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The Dressing Table (2016-2017)

The series of paintings by artist Caroline Rust, “Approaching the Dressing Table”, finds its origin in the looking glass and dressing table. Rust uses them as a stage set, to allow her unseen characters a personal and private place for reflection upon life and a space to experience remembrances. Employing an expressionistic style of painting, the works in this series regard the vanity and the woman’s approach to her looking glass; her emotions, thoughts about being female, the practices she will engage, and reflective memories she may contemplate. 

Rust claims that the paintings are auto-biographic, as they were painted at a time when many life-changing events were consuming her mind. Conversely, her aim was for the works to embody a universal concept to connect them thematically. To that end, as in other series of her work, she uses the dressing table in metaphor, for the contemplation of how one creates one-self for the world in front of the mirror; for protection, for pleasure, or perhaps for necessity. Congruently, each of Rust’s series using surfaces in conjunction with mirrors, act as a further study of women’s effects and practices as to investigate sense of self and personality; building up to the narrative of each painting, alluded to by the objects found upon the surfaces. 

Delving deeply into the analysis of surface, there are objects beneath the paint as well, in the form of garments Rust has repurposed so to build low relief grounds on which to apply paint that is charged with color. The clothing comes from her wardrobe and are a mix of vintage with contemporary, each with its own story to tell. Vintage garments and fashion have more than once provided inspiration for her work. Now garments are used to explore a personal, emotional aspect of fashion. She says that the garments speak to her and then she responds. It is this responsive stance which emphasizes the relationships one has with one’s clothes and the potential of the psychological energy lying just beneath the surface.

Rust references gaining inspiration from the writing of Virginia Woolf, enough though it came 3 years following the paintings' creation. In several of her novels, Virginia Woolf makes reference to looking glasses, even dressing tables, when she gives her characters a nudge to look inward, introspectively at some aspect of their lives or behaviors. Yet, setting a mood, in an act of kindness, in some passages, perhaps she does this to allow her characters refuge within their private spaces; granting time for reflection, discovery, and realization. Take these 2 examples:

From Between the Acts… “At the outdoor pageant actors come out from the bushes, holding what? Tin cans? Bedroom candlesticks? Old jars? My dear, that’s the cheval glass from the Rectory! And the mirror – that I lent her. My mother’s. Cracked. What’s the notion? Anything that’s bright enough to reflect, presumably, ourselves? We cannot evade or shade ourselves. Without time to assume a suitable posture or expression, no one whole, everyone fragmented and distorted. And the mirrors! Reflecting us….” 

And from The Waves… “That is my face,' said Rhoda, 'in the looking-glass behind Susan's shoulder - that is my face. But I will duck behind her to hide it, for I am not here. I have no face. Other people have faces; Susan and Jinny have faces; they are here. Their world is the real world. The things they lift are heavy. They say Yes, they say No; whereas I shift and change and am seen through in a second. They know what to say if spoken to. They laugh really; they get angry really; while I have to look first and do what other people do when they have done it.”


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