Here, we ask an artist to frame essential details behind one of their latest works.
Bio: Stan Squirewell, 45, Louisville and New York City.
Title of work: Mrs. Johnson’s Family Picture Day (2023).
Where to see it: Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, until Jan. 13.
Three words to describe this work: Matriarchal, layers, permanence.
What was on your mind at the time: My source material is found photography from the 19th- and early 20th-century. Typically these are unknown subjects, but by the very nature of them having had their portraits taken, we know that they weren’t nobody: often it meant they were people of means. I love the process of layering collage over these anonymous figures and recreating identities for them layer by layer. In this work, the woman is squarely in the center. This dynamic was very familiar to me, it’s how I understand Black families to be, held together by the women as central figures.
It reminded me of my own experience of having our family portraits taken at Easter when I was growing up. I didn’t like the experience at the time: getting on our best clothes, sitting still for the photographer. But now I cherish these images. I love seeing photographs of my elder relatives younger than me. it’s a very human link to the past, to something totally ephemeral and fleeting: a moment in time.
In Mrs. Johnson’s Family Picture Day, I invented a name and story for this family that was very relatable to my own experience. Mrs. Johnson is at the center of that family, and she is looking her best.