Submitted by San Juan Islands Museum of Art
Artist Nicola Wheston is not afraid to talk trash, but her latest exhibit, “Stuff: We Become Our Things,” does the trash-talking for her. Recording the stuff people have, what surrounds them and the things they see in everyday lives, Wheston’s new work shifts the focus onto the tidal wave of waste created in a consumerist society. Wheston’s life-size series of 10 paintings, “Stuff,” is turning heads at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. Her controversial subject matter is not one generally interpreted by a narrative painter, and she’s delighted by the notoriety and recognition it’s gaining.
Her paintings take viewers through the cycle of life of their stuff – where they buy it, and where it ends up – showcasing the consumerist pathology of the times with paintings that take viewers from the big box store, straight to the garbage dump and landfill. As she notes in her artist statement, “The environment is under great stress as our oceans are filled with plastic, and garbage; poor countries store the trash for richer countries, therefore, destroying their own environments. Our planet is drowning in pollution and plastics and we still worship consumerism.”
Cutting close to the bone, Wheston’s work expresses her desire to illustrate the rapid rise of the norm of consumerism and how the system is showing its cracks. “We now live in a society where we are drowning in ‘stuff,’” says Wheston. “Plastic fills every inch of our homes and we are building bigger and bigger homes to accommodate all this stuff.” She adds, “In the end, ‘stuff’ ultimately entraps us.”
Wheston’s inspiration for her series began when she had the misfortune of clearing the estates of deceased relatives. One, a hoarder, proved especially daunting. These experiences galvanized Wheston’s awareness of the real impact of the consumer society and how unsustainable it is. Her new series, five years in the making, highlights this effect and helps transform viewers’ relationships to themselves, as well as to their stuff.
Based on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada’s top artist colony, Wheston is a past winner of the “People’s Choice Award” (Salt Spring National Art Prize) of 2015. Her work provokes and wakes viewers to what they use and see in everyday life on a level that is disturbing and yet capturing. Wheston’s paintings are monumental in size, consisting of four panels, 5-feet-by-16-feet canvases. She is noted for her use of strong colors. She adds, “Living in Mexico influenced me to paint with more alive and vibrant colors.” This is her first exhibit at the SJIMA and her first exhibition in the United States.
Artgoers are intrigued by “Stuff” and by Wheston’s use of depth, detail and color to create surreal canvasses that are life-sized, as well as stirring.