Thursday, January 20, 2011

Christian Mounger, January 20











Friends of Dorothy

Dorothy Draper (1889 –1969) was the grande dame of interior design. Her over-the-top projects include The Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia; it boasts a massive underground bunker built as an emergency shelter for the United States Congress during the Cold War. True to Draper form, the exterior décor of the bunker features a Chinoiserie, lattice-style wallpaper in antique white and chartreuse.
Other Draper projects are The Breakers Hotel, Palm Beach; The Greenroom, Los Angeles; The Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco; and countless residences of the rich and famous.
20th century art history, HGTV, and the resurgent interest in modernist design all play influential roles in my work. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, I did not distinguish between decoration, popular culture, and art, long before discovering Warhol. Now I credit both the wall drawings of Sol Lewitt and House and Garden magazine for my fascination with pattern and color.
When The Huntington remodeled and reinstalled the large European galleries a few years ago, followed by the American galleries, they hired me to draw silhouettes of many of the objects on display. This labor-intensive task provided an opportunity to study each object and construct a minimalist interpretation of each piece. Since that time, I have continued to explore similar objects – almost functionless Sevres vases and other complex decorative objects. Dorothy Draper appropriated similar pieces and iconic architectural forms, enlarging them to create theatrical environments with implied overlays of class and politics.
At Post, the wallpaper-like prints teeter between excess and a celebration of abundant living, while the security envelope patterns (primarily used by banks and credit card companies) suggest camouflage, bureaucracy, and trivial beauty. I collect these familiar designs, then insert them into constructions based on works by Jackson Pollock, Franz Klein, Clifford Still, Elsworth Kelly, and others, making their grand compositions less heroic, and more conspicuously decorative.
The Victorian tradition of collecting and cataloguing artifacts and natural specimens is another important influence. In the 19th Century, many domestic interiors boldly displayed exotic found objects usually without regard for the original context of the piece. The richly encyclopedic compilation The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones presented a catalogue of designs from a wide-range of cultures. Jones reinterpreted and compressed these images into the same printed media and scale, commodified and packaged for an eager, upwardly-mobile middle class.
Most of the wallpaper pieces measure 201/4 inches wide, the same width as a standard wallpaper sample at Home Depot. Each design is a tessellation that potentially could be printed in rolls suitable to enhance a modern dream house or renovated loft. The silhouettes are printed in gray on standard letter-size bond paper. The original size of each image was altered to fit the 8.5 x 11 format, producing a more democratic sense of scale.
Christian Mounger, 2011