Domestic deconstruction 

Heather Oelklaus explores tradition using photographic innovation

click to enlarge Shake it like a Polaroid picture: the many-armed - Shiva - by Heather Oelklaus.
  • Shake it like a Polaroid picture: the many-armed Shiva by Heather Oelklaus.

It can be difficult for visual artists to work against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Roughly speaking, our majestic landscape is the siren song that artists can ignore or follow. The consequence is often the difference between artistic flotsam and engaging, relevant art.

Precisely because the temptation is so great for so many, the artistic pulse of the community depends heavily on innovators; photographer Heather Oelklaus is one such trendsetter. The Independent recently chatted with her about the beauty of the local landscape and her own conceptual work dealing with notions of marriage, domesticity and defiance.

Indy: Is it difficult to be a photographer in a town so dominated by its natural beauty?

Oelklaus: Landscape photography is traditional in this town, even back in the 1920s when the famous painters were here. They were mad walking down the street because all the galleries had landscape paintings in the windows. People that don't do landscapes, like me, fight over this ... more conceptual work doesn't sell. People working with the medium to its utmost advantage are not appreciated in this town.

Indy: You don't work with digital media -- why not?

Oelklaus: I try to hook my subject matter to the right medium. If I was doing a landscape I would do a painting, and so far in my work I haven't found a need for [digital media]. We haven't discovered everything we need to with traditional photography. There is so much you can do with the camera as an item itself. There are so many techniques you can do to accomplish what you need. Anything you can do on a computer you can do in a darkroom, it will just take more time. That's where I get a lot of my inspiration -- in the darkroom, experimenting.

Indy: Much of this exhibit is based on traditional 1950s and 1960s domesticity. Where does that come from?

Oelklaus: Well, I'm a mother, I've got a 5-year-old, and you've got to do art with what you know. I try to figure it out where I get the "Leave It to Beaver"-type attitude of the '50s and '60s. My mother was nowhere close to that type of person; she worked and had her own business and didn't take crap from anybody. But in the small town I grew up in, once you graduated, you get married and the man will support you, and that's how it is. It was a big thing in my little community for me to go to away to art school, because everyone else stayed at home and got a family and made babies.

Indy: There is an unmistakable undercurrent of indignation in some pieces, like "Woman's Work" and "Standard Family Size." Is this accurate?

Oelklaus: With "Woman's Work," I wanted to make the rolling pin appear as a penis. More or less the women wear the pants in the marriage. When you get married you don't realize that you have more of a job than wearing an apron and cooking. It's a role that no one tells you about. As a housewife, even back then, they were really the ones that took care of the family union. With "Standard Family Size," most women in the middle of doing housework, at some point in time, say, "I give up, I'm ready to put my head in the oven." It was my feeling of the desperation you feel in the middle of doing all this work, the repetition and all, and not getting anything out of it.

-- Aaron Menza


Better Homes & Icons, a show of Polaroid transfers by Heather Oelklaus

Phototroph Gallery, 218 W. Colorado Ave. (in the Depot Arts District underneath the Colorado Avenue Bridge)

Through March 26

Call visit www.phototroph.com or call 442-6995 for more info.


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