Just what is it...? A new exhibition questions ideas of home and belonging

Four painters come together to examine the concept of home since the COVID-19 pandemic.

21 May 2021

How do we define ‘home’? Is it merely a physical space, is it a period of time, or is it simply a feeling of belonging? For many of us, our concept of home has changed during the pandemic. Stuck inside our houses for months on end, some of us have realised that the spaces we live in do not necessarily bring us comfort. Others, who may have once dreamed of working from home, have formed newfound attachments to these spaces, while a few have given them up entirely in place of family homes in other countries. But even prior to the pandemic, the idea of what makes a home has always been a transient notion, changing as we move through life.

For the majority of us, we associate specific domestic settings with our understanding of home, and it’s this association that has formed the focal point of a new exhibition at Cristea Roberts Gallery. Just what is it…?, taking its name from Richard Hamilton’s iconic 1956 collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, is a group show composed of paintings and works on paper by artists Charlotte Keates, Karen Lederer, Zsofia Schweger and Polly Shindler. With each of their practices honing in on different aspects of domestic life, together they present myriad ways of engaging with the subject.

American artist Polly Shindler creates “small, intense paintings of bedrooms, stairwells, living spaces and bathrooms, all filled with classic and modern furniture, objects and artwork”. Borne from an interest in ideas of solitude and retreat, and following on from moving to a quieter home, her work is a “representational response” to her immediate surroundings. These paintings also frequently incorporate classic design pieces or artwork by renowned twentieth-century masters. “This is aspirational and intended to be a bit surreal. I like to introduce surprising elements, paying homage to artists and movements that I feel make an uncanny sense in the area,” she says. “I find inspiration in so many different things, so I use the opportunity to honour as many artists and designers as I want… I try to give credit where possible to shine a light on my influences.”

In a similar fashion, Karen Lederer also references the work of other artists in her paintings and monoprints, though typically these take the form of reproductions on mugs, posters and books. Elsewhere in her work, commonplace domestic objects and objects from current consumer culture sit side by side as both a reflection of Lederer’s personal space, as well as an acknowledgement of the “hipster consumer culture” that she likes to poke fun at. But equally, it openly acknowledges her complicity in. “I often include objects that have been swept up in the cultural moment, like Aperol,” she explains. “I also often draw objects that I have in my studio or home. In that sense, the paintings reflect my life and my city.”


Zsofia Schweger: At Home (in Stratford, London) (Copyright © Zsofia Schweger, 2020)

Charlotte Keates, however, prefers to paint domestic spaces from her memory or imagination, as opposed to her immediate surroundings. As such, her layered works feel at once relatable and unfamiliar, as if something is out of place that you can’t quite put your finger on. Equally, they evoke feelings of nostalgia and desire, though again the specifics seem elusive. “My starting point of reference is often a section of a space that I remember, or something that I have seen lately. This triggers the painting to evolve in a way that is unknown to me at first,” she says. “I want the viewer to first be convinced by the interior or architectural structure, but when looking closer they may discover parts that are improbable, impossible – a sort of dreamscape.”

Meanwhile, Zsofia Schweger’s paintings offer a more naturalistic perspective of personal space, composed of quotidian scenes and minimalist compositions. These works are informed by her experience of moving countries at a young age, leaving Hungary for the US at 16, and then later travelling to the UK, where she currently resides. This transitory way of life has created for Zsofia a fluid concept of home, one rooted in both place and time, yet able to transform as she grows older. “The overarching, big-picture question I’ve built my practice around is ‘what is home and where am I at home,’” she explains. “I have focused on my changing relationships to certain spaces and exploring the motif of domestic interiors has been an obvious choice.” However, this body of work also includes public spaces, such as the London tube or the pub – spaces that for so long we were unable to occupy and that now, through Zsofia’s paintings, serve to bring into sharp focus notions of belonging.

Together, these artists present us with interpretations of home that both correspond with and also question one another. They share ideas of comfort and solitude, and yet when we look at them, we feel “at home” in some, and not so much in others. Perhaps they remind us of our current personal spaces, or perhaps they remind us of spaces we once occupied – or hope to one day occupy. As viewers, what do our own interpretations of these works say about how we view the concept of home?

Just what is it…? is on show at Cristea Roberts Gallery from 21 May - 19 June 2021.


Karen Lederer: Campari Plant, 2019, Acrylic and oil on panel (Copyright © Karen Lederer, 2021)


Karen Lederer: Purple Morning (Copyright © Karen Lederer, 2019)


Zsofia Schweger: At the Pub (Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia, London) (Copyright © Zsofia Schweger, 2020)


Polly Shindler: Room with Sneakers and Open Window (Copyright © Polly Shindler, 2020)


Charlotte Keates: Wings of a dragonfly against glass (Copyright © Charlotte Keates, 2020)


Charlotte Keates: Sweet Frangipani and Essence (Copyright © Charlotte Keates, 2020)

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Copyright © Karen Lederer, 2021

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About the Author

Daniel Milroy Maher

Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.

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