Within this new suite of works is a large compartmentalised laser-cut Laminex interior, and a series of gardens including private backyard scenes and exterior streetscapes. This exhibition as with previous works by Lamb is rich in art historical reference, entering into conversation with many, including Patrick Caulfield, Jenny Watson and Louise Nevelson and offers a means of referring to the aestheticised attachments and sediments of Lamb's own childhood spent in coastal suburban Perth and her still current suburban existence south of the Swan River in Applecross. These works come after Covid where the local takes on new meaning in light of lockdowns, travel restrictions and policed boundaries, recalling the paradoxical closed openness of prior works and prior eras, and the open closeness of what is immediately at hand.
The private backyard paintings are a continuation of Lamb's interest in breaking down imagery into components made of flat colour. For someone interested in flatness, the elaborate scenes of hundreds and thousands of individual leaves, petals and stalks makes for complex textures, all illuminated by a plethora of light sources. This complexity continues an inflection begun in Lamb's oeuvre from 2019 onward. They are dense with intricate shapes and patterns, deeply layered in a way that speaks of what flatness can become when it becomes this formally complicated.
In Backyard with Brickwall a garden bed is lit at night composed of a medley of surprising colours — oranges, greens, purples. They come together to give an otherwise banal scene of standard pot plants an air of drama. Multiple palms and ferns join the eponymous in Backyard with Frangipani to create a lush scene of light and colour, a riot of juxtapositions that contains a sense of play. With Backyard with ficus the shapes are familiar, even as we’re uncertain exactly what these plants are. This is a backyard that exists in a semiotic economy we already recognise, but askew, askance, aloft — those shapes are terracotta pots even if they are merely flat discs in these paintings; those bricks are red bricks from the 70s even if they are merely a purple grid of rectangles; hose fields of flat pale green colour are boundaries, even if they are merely fields of colour here. These gardens are thriving, leitmotifs that are well attended to, loved, conspicuously watered in a way, suggestive of status and tidy town competitions, just for neighbours, friends and family. They are sheltered and interior and private. They are intimate.
At the centre of One Day Like This is Laminex Still Life, which takes as its inspiration American sculptor Louise Nevelson (1899–1988). Nevelson made sculptural installations of boxed, grouped arrangements containing various collections of wooden scraps and found objects like table legs and wood-working tools painted in monochrome. Lamb’s interpretation similarly gestures to cubist and surrealist assemblages with puzzle-like components coming together to create a large and impressive altar-like monument, a jigsaw of the suburban, domestic, interior. They differ on the plane of relatability — Lamb’s flattened abstract shapes made of layers of green, yellow and brownish Laminex, which in form and material are far more familiar than prior generations’ discards: an ornate table leg, the rounded curve of a chair, a hint of the distinct Corn Flakes cockerel, a squeezable honey bottle, citrus fruit, cups, bottles of all sorts. These objects are simultaneously familiar, rendered in the nostalgia of a quintessential suburban material, and defamiliarised in their lack of texture and lurid planes. They are a cool generalisation of curves and gesture towards a reform of what is at home.
This knowing and expressive detail is there in Curbside garden as well. We are let into an entire world with the subtlest information — a small band of grey in the bottom right hand corner, the sparse and lower profile of the plants, and the open recession into the background. We can apprehend a roadside curb garden, a nature strip, a verge that rolls out across these liminal spaces, the borderland between public road and private home. This work in particular feels like a post lockdown joyous appreciation for the kind of floral display one happens upon in the everyday act of walking around the neighbourhood. It is what we are attracted to on our doorstep when we begin to consider that where we live can be a site of art, of poetry, of contemplation. It is there too in Frontyard with Rose Garden, Street with Raven and Donnybrook House.
When taken together, these three distinct domestic spaces of the front yard, the backyard and the interior, are juxtaposed to present an idea of a particular suburb at a particular time by a particular artist. They speak from this particularity to a more common language of place making in a historical moment in an aesthetic way. This is where Lamb engages productively with 'defamiliarisation' at a conceptual level, which is why the Laminex material is central in terms of form, style and content. It is defamiliarisation rather than unsettlement or alienation, Lamb gestures towards. This is because it comes from within a lived experience of suburbia as an attractive frame that often goes unseen by those living in its very midst. Through her participant observation, she elevates rather than simply distances ordinary or the mundane, the flat or the boring, the gothic or the eery, the spectacular or the charming. It recalls, Viktor Shlovksy, when he wrote in 1917 in 'Art as Technique' that: “The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar', to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.”
It seems fitting then, that one is left with a 'sensation' of suburbia — a raven perched here, a security screen there, pot plants and curbs, a car idling, maybe parked, maybe waiting to follow someone home. This is not as we know and live in it on an everyday basis. Through her highly technical skill, Lamb then makes the art of suburbia just that — forms, outlines, symbols, all of which ask us to change our perception.
When we return home after seeing this exhibition we are called to the very reality that was always there right in front of our eyes — the honey bottle, the flowers, the pool, lawn, fence. And that may be Lamb's great virtue and accomplishment, whereby a viewer both appreciates the art as art right in front of them upon viewing these works, and then is transformed in how they see a world that is right in their own backyard, sees the possibility that Lamb allows. Prior to this, they may have only glimpsed it briefly in the bright light of day waiting for a moment of consciousness in which to comprehend and contemplate the mundane in its honorific importance. This art elevates, in a critical and detailed way, what is, after all, how the majority of people live, and for that we can only be grateful that suburbia becomes the subject once again, of living and of art in Joanna Lamb’s One Day Like This.