My Grandmother’s House
Art that travels into memories evoked by a farmhouse that belonged to Catharine Somerville’s grandmother, Lillian Somerville nee Dangerfield (1884 -1981), explores the concept of place and belonging. Here Catharine explores the essence of memories and fantasies as well as the physicality of her grandmother’s presence. Somerville’s work draws on the surreal and ephemeral and speaks to the fragility and passing of a mental landscape remembered from a time before. Through the past we are linked with future aspirations.
The starting point for Somerville’s current series of work were her summer walks and winter cross-country skiing through the landscape remembering when she first jumped on Polly, the farm workhorse. Mapping the traces of her childhood around her grandmother’s house, Somerville would absorb the sounds, colours and textures of her surroundings. With the threat of a housing development encroaching upon their lives, Somerville has created a personal record of her relationship to her grandmother’s house though drawings of artifacts collected over time. Her loss prompted Catharine to transfer this collection into paint, print and mixed media.
Somerville’s life like the farm is in flux as she moves between the seen and the unseen in the struggles and conflicts of daily existence. The artist was struck by the beauty of this familiar place made more poignant by its jeopardized existence; the furrows and mounds sculpted into the frozen fields, the richness of the light falling on abandoned and decaying barns, the animal tracks of coyotes, rabbits, deer and wolves next to wooly ponies and the circles donkey’s made in their corral.
“Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it. For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in would lead to thoughts serious, sad thoughts and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.”
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
The recurring image of the moth appears in Somerville’s work as a symbol of vulnerability to a changing environment. The moth is fragile, the moon is her mother, and she will follow her course at all cost. Even at the risk of losing its life, the moth is ever vigilant in following its path of light. This makes her open to distraction and vulnerable to harm. Here we may find a message, to adjust our course as our path indicates rather than drive forward without heeding important signs along the way. The moth’s vulnerability may also serve as a moral to us to keep our own vigilance, but not fall victim to blind faith.
“Lifting my eyes, I see that the garden, and everything in it, moves. The flowers move, and the lavender moves, and the tree above me is moving. I am standing in the sun, my body is tipped forward, and I am walking. Walking I shall trip, and, if I trip, trip without a helping hand, I shall fall. I look above me, and I feel behind me, searching for the hand that is always there. There is no hand …”
Her grandmother’s home and land is now Geraldine’s Gallery.