Truths about home: How our homes influence how we live


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In Horace Pippin’s ‘Saying Prayers’ (1943), the kitchen is the focus of a loving home © Brandywine River Museum of Art, Purchased with the Betsy James Wyeth Fund, 1980

No matter where I’ve been in the world or what I’ve spent the day doing in the city in which I live, I always feel a deep sense of gratitude and relief whenever I walk through my front door.

It’s a blessing to feel at home in a place that is safe and secure. In all seasons of my life, I have had different homes that served me: as a place to welcome others, for long conversations, meals and game nights, or as a space to strengthen community and build relationships. It can also be used as a space to gather with others, grieve quietly or wait patiently for healing to happen.

My home has always been the space where my creative life flourishes. How we live and perform our domestic rituals in our homes has a significant impact on how we behave in the world.

Polina Barskaya’s work is amazing.Brooklyn-based contemporary artist. Barskaya, who was born in Ukraine 1984, paints small-scale paintings that include self portraits and family photos. These paintings can be seen as visual diaries of her personal life. Many are placed in domestic spaces. In her 2019 work “Bloomville”, she sits naked on her unmade bed, her hands raised, holding her hair in a bun. The bedroom is soft and quiet thanks to its light grey colour. The windows behind her allow us to see green pastures and trees, while light floods through the window on the right. This is a scene taken from an early morning.

Since the 17th Century, bedrooms were separated from the rest of the house and became separate rooms. They were used for sleeping, but also to entertain close friends or important guests and to conduct business.

Bedrooms are our most private rooms in our home. Many people go to their bedroom when they have a mental or physical illness. It is the place where we feel safest and most comfortable. It is where we cry, grieve, are unable to sleep, or feel secure. Sometimes, we may be reminded that our only friend is us.

A painting of a bedroom with a naked woman seated on the edge of the bed
In Polina Barskaya’s ‘Bloomville’ (2019), we have an intimate view of a woman’s bedroom just after she appears to have risen © Courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery, New York

In Barskaya’s painting, the way the woman is seated on the edge of the bed reminds me that a bedroom is also the setting for the start of any new day, the place from which we can check in with ourselves anew, and gather our thoughts — all of which can affect how we handle whatever the day brings, how we meet the world outside.

I love the space that my bedroom offers me. It is my private sanctuary. It is a private space that I don’t have a TV in. The walls are white with a painting on the top. The lack of television is a welcome relief for my constantly teeming brain. Whatever is going on in my world, I make it a point to have a morning ritual that sets my intention for the day. This helps me find my strength and my hope.

A small, thumb-sized chalice is another thing I have on my bedside table. It reminds me to keep room in my cup for any unexpected things that may come my way. Although it may seem small, these objects are symbolic reminders that I want to be a part of the world.

Horace Pippin, an African-American artist survived the first world war and said that his experience of war “brought out all the art in me”; having lost the use of his right hand after being shot, he taught himself to paint with his left hand.

In Pippin’s “Saying Prayers” (1943), a mother sits in a kitchen by a large black stove. The mother is preparing her children for bed, and she kneels at them as she places one hand on their heads. The floor is covered with a simple woven rug and there are a few pans hanging from the wall. This family is modestly wealthy. The image Pippin presents suggests they are wealthy in love and care. As though she were bringing them home, she stretches her body over them. She holds each child in her hand and prays over them. It’s a powerful image that shows that it is possible to claim this powerful gift from someone who truly loves you.

Your rituals at your home can shape or transform how you live in the outside world. Pippin’s kitchen is the center of the home. It provides nourishment and sustenance and is often used to build and strengthen relationships. To invite someone into your kitchen is to invite them in to an intimate space where they can be themselves. Formalities are often left behind, and labor is often mixed together with love, creativity, and an open heart. Kitchen tables are often the place where vulnerable conversations are held, where our true selves are shown, in all their glory, and the mess.

The 19th-century artist Félix VallottonOne of my favorites. His woodcuts and paintings of domestic interiors are his most well-known works. They reflect human relationships through the way he places people in physical spaces. “Interior with Woman in Red from Behind” is a 1903 painting that offers us an intimate glimpse into how someone else inhabits the rooms of their home. We enter the painting via the first set eggshell-blue doors, which open the canvas to us. This opening gives us access to the next three rooms in the house. We can see a part of a couch and chair, as well as a bed with clothes scattered on it. We can see the woman’s back.

In this painting, we glimpse through an open door into a room where we see the edge of a sofa and woman in red, with her back turned to us
‘Interior with Woman in Red from Behind’ (1903) by Félix Vallotton © Kunsthaus Zürich | Bequest of Hans Naef, 2001

We have entered a scene not intended for guests. Instead, we have caught a woman at home unaware. If we aren’t careful, we can see her life when no one is looking. We are intrusions into privacy and invaders of privacy. It is not a light thing to enter someone else’s home, where love is made and unmade, where dreams are concocted, and where most of us struggle with parts of ourselves we deem unacceptable to the outer world, regardless of whether that is true or not.

To welcome someone into your home is to show trust and open up to new levels of understanding. From how they are decorated to how they interact with each other, the rooms in our homes tell a lot of about us. They can also reveal how we wish to interact with others.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to someone’s home for the first time. After showing me his living room, he invited him to join him in the kitchen to enjoy our drinks. We instantly got along well and started talking. Once he’d made our drinks, we decided to stay just where we were. I knew that he wanted to get to to know me and invited me into his home. I knew that meeting him in the kitchen would be a good place to start a new friendship.

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