Emily Ludwig Shaffer

Emily Ludwig Shaffer
15 octobre – 28 novembre, 2020
pact avec Paul Michael Brown

Originally a vaulted underground dining chamber and refuge from the summer heat, the gardenscape fresco room from the Villa of Livia is the primary inspiration for Emily Ludwig Shaffer’s four new paintings in Wall to Wall. Dating back to the 1st century BC, the villa was owned by Empress Livia Drusilla and was likely a part of the wedding dowry in her marriage to Augustus. Since being removed from its original site in the 20th century, the gardenscape room is now preserved and on display as an all-encompassing installation at the Museo Nationale Romano. The wall paintings include a wide array of plants found in Italy at the time including acanthus, quince, pomegranate, date, and species of oak. The whole scene is framed twice by both a woven fence and an unending low pink wall. It’s an impossible garden, however, as the plants are all heavy with leaves, fruit, and flowers, when indeed many of these species reach peak season at different times of year.

The four paintings Shaffer presents in the exhibition were conceived during the artist’s 3-month quarantine at her Aunt and Uncle’s in rural Massachusetts. These paintings continue the artist’s interest in imaginary domestic spaces and gardens, while references to the Livia frescoes appear directly and indirectly. After The Farm, Stay In Get Out, and Courtyard Staging appropriate architectural or botanical elements from the frescoes and set them into new context, while in Hidden Away, an intimate garden dining space reflects back the original functionality of the frescoed room.

Like the impossible season embodied in the fresco’s flowering plants, Shaffer’s paintings often depict multiple temporal, psychological or physical realities in the same frame. In After The Farm, the sun and moon are both risen in different parts of the painting and the exact season is unclear. In Stay In Get Out, the two stone figures in separate spaces are like simultaneous projections of a nervous brain. Faulty time and multiple states of mind are evergreen to Shaffer’s work, but these motifs have been thrown into sharper relief by the warping of time and priorities this year.

A related idea that Shaffer learned of while preparing these works, was that the word paradise derives from an ancient Persian word that translates approximately to ‘enclosed garden’ or ‘park’. One interpretation of this could be that even the greatest idea we have for beauty, harmony, and peace has embedded human limits — or more insidiously, that it can only be conceptualized through control and exclusion. In the frescoes at the Villa of Livia, a salient image comes to mind: the moments in which a few trees are set apart from the wilder background through slight architectural intervention by the low pink-grey garden wall. The wall jags around these select trees to bring them into our space and separates them from the tangled scenery behind. This gesture is echoed in Shaffer’s painting, After The Farm, where a large red tree is removed from its more natural background and context by a low wooden wall. Shaffer shares that this painting is also a nod to Miro’s 1922 painting The Farm which depicts time spent on his family’s farm in rural Spain through literal details, memories, and impressions.

Inspired by the Livia Frescoes and the hyper-domestic events of this year, Shaffer’s new paintings continue her investigation of architecture, fantasy, control, time, and the spaces women create, curate, and occupy. Unlike the frescoes, however, the spaces Shaffer has created provide stairs, doorways, windows, and paths across the four works that result in porous boundaries between one imaginary space and the next.


Paul Michael Brown //  Writer and curator based in Lexington, Kentucky. In 2019, he received an award for short-form writing from the Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program.