Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unplugged but Much Travelled: "The Bathtub Voyeur"

Photo of disc
Even at my busiest times as a working mother I somehow always found half an hour or so to relax in a tub of hot water. Now I'm retired I rarely fit this luxury into my life, and make do with quick showers, but at the time I moved to my present house I was still a sit-down bather. Since there wasn't much to look at I would find myself studying the plumbing hardware, in particular the chrome disc to which the plug chain was attached. It always reminded me of a little face, with the two screws for eyes--and one of the eyes was winking at me. I filed this notion away for a possible future painting.

In early 2010, at a meeting of the Arts Connection in West Vancouver, I heard about a venture called the International MiniArt Exchange, which was calling for submissions of paintings featuring faces. Here was an incentive to paint my perky little bathroom friend.

The Miniart Exchange is the brainchild of a Brazilian artist called Clara Pechansky. Clara's idea was to assemble a collection of small paintings that would travel the world and give people an opportunity to see a wide variety of international art. The first Exchange took place in Brazil in 2003, and has since spread to galleries and institutions on four continents. The paintings are not put up for sale, but circulate in batches among the venues. You can read more about the project and see lots of examples at

The Bathtub Voyeur - acrylic on board
The twelfth international exchange was to take place in 2010-2011. First the paintings would be exhibited in Porto Alegre in Brazil, in the summer of 2010, and the following year they would be brought to the Ferry Building Gallery in West Vancouver.The show was open to anybody--there was no jury-- but the rules were strict and the process felt like a bit of an obstacle race. All the works had to be exactly 18 x 15 cm, and painted on canvas board. There were several deadlines--one for receiving the painting in Porto Alegre, one for payment of an entry fee by Pay Pal (which I'd never done before) and one for emailing a digital image to Clara for inclusion in the catalogue. I produced my little painting and sent it off feeling as though I were firing it into outer space. It did get there, however, and was even included among the works featured on the brochure for the exhibition.There was a hitch resulting in a delay in Brazil, but the show did eventually take place, and the return match in West Vancouver is scheduled for July of this year.

As I wriggled around in the bath doing my research on the winking face, I realized that the reflective chrome was also acting as a distorting mirror, and that my own face and part of my torso were visible in the disc. I decided to include these in the painting. I don't think anyone would recognize me from this nudie self-portrait, but it made my submission doubly qualified to be in a show of faces. There is even a third, very tiny face, which doubles as the nose of the Voyeur, but this one is pure fantasy: there is a little circle there, part of the manufacturer's trade mark, but in reality it doesn't resemble a face at all.

Long after I'd sent the painting to Brazil it dawned on me that if I had really painted it while reclining in a tub of soapy water as in earlier days, the little chain that drapes decoratively around the "head" and disappears off the picture plane at the top would have been heading straight south to the plughole. I'm not sure if that would have made for a better composition, but I think I'm happy with the jewellery-like effect of the chain. It also makes the context clearer. In any event, unplugged as it is, my little voyeur is seeing the world, and might even be retitled "The Bathtub Voyageur." 

A Magnificent Weed - acrylic - 40" x 30" - 2010
Next time (around March 27): Exalting the Humble: "A Magnificent Weed"

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