House. Home. Home place. Place.
Heather McPherson has ruminated about these themes since her college days. They are front and center in” shack, shanty, flat,” her first solo exhibition, at Get This! Gallery through February 25.
The show couples the lovely prints McPherson made in 2005 while earning a BFA at the Cleveland Institute of Art with her most recent work, wall-hung painted cutouts of houses in her Cabbagetown neighborhood.
The 2005 works depict homes in silhouette, often at night. We can peer through windows and wonder, as she did, about the lives within. A Southerner in the Midwest, McPherson may also have been expressing her experience as an outsider, a thematic undercurrent in “The Wanderers,” her installation for the 2010 “Art on the BeltLine,” in which painted cut-plywood figures depicted hobos and other railroad nomads. It was, rather quirkily, a piece inspired by a specific place — the railroad — about people who had lost or chosen to abandon fixed places, and home.
The artist’s home place was a subject of the work in a 2011 exhibition at Get This! In that multimedia evocation of her family and life on the old homestead, McPherson expanded the cutouts into narrative three-dimensional tableaux based on memories and family stories. She elaborated the “scrapbook” with drawings of winding country roads, farm outbuildings and collages of things she found there.
There are occasional indications of domestic life in McPherson’s recent work — the clothing hung on a back-porch clothesline in “792 Fulton Terrace” — but these painted cutouts seem to be portraits of the late-19th and early-20th-century houses rather than imaginings about their residents.
Originally built to house workers at the nearby Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, Cabbagetown remained an enclave of millworkers’ descendants until the 1980s, when artists and others began moving in. Though even more upscale gentrification is now under way, McPherson is drawn to the unreconstructed Cabbagetown, the cottages that show their age, the “shotgun” house that’s narrower than the length of the car parked in front of it.
Working from photographs, she re-creates these structures with careful attention to detail, noting the sagging foundation, the rusty gutter, the grain of the plywood boarding up a window of an abandoned home. Even those enlivened with cheery colors are often close to the edge of disrepair.
Their straightforward presentation belies the artful manipulation of perspective and composition that makes them interesting objects. The geometry of the roofline animates “184 Pearl Street,” for example, and the white clapboard house in “109 Chester Avenue” almost doubles as an abstract painting.
McPherson definitely has something. This series shows off her visual thinking and the art of deceptive simplicity. I do miss, however, the quirky wit she has demonstrated elsewhere, and the unexpected visual effects of her previous exhibition, and I look forward to watching her grow.