Leslie Graff works in acrylics and mixed media to explore, in a variety of projects, a shared theme—the complexity of human experience. Her series Domestics is expansive, bold, and mildly mysterious. Her work has been exhibited in group and solo shows across the country in various museums, universities, and galleries and is held in many personal collections. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and three sons.
Talk about Domestics. Our experiences in life are for the most part intensely personal and private, we share some of our thoughts with others but for the most part the majority remains known only to us. My work primarily focuses on themes of identity, connection, relationships, and personal power. Things like chemistry, love, connection, and influence can’t be easily explained or measured but are such a part of our most meaningful experiences. The resonance of life is constantly on my mind. I am so intrigued by how unique our lives and experiences are and the ways we connect. The only way I can think to try to capture that is with art. I like my art to have a level of ambiguity and space for multiple interpretations and personal meaning because I think that echoes life. I have deep respect for the individual. We all see things a bit differently. Life is far more complicated and often involves a lot of overlapping dynamics, and tensions, that we are struggling through in life. Sometimes we live life too surfacey, afraid to spend much time in those complex spaces where its not all neat nice tidy answers.
My domestic series is primarily depictions of women (sometimes men- cause I do adore men) in domestic settings. It was first inspired by some aprons my great grandmother embroidered that were passed down to me. So it began as a self portrait exploration, the pieces are set in my home or locations with a lot of personal meaning for me, as it adds a reality and authenticity to the pieces. I saw these parallels between the tasks I did in my contemporary life, with the tasks my great grandmother did many decades prior. I had questions for myself about how family life has changed, what we outsource, and what creates meaning. I also saw how many deeper metaphors and tensions are found within domestic work or behaviors we do all the time. Each piece has a sub metaphor buried in it.
Like “she wanted to get out” is mostly about being trapped by self limiting behaviors, beliefs, and patterns that keep people from becoming what they want to be, most people view it at first glance thinking its about the confinement of domestic life that’s actually not my primary motivation in the piece. I think women today are still trying to negotiate their own relationship with their domestic roles . Other pieces like “want a slice” is about resource allocation, things that are finite like only having 24 hours a day. There is no way to change that, its all you get to work with, and it questions the deliberateness with which we allocate. “Tuning in” is about connecting and refining relationships, developing deep, committed emotional presence. I used domestic artifacts to blur the context and historical settings so the pieces can say multiple things.
I love that these pieces connect with different people in different ways. Some women have shared how it makes them feel great purpose in domestic life, or increases their deliberateness. Others say it reminds them of their mothers or grandmothers. Some women say they relate because as working mothers they find themselves still dressed from work but jumping right into their family lives. I like that people can find their own connections. I do like that they draw attention to women and homes life. But I like to leave people their to think more on their own relationships as I don’t belief life is a one size fits all experience.
Women are a major part of this series. What is the status of women in the Church today? Where my graduate studies revolved around human development, identity, domestic life, roles, emotions, relationships, sexuality these are the subjects I am fascinated by and deep passionate about. I think as a religious culture, we are still leery of feminism, people have such strong reactions to the mere word. Not realizing what it has brought to the table and all we gain from it. I love that feminism taught us to speak up more and with first person voice, to me that is in such harmony with view of individual worth and personal revelation. It has taught me to use my voice as a woman, as a mother to speak to what I believe. My domestic series speaks to a lot of things but focuses on complexity of women’s experiences, many of the cultural shifts women have had to navigate especially since the 1950s and 60s (hence the domestic artifacts from those periods). I think we are still navigating a lot in the world today and in our religious culture. I think women have not necessarily been utilized in the church to their full potential in the past. I think there have been a lot of cultural beliefs or patterns that are perpetuated that are unhelpful.
Anyone who knows me knows I have no problem voicing my opinions and feelings, confidently no matter the setting. I had parents who really championed strong women and I was never at great odds, in my personal experience. But there are things I have encountered in relation to other’s views and experiences that can be unsettling and that make me think Whoa! our mindsets are very different. I think many times women have not always taken the initiative to step up and assert themselves, to be strong, powerful, deliberate, confident, contributing voices. We have often lacked for examples of good ways to do that. It is encouraging to see more and more opportunities for women to lead and teach and be seen for all of their capacities and I look forward seeing that grow. One of my favorite pieces is called “stirring things up” showing a woman with a mixing bowl. For me this piece is about using our voices to mix it up, to break from the status quo and not be afraid to share thoughts even if it might mean some disruption—but often in ways people don’t think—we may have to agitate one way with in our religious culture and in almost the opposite direction in our larger culture. I loved my graduate program for the way it taught me to be a critical thinker, to question assumptions and not be afraid to explore and ask questions within a faithful mindset. I know God loves intelligent, purposeful, thinking, useful, skilled, passionate, loving women. I believe so strongly in developing our talents and gaining knowledge and being useful in our homes, communities, workplaces, relationships, etc.