Artist Profile – Ruby MacKinnon – ‘Thinking of Home’
Artist and graphic designer Ruby MacKinnon has a strong connection to the Boroughs. She is a past manager of the store, was responsible for the graphics of our rebrand in 2015 and her watercolour greeting cards are some of the store’s constant best sellers. It seems only right that she opens her first solo show with us this Friday Night.
Ruby’s debut solo show ‘Thinking of Home’ shares a series of watercolour artworks responding to the concept and experience of ‘home’. Ruby’s pieces contemplate the definition of ‘home’ in a time when the dream of owning one’s own home is becoming increasingly foreign to the younger generations of Australia. Ruby’s works draw on her own experience of moving from place to place but maintaining a sense of homeliness as well as gaining inspiration from the stories of others.
We spoke to Ruby ahead of her exciting debut show.
The Boroughs: What does ‘home’ mean to you? How did the concept become the inspiration for your show?
Ruby MacKinnon: One definition of the word 'home' is a place where something flourishes which really struck a chord with me when I was beginning to research this show. To me a 'house' is just a residential space, like an apartment or unit, but a ‘home' focuses on the people that inhabit the space and their distinct way of living within it. It’s how people create a feeling of home that fascinates me. A person’s home often tells you a lot about them – you can get a quick sense of the house holder just by seeing how they arrange their furniture or the art they display on their walls.
I have always lived in rented dwellings so I am very accustomed to moving and have never associated my home with any particular building. As a kid I reveled in each new house, enjoying looking for its quirks and, hopefully, secret hiding places! But that has also meant that we never measured ourselves against any one door frame, and were never able to customise the house in any way besides the arrangement of our belongings inside or the plants in the garden. I look back fondly on all of my homes, however. All individual, all lived in for varying periods of time but all ‘home’.
TB: For one of the exhibition pieces, you’ve asked your friends and family to describe what ‘home’ means to them and created watercolour sketches of their responses. Did the responses you received surprise you?
RM: The responses to my questions 'What makes you think of home?' have been really interesting. Cats came up a lot! I love cats, so I get that, but I think it's also because, unlike dogs, cats live solely in and around one's home. A dog comes with you to the shops; a cat waits for you at your front door.
The most interesting variation in response has been between those who determine home by how the space makes them feel versus those who recognise it for what it contains and what that signifies to them.
For example some people imagine specific belongings when they think of home, others think of the feeling of safety and the opportunity to truly be themselves.
TB: How much do you find your work is naturally influenced by your ‘home’?
RM: A lot of the work in this show is very personal. It expresses my personal thoughts about home.
For one piece I painted the glassware (two vases and one small, coloured Saki bottle) that sits in my current apartment window. The vases have been in the window almost since we moved in and are very much linked in my mind to that space even though they came from my family's collection. I added the bottle to the display after a dinner out with some of my best friends. I associate the small collection with both my current home and situation, and homes of my childhood.
The card I am launching at the exhibition which features the message 'Home is where my mum is' includes a painting of a ceramic cup that is based off a cup I brought from my family home that was my own special chai cup when we were all together and has come with me to all my adult homes.
TB: Is there a standout piece on display? Something you are most proud of?
RM: Of the large-scale pieces my favourite works are the vase of protea and the leaf.
The protea I painted as a gift for myself - the nice paper was gifted to me by my partner and I thoroughly enjoyed selecting the flowers and painting them at leisure. I'm particularly pleased with the reflections in the vase itself.
The leaf is painted from a real leaf I regularly walk past on the way to work. As I live in an apartment and can't have my own garden beyond pot plants in the window, I enjoy observing the sights, scents and seasons of my neighbours’ gardens. I have watched that particular leaf keenly as it ages and enjoyed all of its stages. The leaf is fully brown and crinkled now but still beautiful. I had admired it for some time when I saw it beginning to wither and discolour. I loved the soft fade from green at the top to the rusty orange at the bottom of the leaf and the graceful curl of the shrivelling end.
I'm also really looking forward to seeing all of the response pieces displayed together. I am hoping it will be a very positive and affirming collection. Everyone who responded associates home with warmth and positivity and we are all very lucky to do so.
TB: You use a lot of watercolour in your pieces. What do you love about the medium?
RM: I started to independently experiment with watercolour just after high school. I was given a little set and found it to be a very approachable and enjoyable medium. Like everyone who discovers watercolour I became very interested in the way the colour can bleed with different papers and techniques.
I love the softness of watercolour on paper and the unavoidable (at least in my case) touch of hand - the looseness of edges and the opportunity to playfully layer to give form and effect.
TB: What does it mean to you to have your debut show on display at The Boroughs?
RM: Having my debut show at The Boroughs is something unusual and special. The theme felt like the right fit for the location. There's a nice connection between a store where people buy goods to become part of their home, or the home of others, and artworks about the wares that I, myself, and my friends and family have collected to form our impressions of home.
There is also the family link - The Boroughs is my father's store and my sister and I have worked on and off there since he bought it several years ago.
‘Thinking of Home’ opens Friday May 5, 6:30-8:00pm at The Boroughs Store with drinks and nibbles provided.