Heather McPherson’s shack, shanty, flat, a solo show at Get This! Gallery, offers a unique self-portraitesque experience through the artist’s painted woodcuts. After all, they present images of places Atlantans call home. McPherson’s statement indicates that the works include “clues about the depicted houses’ inhabitants,” but even beyond clues about these people, the art includes beautiful and often funny pieces of information that remind viewers they are not viewing something created in some distant locale, but rather something made right here at home. Whether we see specific house numbers, or leaf-filled Home Depot bags in front of a Cabbagetown home, or even graffiti visible on a wall along Boulevard, we get a sense that we could know these places. These homes have the telltale signs of comings and goings, including run-down—but not forgotten or abandoned—architecture, and even a mysterious sense of strife in 184 Berean Avenue, which harbors an unclear story about the moving in or moving out of a family, what may be a realtor key box on the doorknob, and a car parked in front. It’s both a portrait of lives lived and a portrait of the city.
I have always been a sucker for art that hangs in the gallery but also has some depth because pieces of it rise from an otherwise flush, squared-off object. I love how such work invites us to step closer and look deeper, to examine from different angles and vantages, and to explore for things we could otherwise miss by facing the work in a straightforward way. McPherson’s detailed woodcuts put a grin on my face while I was exploring her individual works, trying to be a detective and locate indicators about the inhabitants and their histories. The shapes of wooden fences, rendered as woodcuts in relief; the bulge of tires on the ground, flattened slightly by a car’s weight; all these details exhibit both thoughtfulness and skill. McPherson’s works combine technical skill reminiscent of folk art with traditional painting to nestle stably in the nexus of sculpture and painting.
What makes a work of art great is not necessarily that you want to look at it for a long time or that it takes your breath away, but rather that you want to look at it over and over again. I think about this every time I visit a museum and experience that nagging guilt when I walk away from a famous work after having viewed it briefly. So I remind myself that I will come back, and I’ll enjoy it again another time. That draw to come back leaves us able to enjoy repeatedly, to create new narratives, to search for things possibly undiscovered, and to let our experience drive itself.
I made several laps around Get This! Gallery because I kept wanting to re-view shack, shanty, flat, to continue building the narrative of the depicted homes. Each house had character and tales to tell that made it stand out from its neighbors. 253 Powell Street, alley view offered a vantage from behind the house, exposing a pile of unused lumber—something house dwellers typically hide; 792 Fulton Street offered a weathered front porch with clothes drying on a line; and several left parts of the woodcut unpainted, exposing the patterns and colors of the unfinished wood underneath, as if to suggest that the woodcut, like the lives depicted, is a work in progress.
In shack, shanty, flat McPherson reproduces the experience of taking a walk around town, complete with the honest and quirky details of ordinary homes holding ordinary lives. The bright colors and nuanced details allow the audience to investigate what they believe to be happening while comparing it to pre-existing information and opinions about the actual Atlanta sites. McPherson creates a new vision of Atlanta through Atlanta itself, making shack, shanty, flat a familiar yet novel viewing experience at Get This! Gallery.