of the disgruntled chef behind the breakfast.
Similarly, in the 1970s Helen Chadwick photographed semi-nude women dressed in domestic appliances. Her subjects appear as parts of washing machines, ovens and fridges, pointing to the fact these items don’t actually work without an operator, and very often the operator is a woman – she becomes an extension of an object. These roles are confirmed in the video of older local Sheffield residents from Park Hill and Manor Top where they make comments like “Mum had to cook for every meal” and “Mum did everything”.