Following the death of a parent and the birth of a child, Gold Coast artist and writer Aaron Chapman began reflecting on how our childhood homes lay the foundation for who we become.
Have you ever returned to a place where you spent a lot of time as a child, to observe that now, it looks smaller?
When we were younger, our imaginations made limitless magic out of the four walls around us. The pink carpet in the living room became fairy floss, leading towards a Willy Wonka wonderland of gingerbread walls and chocolate furniture. The blue tiles in the bathroom meant you’re not in the bath, you’re in the ocean, ready to befriend seahorses and mermaids. Too young to leave the nest for real adventures, we took inspiration from our immediate surroundings and set off on grand quests within them.
This idea that our childhood homes acted as both a refuge from the world and a playground to prepare for it, was explored deeply in Aaron Chapman’s latest body of work, Purple Is Black Blooming. His richly coloured photos, some bursting with childlike fun and others exuding a nostalgia for simpler times, all capture the mixture of emotions that come up as we recall our own childhood homes and the impact they’ve had on our lives.
Aaron’s work has long been driven by themes of home and childhood. One of his prior art projects was a sculpture of a home fixed onto a globe stand, conveying the idea that our first home acts as our first universe. Another, a sculpture of a mattress hung from a wire frame, reflecting on the bed as ‘a space within the home that has a profound effect on the space inside us; a potent site of dreaming where desires and fears are heightened.’
For Purple is Black Blooming, Aaron used a mixture of photography, documentary and a life-size sculpture of an excavator bucket made from the packing boxes used to move out of his childhood home. He shot the body of work in the streets of the town where he grew up and now raises his own children, but made a conscious effort to ensure the images were accessible to everyone. He hopes the exhibition will act as a potent reminder of how physical environments shape our identity, perhaps as much as the people within them.
Read on for insight into Aaron’s creative process, and details of where to see the exhibition.
Was there a moment or a thought that sparked the idea for this body of work?
This work began cathartically following the loss of a parent and the birth of my first child. My bond to home was significantly changed following these life events and I became deeply interrogative of the emotional meaning embedded in homes; the intimacy they protect, the refuge they provide and the memories they keep.
But there was never a lightbulb moment for this body of work. I’d always been taught to photograph what you feel, not what you see, and this was my approach for a couple of years before the central themes in the work really presented themselves. Once I’d zeroed in on the ideas, my work became more deliberate, planned, and less haphazard.
What does the childhood home mean to you?
The home generally is the ultimate form of self-expression. We make a home to feel at home in. We hang pictures, pot plants and blu-tack posters to walls to say something about who we are. The childhood home more so, is the foundation of our first experiences. The place where we begin to understand the world and begin claiming and constructing space, little homes away from home in the form of hideouts, cubby houses, pillow forts. Fantasy and freedom of expression is so important in childhood development, which of course, can inform everything in life that follows.
“There’s an undercurrent of loss and a tension between joy and misery.”
Can you tell us about the idea behind the paddle pop photo?
The Rainbow Paddle Pop, I hope, evokes the senses and transports the viewer to their own childhood Australian summer. Although an ice-cream is perhaps immediately recognised as a treat, the fact that it’s melting is important as throughout this series, there’s an undercurrent of loss and a tension between joy and misery.
There’s also a level of play and attention to colour in Purple is Black Blooming. During my formal training in poetry and literature, I was highly advised against using imagery such as ‘rainbows’ and even ‘purple’ because of their sentimentality. The Rainbow Paddle Pop is paired with a dead rainbow lorikeet in the exhibition — a double rainbow and a double blow to my poetry lecturers.
“I’d always been taught to photograph what you feel, not what you see.”
What camera gear did you use to shoot these photos?
All of the photographs in this series were taken on my Pentax 67, a medium format film camera with Portra 400 film. I only have a 90mm lens (equivalent to roughly 45mm in full-frame terms). The parameters of one camera, one lens, one film have been so important in developing this work and my overall photographic approach.
Purple is Black Blooming is showing at Gallery Downtown, the annexe of Tweed Regional Gallery and the Margaret Olley Art Centre. It’s open to the public until the 6th of April.