MEG AUBREY @ GALLERY STOKES, ATLANTA
In her current exhibition I Just Live Here, Savannah College of Art and Design alum Meg Aubrey explores the environment and psychology of contemporary suburbia. The show reeks of the political and sociological implications of the suburb and its stereotypes
Both the characters and the landscape in Aubrey’s paintings create an eerie, Stepford-like scene in which something is not quite right. Elements of typical suburban neighborhoods are isolated against bland backgrounds. Lonely trashcans and mailboxes go beyond ironic icons of our envisioned cookie-cutter image to become symbols of regiment, expectation, discipline, and control. And the figures, some of them self-portraits of Aubrey herself, are always dis/engaged with some sort of activity: staring at each other or into the vast space of the canvas, sipping Starbucks or McAlister’s sweet tea, chatting on a cell phone. The women depicted here, in their tennis outfits, black sunglasses, or denim jackets are all of the same breed-all white and upper-middleclass with flippy haircuts and wedding rings, all placed in an ominous bubble of blank space, engaged in their own little world.
One of the most successful paintings in the show is Thursday Afternoon, in which a woman appearing to have just come from playing tennis is pushing a grocery cart through a parking lot. The figure, clad in a mint green outfit, baseball cap, sunglasses, and of course jewelry is chatting on her cell phone and looking out into what appears to be blank space. The figure and the red cart she is pushing are expertly painted, showing off Aubrey’s traditional skills probably learned at her time spent at Rhode Island School of Design for illustration. The woman and the cart have no shadow, and instead appear to be floating in a vast steel-blue-greyish atmosphere. The only things grounding them are the row of pale yellow mini vans placed in perspective behind the figure. Inspired by the flat colorfields used by Alex Katz in his figure work, Aubrey’s backdrops are extremely smooth and solid, but also grim and saddening. While the concept behind Thursday Afternoon could have been read as a merely humorous portrayal of the stereotypical soccer mom going grocery shopping after tennis lessons, Aubrey’s execution allows it to be much more nuanced. The painting captures the loneliness and isolation present in the suburbs, or more specifically, of women in the suburbs.
Another notable piece in the show was New Tree. The painting depicts two women sitting at café tables outside. In the background is a grassy median with a new tree planted in its center. The tree still has bracings around it. Other aspects of the background are once again eliminated, and light blue fills in around the median and the pavement below the women. The women are facing each other, talking, appearing uninterested in anything else but the way their legs looked when crossed. The women are drinking out of large plastic cups with green straws. This could be anywhere. Any restaurant. Any suburb. Any city. The newly planted tree in the background serves not only as reminder of the newness of the community and the social-climbing status that may come with that, but also as a sort of sad time-marker for the women whose life seems to be passing by without them noticing. They appear completely disconnected from each other, the environment, and the innocent, new tree.
Here again, Aubrey’s execution allows the works’ gradation of meanings to come through to the viewer. The work could have potentially suffered from a one-liner syndrome, but instead is laden with subtleties. Humor and irony are at once the attractive elements of the work, but upon closer inspection the viewer feels detached from the women in the paintings. The audience is at first excited to be a voyeur, peering into the lives of these suburban women, only to be saddened by their seclusion, regiment, and sterility. In her artist statement, Aubrey claims that “. . . the promise of an idyllic lifestyle filled with beauty, friendship, and security is not always found at the end of the cul de sac." Her paintings serve as a caveat for those who doubt it.
"I Live Here" is on view until February 21st at Gallery Stokes, located at 261 Walker Street SW in Atlanta ,GA in the Castleberry Hill Arts District.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Gallery Stokes.