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Martha Eleen

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My Space, 2014

In Space and Place : The Perspective of Experience, geographer Yi-Fu Tuan contends that a space requires a movement from a place to another place. Similarly, a place requires a space to be a place. Hence, the two notions are co-dependent.


The intention of my painting practice is, not so much to accumulate technical skills, but to increase my ability to be present to the subject matter. I am interested in the way culture affects the landscape and I hope to convey the experience of a place, not simply the way it looks.


My Space is a series of paintings about the space between my skin and the outside world.  This work was first conceived 28 years ago when we moved into this house from living on a boat on the west coast. I was a 24 hour a day caregiver to my son Gabe, who is disabled, and we had been running from the threat of the institution for years. In Toronto, the horizon as seen through the windows is very close. At the time, this space was my trap, saturated with the relentless and mind numbing advocacy for supports for Gabe and I think that the paintings, if I had been able to paint them then, would have been dark and unsettling. When Gabe started to get some support I built my career on going far away from home to paint. I believed that by looking purposefully outward my work would be taken seriously. At some point I began to see that the thread running through all my work is rooted deeply in my lived life and my relationship with my son.


My last body of work I, Huck, 2011, was about the experience of Gabe’s landscape.  It was a deliberate attempt to use my painting practice as a means to focus in on resolving his situation, to be available during studio hours to his advocacy and to access my creativity in the lobby process. By the end of this, nothing had happened but I am determined in my goal of attaining 24 hour a day support for Gabe and I have continued to combine this work with my studio practice.


Although my work is representational, it is the abstract issues that are important: the significance of the relationships between objects and people that creates a place within the space, separate from the superficial or impersonal meaning of the objects. I have wondered how much my own experience of my personal space is visible in the paintings.  It’s difficult to see the work while it is being made, and in this case the subject matter is too close for me to see objectively. But some alchemy has been at work below the surface, because the opening of this exhibition coincides with new (temporary) funding for Gabe’s full time support. For the next year I will no longer be a caregiver. This work is about my space.