On a small wall towards the back of the main gallery at Rebecca Camacho Presents, Anne Buckwalter’s small painting, Levity (all works 2022), shows a woman from the neck down, reclining in a bath. As in many of her artworks, Buckwalter attends carefully to the details of the space: a red bath mat slightly rumpled on the floor, a blue washcloth draped just so on the edge of the sink, and walls covered in a sunny golden floral paper that’s also reflected in the mirror over the sink. But it was an even smaller detail that hit like a punch as I stood in front of this quiet image: the delicate string of a tampon floating in the water, trailing gently from the woman’s vagina. Here, Buckwalter has created an environment so safe and secure for women that the inclusion of this tiny element feels almost banal. In this painting, and the others on view in the two-venue exhibition, Two Story House, Buckwalter’s domestic scenes have a revolutionary proposition: what would a world of care and support for the needs of all women look like?
Most of the paintings across the two exhibition spaces are of domestic interiors—kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and living rooms—littered with details of everyday life. After Breakfast shows a kitchen in disarray after the morning meal, with an open box of cereal on the counter next to a jade bowl, fruit remnants on the counter, evidence of a spill on the floor, and a broken plate left on the table. Similarly, in Nighttime Routine depicts two pill bottles, and a curling strand of floss atop a bathroom vanity. Buckwalter paints the vanity cabinet open, so we can see the personal effects and cleaning products cluttering the shelves inside. Reflected in the mirror is a figure, bent towards the mirror but not painted in the frame of the canvas. There is a casual intimacy communicated through the way that none of Buckwalter’s spaces are overly clean or tidy. Though she largely omits any full figures or characters, these rooms are decidedly lived in.
Buckwalter notably takes inspiration from her Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, seen in the shaker chairs, clapboard siding, doilies, and simple repeating floral patterns in the wallpaper and textiles, that decorate her spaces. These repeated decorative elements are like a vocabulary of domesticity, centered around the feminine, that repeats across the paintings in the two venues.
While many of these recurrent motifs are rooted in a traditional notion of the feminine domestic sphere, particularly as it relates to keeping a house, Buckwalter includes other details that subtly charge her paintings with eroticism. One of the most playful is an art historical nod to the famously inscrutable late Renaissance painting, Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters (ca. 1594), which Buckwalter replicates in the wall art in the background of Pairs. In Red Room, a lone blue glove, a pair of kitten-heeled black boots, and a discarded feather duster give the box of tissue and lotion pump on the side table a sexual tinge. Likewise, Night Sweats suggestively shows a disheveled bed, its quilt pulled askew to reveal the sweaty body print of whomever just exited. On the nightstand here, again, a black glove now carelessly cast aside by a jar of peanut butter. In other paintings, we see discarded lace trimmed socks, a red glove, and a burly chain hanging from the ceiling—all amplifying a kinky subtext to Buckwalter’s scenes.
When the artist shifts from depicting interiors to the two exterior home views, as in View from the Backyard and Five O’Clock News, she orients the viewer as a voyeur, peering into windows that show fragmented, entwined lovers’ bodies. Perhaps it is because we never see a figure in full, or that all these objects that populate her images feel distinctly useful, that the female sexuality in these paintings never feels overt or pornographic. Rather, there’s an everyday quality to each image, and care evident in the attention to detail and painting technique, that presents all these elements as evidence of what a female life could look like.
Anne Buckwalter: Two Story House
Friends Indeed & Rebecca Camacho Presents, San Francisco, CA
June 25–July 30
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