Storytelling is not only about describing events. The stories that we inherit, that become mythological, communicate more than their ostensive facts. Beneath the surface of details, many stories hold deeper narratives. These subterranean narratives reflect the desires and fears of the people who share them – a story can be a therapeutic externalisation of an internal conflict. In reducing the information contained in a narrative to just the crucial components, we may see a reflection of our own (or of some other’s) deep inner life. This process is the pivotal theme of Catherine Repko’s exhibition Gatherer.
Repko began work on this exhibition looking at home-videos of her own childhood. Concentrating particularly on footage of her three sisters and herself playing in their garden, Repko used stills from these videos as references for the paintings in Gatherer. In order to create these elegant and uncomplicated works, the artist subjected those stills to a process of simplification – stripping away visual information and reducing compositions to their fundamental aspects. As a result of this technique, certain features of each scene come to the fore. Within the patchwork of balanced colours and well-defined shapes, stark significance is placed onto, for example, the relations between figures, or else onto the solitude of a child surrounded by adults. These are the subterranean narratives that Repko has excavated from the stories of her childhood. She has said that she wanted this work to allow her to create something concrete and external that could contain her feelings towards the subject matter. In Gatherer, through the purification of complex stories and images, we have a glimpse of some reflected and solidified inner life.
Although ultimately remaining light and hopeful, Gatherer has a deep nostalgia running throughout. Each work is formally quite simple, and yet filled in narrative. The consistent anonymity of the figures and the eradication of temporal or cultural identifiers give the scenes a universal quality. Yet there are several repeating subjects, such as the woven baskets and the plain dresses, that suggest an imagery associated with archaic cultures and modes of production. And so Repko’s tableaux create their own mythology – one based on a caring community and sentimental regard for a remembered childhood
(By Tom Winter)